booktrust piece


Authors we love… by Grant Gillespie

Lewis Carroll and Grant Gillespie

Posted Wednesday May 5th 2010

Grant Gillespie, debut author of To Hell with Publishing‘s first book The Cuckoo Boy, writes beautifully about imagined dreamscapes and viewing the adult world with a child’s eyes. We asked him to guest-blog about his favourite author… Lewis Carroll.

Books about children have always fascinated me as children inhabit a terrain free of creative boundaries. Through the eyes of a boy or a girl, a writer can look at the world afresh. There’s a complex simplicity to being a child that can be funny, charming and at the same time very, very dark. The first writer that I fell in love with – for this very reason – was Lewis Carroll, who captured brilliantly the illogical logic of a child:

‘I’m so glad I don’t like asparagus,” said the small girl to a sympathetic friend.  “Because, if I did, I should have to eat it, and I can’t bear it.’

Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass bear reading time and time again, as a child and as an adult.  There’s even a book called the Annotated Alice, which I came across in my late teens, that contains more footnotes and references than in an Arden Shakespeare edition.

We often imagine that children live in a magical world peopled exclusively by fairies at the foot of the garden, but – in most cases – ogres and ghouls are just as prevalent. With this in mind, I wrote a story for my god-daughter Bella. I asked her mother what she liked, and she said ‘Getting her nails done, room service and eating out.’

The girl in question is about 7. Then I asked ‘What doesn’t she like?’ and was told ‘Goblins.’ I wrote her a story about a goblin with nail varnish and a penchant for fine dining. On the plus side Bella bragged to all her friends that she had her very own story. On the downside, she cried herself to sleep.

As a young thing I certainly revelled in the thrill of being afraid.

My favourite passage in Alice was about the baby turning into a pig.

I’d march around the house chanting: ‘Speak roughly to your little boy and beat him when he sneezes,’ – a suggestion, which fortunately my parents didn’t act on. The dreamscape in these books – where anything can happen – had a direct channel to my brain. Surrealism is easy to access as a child.  The trick is to be still able to gain admittance as an adult (without the aid of LSD). And I think that, on one level, that’s what all artists try to do.

I began with the Alice, but there have been so many other child-centred books which have inspired me over the years: Le Petit PrinceThe Turn of the ScrewThe Lord of the FliesA Prayer for Owen MeanyVernon God Little – to name but a handful. It’s hardly surprising then that my own debut novel focuses on a disturbed little boy and the difficulty of being born.

Don’t get me wrong. I might like to write or read about children, but I don’t like them in themselves, and like cats – they know – so they flock to me. Kids make me nervous. They’re too honest, too cruel, too selfish. ‘You look like a girl,’ they tell me, or ‘Your nose is too big,’ tempting me to punch them on their own perfectly-formed button snouts. So if you meet one that is exceptionally witty, please don’t invite me over for ‘an audience with…’ just notate what they say and let me have it later.

Grant Gillespie’s debut novel The Cuckoo Boy is available now on To Hell with Publishing

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