Andy is currently working on a two-book deal for David Fickling Books. The first is almost complete, and could be described as an elaborate, serious, semi-political farce-thriller. Its working title is “Work Experience,” and the premise is simple: how much mayhem can a group of children cause in their various W.E. placements?
‘The central joke has excited me for ages,’ says Andy. ‘Most students know what work experience is, and all too often it’s a predictable disappointment…you end up making the tea and doing a bit of photocopying for people who don’t really know why you’ve bothered to turn up. I always thought how exciting it would be if the child shadowing the surgeon ended up holding the scalpel…or the young trainee police-officer had to make the actual arrest. So yes: the children in this book become crucial to their various professions, and a thrillingly intricate plot links every one of them together. It’s funny, I hope, and it’s extremely fast moving. I like to think it’s got one hell of a bite, as well – but I’ll say no more.’
Otherwise, there’s a huge amount of historical research to be done, because the second book is being written alongside a stage-play, and its topic is The Great War. Andy has been commissioned by Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northampton to create a theatre piece for November 2014, and that will form the basis for a children’s book in 2015.
‘I’m looking for ways of flipping between 2014 and 1914. I only learned recently how many soldiers in the Great War were underage. Boys as young as twelve were desperate to enlist – to do their bit, to break out of tedious lives and find adventure. Recruiting sergeants often turned a blind eye, and whilst it would be an exaggeration to say the trenches were full of kids, there were kids out there. For the play, I’m assembling a cast of about thirty, having run five workshops. I know that one of the characters is going to be a modern fourteen year old, who vandalizes the local war-memorial. That unleashes the ghosts of the past, and produces dramatic encounters between very different cultures. The play’s half-scripted, but I’ve got to wait until I have the full company of actors…that’s when we’ll really develop it.’
So it’s yet another celebration or commemoration of 1914?
‘I don’t think it is. What interests me is our attitude to that conflict, and what a fourteen year old today would have in common with his equivalent one hundred years ago – what would the fight about? Where would they connect? History isn’t something fixed, to be learned by rote in some sort of bizarre homage to the dead. That war is part of us, and those memorials need to be interrogated – otherwise, remembrance becomes an act of sentimentality. The play’s going to be very uncomfortable.’