The latest novel from the award-winning Andy Mulligan, author of the bestselling Trash, is out now. Dog is a book about trust, standing up for yourself, and learning to love; featuring a cornucopia of wonderful characters including a sensitive young boy, a vulnerable puppy and a wise flea, it is a story that will delight readers young and old.
To celebrate the release of this wonderful book, read on for an interview with Andy about the writing process behind Dog and what the book means to him.
How did you come up with all the characters? Did you choose favourite animals and insects to portray?
Not really. I find the characters emerge instinctively as you hit obstacles in the story, or spot opportunities. Naturally, you want contrasts. The pit-bull was inspired by a terrifying poster on a train, inviting me to donate money to a charity that supported fighting dogs – dogs that had been mutilated in dog-fights. The poor creature staring at me looked so brain-damaged and sad I knew she had to come into the novel. As for the flea, I wanted someone strong, straight-forward and honest and loved the idea that something so tiny and despised could be that character. When you’ve spent time with a cruel, manipulative character – such as the spider, Thread – you yearn to balance it with someone as pure as the little moth. Writing Dog was a real joy.
The theme of the novel seems to be the importance of true friendship, despite the hardships. What does the story mean to you?
It means a lot to me. It’s a love story, for one thing, and the pulse beating throughout is ‘be kind, and value those around you’ – which is hardly a profound thing to say, but it’s probably the most important thing one can ever learn. It’s very hard to sustain kindness, and live up to the standards we aspire to – because we all get distracted, let ourselves down and take advantage of other people. But the book is about people trying to be better. Tom and Spider discover unconditional love, and in the course of their odysseys learn to be a little wiser in the choices they make. ‘It’s a story about friendship’ sounds trite, but that’s exactly what it is. There is nothing more important than the bonds we forge with those around us, and if we can’t accept and value the love that’s offered we’re in for a very grim time. I’m not interested in getting other people to realize that: I’m trying to realize it myself. That doesn’t mean Dog is personal therapy: it means that just like most writers I raid the personal experiences I’ve had, and work through all those things that still torment and fascinate me.
Dog in some ways is reminiscent of children’s books such as Piers Torday’s The Last Wild series, with its colourful animal characters, and R.J. Palacio’s Wonder for its sensitive portrayal of troubled childhood. What children’s writers do you count as influences?
I’m afraid I stay away from other children’s writers, for fear of being frozen with envy – and I dread accidentally copying or stealing. So my influences are from a long time ago – Enid Blyton, who told good, quick stories. I love AA Milne for the profundity of such simple-seeming characters and tales, and there’s a truly terrifying book called ‘Marianne Dreams’ by Catherine Storr that often comes back to me. I read it when I was 10 and it haunted me – I think it made me realize how psychologically powerful books could be. But the great Anthony Buckeridge is always a ghost in my study, too – a beautiful writer of school stories, that still make me cry with laughter. He was the children’s PG Wodehouse. When I’m writing, I always have a Dickens on the go. If I ever get stuck, twenty minutes with Charles unsticks me.
What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?
I’m re-reading ‘Great Expectations’ and have just started Monica Ali’s ‘Brick Lane’ having heard a lovely interview with her.
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