Earlier this month I posted a review of the brilliant Trash by Andy Mulligan, a book that had me captivated from the very first page. I therefore jumped in head first when offered the chance to send Andy a few questions for him to answer for The Book Zone.
How would you describe Trash to a potential reader?
I’d say it’s a thriller in which a bunch of very determined, very ingenious children take on the police. I’d say it’s a window into a horrible and horrific world – one that really exists. I’d say it’s a page-turner that will expose you to some pretty unpleasant things and will get your heart racing!
I know you have done a lot of travelling and have visited several dumpsites – what was it about them that inspired you to write Trash?
The image of children crawling in rubbish. Simple as that – it’s a scene from The Inferno, it’s a circle of hell. You see these kids, often just in shorts, with a hook. They are doomed to sift those xxxxheaps all day, in rain or sun. And next to the seven year-old is the seven year-old’s grandfather, still sifting – and you realize you’re looking at that child’s destiny. The dumpsites are the most extreme reminders I’ve ever seen that our world is insane.
The characters of Raphael, Gardo and Rat are incredibly engaging – please tell me they are based on real people you have met.
Yes, they are. I tend to fuse individuals together, so that (for example) Rat is two boys – one a very derelict junkie twelve year-old in Manila, fused into one of the most ingenious child crooks I ever met in Calcutta. The common-denominator is this survival instinct, this feral need to win in a situation. When you have nothing to fall back on – when there’s no parent or teacher or policeman to help you up and take you home – you don’t have the luxury of despair. You use the skills you have – your brain, your charm, your speed – and you have to win something, just so you can eat.
Why did you decide to tell the story in the voices of the different characters, rather than just Raphael’s?
I don’t know. I tried a third person voice and it didn’t work, so I abandoned it very quickly. I found the voice of Raphael, and enjoyed his voice – but it soon felt limited. I love him dearly, but he’s got a limited perception of what’s going on – so a graver, more experienced voice had to balance it. That was Gardo. Then, suddenly, it seemed a really interesting way of getting different sides of the story. My main fear was annoying the reader by wasting time or being tricksy – I wanted to keep the plot motoring, simply because I get so bored of books that don’t think they need plots… I tried to make the narrators tell us the facts, almost like police-statements: this is what we decided, so that is what we did…
Trash is a cracking mystery adventure story, with plenty of humour, but also involves a large degree of social comment – do you think it is important that children are exposed to issues like this in their fiction?
Yes. No. I don’t know. I think children enjoy books that lift them out of their own world. When I was growing up I loved Enid Blyton because she took me to boarding schools and I went to a boring day-school. I loved Carrie’s War because Nina Bawden plunged me into wartime, where the protagonists encountered such new things. I really hate ‘issue books’, and I’ve had to teach them – they are miserably thin gruel. Take a book like Louis Sacher’s Holes – it’s not a book about crime and punishment, or racism, or keeping promises, or any of that school-assembly bilge. It’s about children in an extreme situation, dealing with it. No – I have decided the answer – no I do not think children need to be exposed to ‘issues’ – I think they need to be exposed to good stories and good characters, and if the characters are real then the issues will be there.
In my review of Trash I compared it to Louis Sachar’s Holes, with its combination of humour, mystery and social comment. How do you feel about this comparison?
As Holes is one of my favourite books – a masterpiece – I’m very flattered!
Do you have time to read any of the many books for children that are published these days? If so, do you have any current favourites?
I don’t read as much as I should, but I am currently enjoying Half Brother by Kenneth Opel and am about to start the long awaited Noah Barleywater Runs Away by the amazing John Boyne.
What books/authors did you read when you were younger?
I loved Enid Blyton and Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’ books – I was an addict, saving up to buy them. ‘Jennings’ was the first book that made me laugh out loud. A much loved Primary teacher read us the surreal and spellbinding Marianne Dreams, and I think I was realising what stories could do. Then I was lucky – I had a great English teacher, and books started to hit me like express trains. To Kill A Mockingbird! The Catcher in the Rye! I was never really into action books or fantasy, though I did enjoy Alan Garner.
What can we expect next from Andy Mulligan?
I’m off to India to write my India book. I’ve spent a lot of time in Calcutta, and love it, and have been working on a children’s book about an English girl marooned in a foreign world. I am going to sit down for a few months, and try and write it.
Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of this blog.
It’s a pleasure. Anything else to say? Only thank you for taking an interest – I really hope you enjoy Trash. It’s a book very close to my heart.
I know the last couple of months have been incredibly busy for Andy as Trash has been such a big success so far. My huge thanks go to him for taking the time to answer my questions, and I really hope that Trash continues to gather fans all around the world - there is no doubt in my mind that it will.