10 Questions for Andy Mulligan

I know, today is supposed to be blogger interviews, but I spaced signing up for one. Thankfully, I have this lovely interview with the amazing and interesting Andy Mulligan, author of Trash (which I loved) for your reading pleasure.

MF: How did you get the inspiration for the story in Trash?
AM: I was living in Manila, and my very well-resourced school was raising money for its polar opposite: a dumpsite school in the most squalid part of the city. I heard so much about it, and finally visited. But the detail that set the story rolling was told by a friend of mine. He told me that the children who worked on this dumpsite spent a large part of their day crawling through human excrement, because so much ends up on the dump. That was the little vision of hell that took hold, and turned into Trash.

MF: Wow. That’s definitely an image that will stick with you. You describe Trash as, first and foremost, a thriller. How did you make the decision to tell the story that way, instead of as a straightforward tale of poverty?
AM: Stories need engines. I’m used to standing in front of a class of children with a story, not a concept: and stories, in some ways, are such primitive things – someone has an adventure. Here is a character you instantly recognize: a boy or girl, not so different from you. You want him to do well – you want him to surprise you. You want to be entertained.

MF: It was definitely entertaining! But, the book also gave me a lot to think about when I was done. What do you hope readers get from reading the book?
AM: I don’t know. I want them to have been entertained, and in some way stretched. The good books that I read stretch me: whether it’s Dickens, Elmore Leonard, John Grisham – they put me in the shoes of someone, and I learn stuff. I fly somewhere. The bad books I read make me more intolerant and more stupid. Specifically, Trash asks the reader to spend some time with some children who are fighting for a better world – there’s a lot of value in that.

MF: Why did you decide to tell the story from the point of view of several narrators, instead of just Raphael’s?
AM: The book was going to be first person Raphael all the way, but his voice was too limited. He saw the world in just one, very clear way. I got frustrated with him, so handing over to his friends was such a relief. It was a decision that made itself, at the desk, when I started another chapter and thought, “Oh, not you again…”

MF: Do you have a favorite character or scene?
AM: Yes. No. The moment I talk about a favourite scene I feel guilty about the others. I guess the bit that cracks me is when Rat saves Pia, and for the first time in his life he is the carer. He mashes banana for her, and is so tender. The denouement, amongst ghosts, flowers and graves, as the typhoon is crashing in – I’m still moved by that, and it’s pure Manila – a city I do love.

MF: From what I can tell, Trash is vastly different from your first novel, Ribblestrop. What were the challenges/similarities/differences between the two novels?
AM: Ribblestrop is about conquering against the odds too – it’s about healing. The children fight, just as the Trash children fight – and they win, and win they must. I was at a Q&A a while ago, and someone asked me if I set out to write “feelgood books”. My thought was, yes, rather than feelbad… I love 1984 and Catcher in the Rye and American Psycho – books that take me to dark, feelbad places. But I like happy endings – I’m with Shakespeare in his last plays, I want reconciliation, and people realizing they need each other. I don’t want to read Zola on my deathbed: I want Dickens, or Rowling, or someone who says things can be and will be better. But that makes me sound like a born again, or some hippy evangelical, which I’m not – I’m actually a very cynical soul. But I don’t want to be.

MF: Did you always intend to write for a younger audience, or did you just somehow fall into it?
AM: I think I’ve spent so long teaching children in schools that the voice comes naturally. I’m also suspicious that I’m not really mature enough to write a grown-ups’ book.

MF: Who or what inspires your writing?
AM: Stories come at you all the time, begging to be written down. And I meet people, all the time, so odd or interesting that I think, “Surely, there’s a book for him.” The main characters in my books are all fused from the children I’ve taught or met, and though it’s hard to get going in the mornings, sometimes, I actually love the process of pushing the chapters forward. Then the revising, then the uprooting, then the replanting. It’s the most satisfying thing.

MF: What’s the last book you read and loved, and why did you love it?
AM: I loved Richard Harris’ “Imperium”, about Cicero and Ancient Rome. And another historical book, “Wolf Hall” about Cromwell. I’m going through a big history fad at the moment, and I love these writers who help me imagine other worlds. “Wolf Hall” in particular makes such sense of the past, in a way that absolutely informs the present. 2011 is clearer to me now, having ready about the 16th century.

MF: What can we expect next from you, if you don’t mind telling us?< Ribblestrop 3 is underway – I finished part one last night, so I know where that’s going now. I hope to have it done by the end of the summer. But my other book, which is top secret, is on my publisher’s desk even now. He may hate it or love it – I really don’t know. It’s for children again, set in a primary school – but it’s very strange and very English. I want to do the American version, which will give me an excuse to spend some quality time in the States – and that’s something I long to do.

MF: Thank you so much for your time!
AM: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for reading.

You can see more about Andy and his books at his website.

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