It’s always a real pleasure to find new to me authors, especially at the start of their writing careers, and I’m delighted to welcome new novelist Andrew Batty to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me all about his debut book.
Staying in with Andrew Batty
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Andrew. Thank you for agreeing to staying in with me.
Agree? I love this blog. I would have sold my granny to get on here. It’s the antidote to other blogs. Soothing relief from garish graphics and gibbering garbage. It’s bloghurt, full of gut friendly facteria.
That made me laugh! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
My debut novel The Boy and the Briefcase and the Moose. It is my only novel, so the choice was relatively easy to make.
I imagine it was! But we all have to start somewhere. What prompted you to write your first book in your late fifties.
I’m an architect. I’d ran out of art galleries and museums to design. I needed a creative outlet. Writing seemed like a welcome change, but what to write? Joan Armatrading leant a hand. I was listening to Love and Affection and was curious as to where that sound came from, where she came from. She went to school in Birmingham in the sixties. I wondered what that school was like. Maybe it was like my down-at-heel secondary modern in Rugby in the seventies. Could I write about a school like that? I created Harribold School, as a mirror image of my own experience.
I love Joan Armatrading so you’ve caught my interest already. Do you know what school she went to?
I don’t know. It might have been the finest grammar school in the country. I never found out.
The setting is a school, so I would expect the ‘Boy’ of the title, but why the ‘Briefcase’?
I got badly beaten in a fight at school. My friend told me I was bound to lose because I was a limp wristed boxer. He briefly became my boxing coach. He had a leather briefcase which he held for me to use as a punch bag. With my better boxing wrists, I never lost another fight. The boy and his briefcase are the inspiration behind my hero character, Winston. However, the briefcase that goes missing in the story, is not necessarily, his briefcase.
Whose briefcase is it?
Nobody at Harribold. It was in a run-down area. ‘Winston’ had the only briefcase in the school.
If not Winston, who then?
Near to my school was Rugby School, one of the poshest independent schools in the country. Ancient buildings and immaculate lawns. A private paradise. Every day the school bus drove past. Students in the shiniest shoes and smartest uniforms strode across those hallowed grounds. They all had a briefcase. It was one of those that is stolen.
But how? It’s a different school.
A student exchange. Two students from Rugby School turn up at Harribold School unprepared for the culture shock they are about to experience. A lapse in concentration, and a briefcase gets nicked. They know who’s got it, but that just makes matters worse.
Okay, that’s the ‘Boy’ and the ‘Briefcase’ explained, but why a ‘Moose’?
The moose just appeared when I was writing the story. It seemed such a good idea. The moose turns out to be the reason everyone has so much to lose. The moose provides jeopardy, and if you want to write an exciting story, you must have jeopardy.
Yes you must. And I could tell you a tale about a briefcase from when I was teaching when a student asked me if I’d ‘seen the axe in X’s briefcase’, but that’s for another time! What are The Boy and the Briefcase and the Moose’s main themes?
It’s a book about being a teenager. It’s about heroic success, dismal disaster, cringing embarrassment, and burning desire, but it’s mainly about friendship and fun.
What is your style? How do you tell the tale?
Largely through dialogue. School friends chat all the time. It seemed appropriate. It keeps the story bubbling along. I like the conversations the characters have. My favourite is Karen when she responds to the lovestruck Andrew:
‘But I thought you liked me.’
‘Like you? You are a f**kin disaster area. I don’t know anyone who could f**k things up as much as you. You are a danger to be around. In a war you should be dropped over enemy lines and left to f**k things up for the enemy.’
‘I’m accident prone.’
‘You’re not prone to accidents, they don’t just happen to you, you throw yourself at them. You’re the guy with his head in the lion’s mouth. In a swimming pool full of shit, you’d chose the deep end to dive in. You have no idea of the chaos you cause. You manage to put your foot in your mouth with your head up your arse.’
As an author, you are living inside your characters. You adopt their persona. They say things you don’t expect. Things you wouldn’t say. They surprise you. That is what makes dialogue so much fun.
I see you have brought along a photograph. Is that you?
Yes, this is me at the time of the story. I was a fairly confused individual at the time, and I think that comes across in the picture. I think of myself as fairly well-behaved, but I did get the slipper and detention, and found myself in one or two fights, so I probably wasn’t perfect.
And what’s that second image?
The second photograph is a current photograph of the school I attended. It has hardly changed in forty five years.
What else have you brought along, and why have you bought it.
I have brought chalk and a blackboard. This was still the height of technology in 1975. From Harrow to Barrow teachers drew things on a board with chalk. This is why the seventies generation is so imaginative. In those scribblings we had to see what the teacher wanted us to see, from the Eiffel Tower to the Mona Lisa.
I’m not sure about the 1975. I worked in New York schools for a while about a decade ago and they were still using chalk and blackboards in many of them!
So, paint your table black, give your kids some chalk, let them scribble away to their hearts content, then spend the next two weeks hoovering up the dust and discarded stubs of chalk.
I have also brought a slipper. This was in frequent use alongside the cane in 1975. So, if your kids really want the seventies experience, this would be a suitable punishment for those appalling pictures. For curious adults, what you do in the comfort of your own home is entirely up to you.
It is indeed! When I first started teaching the cane and slipper were still assiduously applied by the Deputy Head. Not to me, I hasten to add, but mainly to the 4th year (now year 10) boys!
How has The Boy and the Briefcase and the Moose been received?
I think readers can relate to my book. Here’s what one said:
‘Secondary school in the 80’s was a very similar experience to that experienced by Andy, albeit ours was an all-girls school. Reading about his and his friends exploits made me chuckle out loud. This is a very funny and uplifting read.’
The Boy and the Briefcase and the Moose sounds enormous fun Andrew. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about it.
The Boy and the Briefcase and the Moose
This is a very embarrassing book.
It’s a book about awkward moments, impossible situations and desperate circumstances; it’s about red faces, cold sweats and serious cringing; it’s about putting your heart on the line and hoping it isn’t squashed by the first train into the station. In short, it’s a book about being a teenager. But that means it’s also about heroes, adventure, excitement, and how that first kiss can turn your stomach, and your whole world, upside down.
Two briefcases arrive at a humble secondary school, accompanied by two boys from a posh private school. Tasked with showing them how the other half lives are three pupils: Josephine, Winston and Andrew. They have to guide these newbies through the madness, mischief and miscreants of their new school… without incident. Fat chance!
A briefcase goes missing. They have to get it back. Worse is, they know who has it.
Moose, mayhem and Manchester tart – what’s not to like?
About Andrew Batty
Andrew Batty is a husband, an architect, an author, a collection of memories, and a bag of bones and mushy bits. But, I guess you want more.
He was born in a small village near Rugby and attended a secondary modern school in the town. Andrew was working towards seven CSEs, a second level qualification. A move to Sheffield gave him the opportunity to do O’levels and A’levels and progress to Manchester University to study Architecture. Life since then has been the everyday adventures of buying houses, bringing up children, and earning money. Then one day, Andrew decided to write a book.
For further information, visit Andrew’s website.