Scribble City Central's ninth Fantabulous Friday A-Z comes from John Dickinson. I've been an admirer of John's work for years. His Cup of the World trilogy is historical fantasy at its very best, and his last book, WE, convinced me to give science-fiction (not usually my reading material of choice) another chance. Here's what I said about it:
"It's a book which made me think a lot, not least about how we modern humans relate to the other people around us, both near and far--and how our social communications patterns have already changed beyond recognition from, let us say, fifteen or twenty years ago. It wasn't particularly comfortable thinking, either. But although it is certainly bleak in both subject matter and setting, it's not a book without hope. I liked it very much indeed."
John's latest book (coming in August from David Fickling Books) is Muddle and Win, and I've been lucky enough to read an early copy. It's somewhat of a departure for John, being for a younger reader than is his normal audience. John is one of our finest writers today, I think, and this book is a deep, dark and many-layered work of the imagination as well as being very funny. Yet again, he's made me ponder and wonder about the very personal conflicts between good and evil within ourselves. He's also made me wish for my own personal Muddlespot devil (possibly without the addition of brass hammer and gloopy bloody bits). Which seems like the perfect time to hand you over to John himself to tell you about:
|John in Wizardly guise!|
D for Devil
Power-Broker of Pandemonium
JD: The Devil has power. Many people believe he exists. Some say they have met him.
“…an expression appeared on the patient’s face that could only be described as Satanic,” wrote M Scott Peck. “It was an incredibly contemptuous grin of utter hostile malevolence. I have spent many hours before a mirror trying to emulate it without the slightest success.”
M. Scott Peck , M.D People of the Lie
Type the word ‘dragon’ or ‘vampire’ and you’ll get a thrill. But dragons and vampires don’t really exist. You know that. Type the word ‘devil’ and you’re playing with fire.
Writers like fire. We think we can handle it. The devil has appeared, in some form or other, in all my books. I like him not just because of the power, but because the threat he poses is more than physical. A dragon can fry you. A vampire will suck your blood. But the contest with the devil is fought in your own head. He’s inside your defences before you even start. And if you fall, then anything that is good about you is turned inside out. In that sense you are truly destroyed.
He’s an all-rounder. He can take many roles. He used to be big as the demon-lover until the vampires got that franchise (cheap East European labour pushing out an established brand). He’s also a rebel. Wherever there is stifling moral authority, the devil can don jeans and climb on a motorbike and lead us roaring away to glorious, dangerous freedom. Blake saw it in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Pullman cast him as Lord Asriel. Shaw invoked him in The Devil’s Disciple, where the hero is in revolt against the Puritan culture of his home town, and declares his house to be “The House of the Devil”, (before being forced by circumstances and his own nature to risk his life for others and ending up becoming a priest – Shaw liked a joke). In this guise we’re on his side, because he’s the underdog. He stands for freedom. And we’re still playing with fire.
In Muddle and Win the hero is a little devil called Muddlespot. He gets sent up from Hell by his bosses, like a secret agent into enemy territory. His mission is to get into the mind of a girl called Sally Jones and secure her ‘defection’. This proves a lot harder than he expects. Sally is top of her class, always does her homework, always keeps her room tidy, is liked by everybody and she knows who she is. And when he finally starts to make some headway, Heaven responds by sending an angel called Windleberry in against him. The story is about how the three of them get on together.
It’s a light-hearted little tale and it was great fun to write. The very worst that happens is that a tray of muffins gets over-cooked. But underneath it all, there’s fire.
SCC: Thank you so much for visiting, John, and for being so illuminating about the D-word! John is also visiting the wonderful Seven Miles of Steel Thistles blog today, talking about Scheherezade and the Arabian Nights - well worth popping over there right now!
Next week: The inimitable Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimeus series, talks to us about D for Djinni. See you then!