Mark Haddon is making waves in literary circles. Dave Weich of
Powells.com has a chat with Mark on what exactly has made his
literary debut effort such a hit.
It’s not just the
hook, though the hook is peculiar and oddly affecting. "When I
was writing," the author al-lows, "I really thought to
myself, Who on Earth is go-ing to want to read about a
fifteen-year-old kid with a disability living in Swindon with his
father? And I thought, I better make the plot good."
The hook— the plot ? is significantly better than good,
but it’s the irresistible voice of Mark Haddon’s young narrator,
Christopher Boone, that elevates this literary debut to fantastic
It was seven minutes
after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the
lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed. It
looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they
think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running
or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of
"This is a
murder mystery novel," the boy with Behavioral Problems
explains a few pages further on. A fan of Sherlock Holmes stories,
Christopher decides to investigate the poodle’s murder and turn
the story into a book of his own.
Christopher is quite
good at puzzles, at math, and at remembering. He is, however,
entirely incapable of delineating among the various grades of human
emotion on the scale between happy and sad, which makes for a
curious, if not altogether perplexing perspective. The narrator may
not recognise them, but emotions lurk behind virtually every clue he
Still, his pitch
never varies. Christopher never slips off course. The author’s
foremost accomplishment, in a book chock full of them, is to deliver
a wrenching domestic fiction in such clipped, deductive prose. The
Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time is an emotional
roller coaster. And as if that’s not enough, it’s often very
hilarious on one page," a member of the Powells.com customer
service department commented upon returning the company copy to its
shelf in the office, "then two pages later you want to
Where did you find the original impulse to write this novel? I know
that it wasn’t a matter of you thinking you’d write a book about
an autistic boy, as some might presume.
No, very deliberately not. And I think if I had done that I’d have
run the risk of producing a very stolid, earnest, and over-worthy
It came from the
image of the dead dog with the fork through it. I just wanted a good
image on that first page. To me, that was gripping and vivid, and it
stuck in your head. Only when I was writing it did I realise, at
least to my mind, that it was also quite funny. But it was only
funny if you described it in the voice that I used in the book.
So the dog came along
first, then the voice. Only after a few pages did I really start to
ask, Who does the voice belong to? So Christopher came along,
in fact, after the book had already got underway.
Did that seem a daunting prospect at first? How long did it take to
develop Christopher into the character he became?
I think once I heard the voice I knew that Christopher would be
quite easy. I started writing in that voice, and I found it so
engaging myself that I knew I could write in the voice for a long
The more difficult
thing was constructing the shape of the story. I knew there was a
story; once you find a dog with a fork through it, you know there’s
a story there. The more difficult puzzle was this: I wanted the
whole book to be in Christopher’s voice, but the paradox is that
if Christopher were real he would find it very hard, if not
impossible, to write a book.
The one thing he
cannot do is put himself in someone else’s shoes, and the one
thing you have to do if you write a book is put yourself in someone
else’s shoes. The reader’s shoes. You’ve got to entertain
them, and there’s no way he could have done that.
It took me a while to
figure out that puzzle. The answer I came up with is having him be a
fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. That way, he doesn’t have to
put himself in the mind of a reader. He just has to say, I enjoy
Sherlock Holmes stories and I’ll try to do something similar to
that. It was that. That was the biggest puzzle for the book.
When I solved that, I began to see how I could shape the story.
The book is being marketed as both a literary novel and a story for
young adults. Did you have a readership in mind as you were putting
It was definitely for adults, but maybe I should say more
specifically: It was for myself. I’ve been writing for kids for a
long time, and if you’re writing for kids you’re kind of writing
for the kid you used to be at that age. You cast your mind back and
think, What would I have liked at age seven or five or ten? I
felt a great sense of freedom with this book because I felt like I
was writing it for me.
I think all writers
do that, all adult writers: be both reader and writer at the same
time. Consequently, I was quite surprised when I gave it to my agent
and she said, "Let’s try it with both adult and children’s
publishers and see what happens." I was really quite surprised
and, truth to tell, perhaps a bit disappointed because I’d spent a
lot of effort trying to move away from writing for children. Here I
thought, Maybe I’m about to slip back inside the ghetto again.
You still have to sit at the kids’ table.
But what happened in the UK was that we got a very good adult
publisher and a good children’s publisher that wanted to publish a
parallel edition, so who can complain about that? It’s the same
book in a slightly different cover.
Yet what makes the book so successful is that it would seem to
transcend those kind of targeted marketing efforts. Christopher, in
a way, is ageless. You don’t necessarily think of him as a child
when you’re reading because many of his faculties are advanced
well beyond an adult’s.
One of the things I like about the book, if I’m allowed to say
that about my own book, is something I realised quite early on: It
has a very simple surface, but there are layers of irony and paradox
all the way through it. Here is a fiction about a character who says
he can only tell the truth, he can’t tell lies but he gets
everything wrong. Here is a narrator who seems to be hugely
ill-equipped for writing a book he can’t understand metaphor, he
can’t understand other people’s emotions, he misses the bigger
picture and yet it makes him incredibly well suited to narrating a
He never explains too
much. He never tries to persuade the reader to feel about things
this way or that way; he just kind of paints this picture and says,
"Make of it what you will." Which is a kind of writing
that many writers are searching for all the time.
Also and this has
become something very important to me it’s not just a book about
disability. Obviously, on some level it is, but on another level,
and this is a level that I think only perhaps adults will get, it’s
a book about books, about what you can do with words and what it
means to communicate with someone in a book. Here’s a character
whom if you met him in real life you’d never, ever get inside his
head. Yet something magical happens when you write a novel about
him. You slip inside his head, and it seems like the most natural
thing in the world.
Upon finishing it, I was left wondering, Is this book about
Christopher? To me, and I think to many adult readers, the story
he tells of everyone around him resonates at least as much as his
Yeah. I think that mirrors the position of a writer, of me, because
I think most writers feel like they’re on the outside looking in
much of the time. But we all feel that sometimes. All of us feel, to
a certain extent, alienated from the stuff going on around us. And
all of us at some point, rather like Christopher, have chaos
entering our lives. We have these limited strategies we desperately
use to try to put our lives back in order. So although in some
senses he’s a very odd and alien character, his situation is not
that far removed from situations we’ve all been in at one time or
The father and the mother: I imagine their world, and I see two
people who didn’t plan for this situation. They weren’t prepared
to take this on. Now they don’t know how to cope.
One of the strange things about his parents is that different
readers feel very, very different things about them. Particularly
his father. Some people say he’s a good man struggling in
difficult conditions; other people say, "The guy’s a
psychopath." And I think that’s one of the functions of
Christopher’s voice. He paints a very sparse picture of the world
around him. You only see little bits of his father and little bits
of his mother. Readers bring to those characters what they want.
Some people paint one picture and some people paint another.
People have said to
me that it’s a desperately sad book and they wept most of the way
through it. Other people say it’s charming and they kept laughing
all the time. People say it has a sad ending; people say it has a
happy ending. Because Christopher doesn’t force the reader to
think one thing and another, I get many different reactions.
I’m finding the novel much funnier as I read it a second time.
Strangely, I did, too, as well.
wins the 2006 Gratiaen Award
collec-tion of short stories, the Ba-nana Tree Crisis, was
awarded the coveted 2006 Gratiaen Prize. The award was announced at
a ceremony organised by the Gratiaen Trust in Colombo recently. The
Gratiaen award is a literary prize gifted by Michael Ondaatje with
the money he received from the 1992 Booker Prize for The English
This annual prize is
given for the best English writing in Sri Lanka and is recognised as
the premier literary award for writing in English in Sri Lanka. The
2006 prize was jointly awarded to Isankya and she is perhaps the
youngest prize winner to date.
was born and raised in Sri Lanka. Accompanying her father on a
couple of diplomatic assignments to Japan and South Korea, she
received some of the primary schooling there and got the opportunity
to travel widely. On completion of her school education at Ladies’
College and Visakha Vidyalaya in Sri Lanka, she was selected to the
University of Sri Jayawardenepura in the mathematics stream.
However, since she
received a scholarship to Kenyon College, a small liberal arts
college in Ohio, she moved there in 2001. She gave up her
mathematics major to concentrate on writing and graduated with her
Bachelor’s degree with highest honours.
Returning to Sri
Lanka, she subsequently spent a year working with the Sarvodaya
Shramadana Movement, mainly involved with writing reports on the
organisation’s tsunami relief activities. In mid-August last year,
she moved to New York to read for the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at
the prestigious Columbia University, where she received a fellowship
to undertake postgraduate studies in writing.
This debut collection
of short stories maps the journeys of individuals from diverse
locations and lifestyles around Sri Lanka. The characters in these
stories come from all corners of Sri Lanka and all strata of life in
the island. What unites these characters though is their intense
desire to follow their dreams. The Banana Tree Crisis was
published by Vijitha Yapa publications, which was unafraid to take a
chance with a new writer, which is very much appreciated by Isankya.
Isankya is the
daughter of Chandani and Dr Karunasena Kodithuwakku.
by Lishan Perera
Review by P.G.
Punchihewa, the Author of Mähi Pañcg
– Alut Gedara and Mähi Pañc Saha Kalmädiriya
It is not surprising
that very few readers would have heard about Lishan Perera, for he
is only 12 years old and The Killer is his first published
Young Lishan is a
student at the Colombo International School and as one interested in
crime and mystery stories, has presented his own story, The
Killer, weaving it around a character Joe Harper.
Joe was 14 years
old.Two years back he and his mother had met with a motor car
accident. He survived but not the mother. Since then he had been
experiencing nightmares regularly. After sometime they stopped but
again started and this time they were not about the accident but
about a killer.
Joe’s father had
taken him to a psychotherapist for treatment. But Joe’s nightmares
continued and they were actually happening so much so that it looked
like him having a sixth sense.
The victims were
always police officers. But when the killer found out that Joe’s
nightmares were providing clues to his identity, he was also after
As a thriller should
be, all throughout the book Lishan keeps the reader in suspense,
coaxing him to read the gripping story .His command of the language
makes it doubly interesting. The few lines picked at random and
quoted below are an example.
"I was walking
along a beach. It was dark and a bright full moon hung above the
I was feeling relaxed
–relaxed and calm. My feet sank into the soft yellow sand, a cool
breeze swept in my hair and the sea lapped against my ankles.
I was walking along,
arms outstretched, admiring the beauty of my surroundings .Stars
twinkled from heavens and I seemed to be all alone. On the far edge
of the beach the mangrove and coconut trees swayed to and fro in the
ever so gentle breeze."
And then, the
"But I had made
a mistake. I was not alone"
Lishan has woven his
novel in the backdrop of Los Angeles. I felt that if he had based it
on Sri Lanka it would have been more appealing to the local readers.
As mentioned in the
back cover of the book Lishan must be a voracious reader and would
have been much influenced by his reading. Yet, to come up with a
book so well crafted at the age of 12 is something to be admired and
appreciated. His readers no doubt would wish many more publications
from his pen in time to come.