I’ve chan­nelled my in­ner JK

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

page. I wanted them to fall in love with flawed, larger-than life char­ac­ters they could in­stinc­tively iden­tify with, and get tan­gled up in the pacey web of mis­ad­ven­ture.

My first step was to get to know the char­ac­ters. I sat down, and in my own pre­ten­tious way, chanelling Irène Némirovsky and her preps for Suite Française, listed the traits, at­tributes and ver­bal tics of my own cast. Then I threw it away. I got to recog­nise the tone of the char­ac­ters, I lis­tened to them talk and take over. I grew to in­habit them, or they me. Once the plot’s there, you can hear them chat­ting, riff­ing, ar­gu­ing — they de­velop the di­a­logue them­selves.

All Jewish kids are to a greater or lesser ex­tent un­sure and nerdy like anti-hero Daniel. Dif­fer­ent, but not quite un­der­stand­ing why. Weighed down with the un­cer­tainty of in­cip­i­ent ado­les­cence and fam­ily dys­func­tion. Us­ing laugh­ter to cope with the un­man­age­able. I bet you re­mem­ber all that. With me, clearly, it never really went away.

Ev­ery Jewish fam­ily has a mag­nif­i­cently mad mother or grand­mother. Daniel’s out­ra­geous Grandma Phyl­l­ida sits un­com­fort­ably close to me. (Will I some day be­come like her?) You’ve prob­a­bly al­ways known her, too. She’s a fount of un­con­trol­lable en­ergy, a whirl­wind of il­logic, ir­re­sistibly drawn to trou­ble. Phyll’s at once su­per­bright, brush-daft and emo­tion­ally il­lit­er­ate.

Right this mo­ment, Gran’s into goat lib­er­a­tion.

Watch her floor the po­lice and as­sorted armed forces, with her chutz­pah, sweet old granny rou­tine and mar­tial arts.

In fact, Grandma Phyll would make the per­fect spy.

Sorry, spoiler alert.

All the adults in his life grad­u­ally let Dan down, with their pre­oc­cu­pa­tions and self­ob­ses­sion.

Again, there’s a deep well to draw on here. All the noise, ab­sur­dity and the pathos of Daniel’s fam­ily re­la­tion­ships are hor­ri­bly, cul­tur­ally fa­mil­iar.

The bound­aries al­most epi­ge­net­i­cally tram­pled. (Daniel is col­lat­eral dam­age in the war be­tween di­vorced par­ents, bat­tling it out over money.)

The times I’ve found my­self bawl­ing out the mish­pocha, while part of me stands apart, say­ing no, please, not you, too.

But com­edy, edge-of-seat ac­tion and yet more com­edy is the heart of the book — my kids can’t get enough funny stuff — and the mar­ket is un­der-served.

Daniel nar­rates his own fan­tas­tic yarn, gen­tly mock­ing, blend­ing the hi­lar­i­ous with the des­per­ately sad. He makes fun of chaotic school lessons and home life, of his poi­sonous, po­lit­i­cal head­mas­ter, the gen­tle­men of a cer­tain age, un­fath- omably at­tracted to his Gran.

Gross-out is im­por­tant, too. Dis­gust­ing puts in quite an ap­pear­ance. With fart­ing, vomit, mould and cock­roaches, goats and foul smells, body parts and pus. All the stuff my 9-13 year-old read­ers get off on.

There are co­pi­ous jokes, and noth­ing’s off-lim­its in Daniel’s world-view. With cracks about bad poetry, bad pizza, bad karma. About Daleks, de­pres­sion, Shake­speare, out-of-con­trol spoilt brats, goat group wier­dos, air­less busi­ness peo­ple, pub­lic toi­lets.

My lad loved Guns, Goats, Gran and Me. My God, he didn’t want to ad­mit the fact. Well he wouldn’t, would he? I’m his Mum.

Smart girl read­ers were en­thralled, and wanted to know when they could lay hands on the next ad­ven­ture. The boys laughed like drains. Some par­ents told me, it’s that fun fan­tasy book their child keeps go­ing back to, and reads at night for com­fort. And, for me, now, the real ad­ven­ture be­gins, as I start look­ing for an agent.


Wiz­ard: Dido Sandler, be­low, says it’s a skill to know the mind of a teen, as JK Rowl­ing showed with Harry Pot­ter

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