So, here’s the tweet we mentioned on the podcast. It was sent out into the ether by Jon one September morning, with a wing, a prayer and a tag that read @AndyStanton15, all in the pathetic hope he might see it and have his interest piqued.
From the very first reading aloud of You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum! (performed in that way only an ex-drama student can. With cringy excess, despite only reading to my 2 young sons and not performing at the RSC), I, Jon Rand, was a mega-fan. I suppose before reading it, I thought it might be quite an amusing book. It looked from the cover as though it would almost certainly involve some sort of unsavoury Mr Twit-type character, with it’s Blake-esque scribbled old git on the front. But maybe this ‘Andy Stanton’ would push the character a bit further? Perhaps there’d be some poo jokes? A sort of anarchic Roald Dahl?
I feel like I was ill prepared.
It’s difficult to describe the experience of reading a Mr Gum book. It’s perhaps most analogous to that feeling you got when the stabilisers were removed from your first bike. A bit scary at first, when you’re used to the stiff frame of worthy kid-lit: Morpurgo, Tolkien, Pullman, Pearce. But then… oh my God… bloody thrilling. Freedom and wonder and stunts and stupidness and sunshine and fizzy drinks and stink and dogs and light and fun. We smashed through that first book with the joy and momentum of Tom Turner at an all- you-can-eat Chinese Banquet.
One book down, and my younglings were ravenous for more. But lo. A cynical thought had already crept, stealthy as an evil mind-ninja into my brain. Yes, whilst delighted to discover that this was the first in a series of several books… surely…. SURELY no man has the creative stamina to maintain this level of playful-silliness-whilst-actually-making-you-care-about-the-characters-ingness for a whole series?
We bought Mr Gum & The Biscuit Billionaire with mild trepidation. We turned to the first page. We held our breaths. We met Alan Taylor, a talking billionaire biscuit with electric muscles. We chuckled. We laughed out loud. We bit our fingers. We laughed a bit more. We weed.
My son’s primary school teacher asked me if I would come and read to the class. I replied, “Of course… and I reckon I know the perfect book.” You’ve never seen kids laugh so hard. Some of the chubbier ones were literally rolling around. They wanted me back every blumin’ week after that.
If you are an adult. Especially if you are an adult, I strongly prescribe the reading of these books. They are a sort of essay in remembering to let go. In remembering to love the things that remove you from your let’s face it, mostly routine-based, logistically exhausting, screen-focused life and take you back to a time when your brain was an open flood gate. When it let in the tide, unsullied by rules and technology.
Read these books and learn how to write as though it’s all just pouring out of you. All coming right off the top of your head… And then listen to the podcast and find out just how bloody intensely hard they actually were to write.
They say never meet your heroes. But Andy, it was bloody lovely to meet you.