Andy Mulligan

Andy Mulligan

About Author

Andy Mulligan was brought up in the south of London. He worked as a theatre director for ten years before being made redundant in his early thirties when he left the UK to help at an orphanage in India. He then travelled extensively in Asia and later retrained as a teacher. He has taught English and drama in India, Brazil, the Philippines and the UK. He now divides his time between London and Manila.





When a child shouted out from an auditorium, "I have a dog. It thinks it is a cat!", it gave Andy Mulligan the spark of an idea that became his latest novel, DOG.

Dog is an exploration of the questions and insecurities around identity that children might face as they become teenagers. Mulligan also explores bullying as well as family relationships through the story.

In Dog, a puppy called Spider is given to a boy, Tom, who is struggling at his new secondary school - where he is being bullied - and at home, following the separation of his parents. Spider becomes Tom's focus so, when Spider gets frightened and runs away, Tom does all he can to find him. Much of the novel is focused on Spider, the friends he makes - not all of them good - and, finally, his quest to return home.

We asked author ANDY MULLIGAN to tell us more about DOG:

Q: Can you tell us how the first seeds of the idea for this book were sown?

A: I was in an auditorium taking questions from the audience when a boy called out, "I have a dog", and I said, "That's nice", and he shouted back, "Not really, he wants to be a cat!".

I loved the comedy of it initially, the idea that an animal could be wrestling with the same insecurities that we do and that it felt trapped in the wrong body.

For a long time I thought that the dog would be jealous of the cat's life and would behave like a cat but that began to fall away - there just wasn't enough in the story. It wasn't until I decided to put the dog, Spider, together with a boy, Tom, who has his own set of insecurities, that the story started to come together.

Q: How did you create those insecurities in the dog, Spider, who thinks he might be a cat?

A: As a young puppy, Spider meets a spider who points out to him that he is a mongrel and he is the last of the litter to find a home. That's where Spider begins to question what is his role. Then, he meets a cat who tells him he isn't a dog after all, he is a cat.

After that, it was a joy to take Spider's insecurities for a walk because everything he looks at has to be scrutinised as he is so unclear about what his role is.

Q: Tom, his owner, is experiencing bullying at school but the creatures bullying Spider are far more insidious. How did they develop?

A: When I worked as a teacher, it was one of the hardest things ever to really spot what was going on between children, to be able to see what was bullying and what wasn't. I was always puzzled at the word 'bullying' because it makes it seem such a quantifiable thing. On the posters, you will typically see a child demanding another child's dinner money.

But the enslavement that is involved as one child takes over another child is so subtle; and you can see examples of it in the staff room, among adults, who are still doing it - excluding another, or forcing them to act in a certain way.

The lying spider in Dog is based on a boy at school who absolutely tormented me and now, as an adult, I realise what he was doing but as an 11-year-old I had no idea. He had found my weak spot, which was that I was credulous, I believed things, and he got a peculiar pleasure from telling me things that I believed to be true.

So it's vital for children to recognise this kind of manipulation, otherwise they might spend their lives struggling to identify it.

Q: Although there are difficulties for your characters, there is also a lot of humour to be had in a dog that thinks it might be a cat - what are your favourite moments in Spider's story?

A: I love the humour you can develop where there are misunderstandings and the slapstick of a dog on the roof, trying to pretend to be a cat and then nearly falling off. Later on Spider tries to climb a tree with three cats reassuring him that it's very easy!

I also found writing Buster, a slightly doddery pit bull, funny because he still has this wonderfully misplaced loyalty towards his master who had actually booted him out of the back of his van. Yet Buster continuously reminisces about how wonderful his life was and wants to go back to it.

Q: Why is Spider so important to the boy, Tom?

A: I was fascinted by the idea of how, in Tom's world, the relationships are so fragmented at home that he struggles to find any traction at school either. He has just moved to a new secondary school, where he is being bullied. He needs a constant, a rock, and that is his relationship with Spider.

As a storyteller, it's such a lovely thing to do, to put these things together and then watch them crack. When Spider runs away, Tom can only focus on his lost dog and will risk anything to bring him back because that is the only thing that is important to him.

Q: If you could have any of the animals in the story as your pet, which one would you choose?

A: Certainly not the cat.... I once had a dog as a pet and, for a very important part of my life, he was absolutely my best friend and very much like Spider. But I think now I would be happy to bring back the little Moth from the story, who is nearly eaten by the spider. I loved the little moths and I wish I had made more of them.

But Buster is probably the animal I'd be happiest with at home and if I were to write a sequel to Dog, part of it would be to follow up Buster's story because he is so determined to get back to his old owner.

Q: Will you write a sequel to Dog?

A: I had such a good time writing Dog - I finished the first draft in just ten days - so yes, I would like to take it further but I'll think about it next year.

Q: What else are you writing?

A: I'm currently working on the film script for Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon, and I am finishing the first draft of a book set in Africa where a middle class family from London go to Africa and get a very different perspective on the world. I've been to Africa and I'm about to go again, to Senegal. I do a fair bit of travelling but I'll often go to places to write.

Q: Where has been your favourite writing destination?

A: Manila, where I wrote Trash, was the most intriguing place I've written in, although I also loved Calcutta when I was younger. I tend to visit places because my book will benefit from my being there.





Andy Mulligan's Liquidator is a fast-paced adventure for teenagers, where the action is driven by the young people in the story who are fighting to right a terrible wrong.

Like his earlier bestseller, Trash, now a big screen film, Liquidator is told from multiple points of view. The story follows a group of students who are on work experience placements, ranging from a week spent following the emergency services to flower arranging in a local store.

One of the students, Vicky, is sent to a local corporate's headquarters to make sandwiches. The corporate happens to represent Liquidator, an energy drink which is taking the world by storm. There, Vicky and her friends uncover an attempt to hush up a case of negligence by Liquidator, even though this could cost a young boy, Jamie, his life.

Each of the work experience students is gradually drawn into this battle against the corporate world, putting their own lives on the line to help save Jamie.

We spoke to Andy Mulligan about Liquidator and he answered the following questions for us:

Q: You began your working life as a theatre director and you also now write screenplays. When you're writing books, do you see them as a potential film or play?

A: When I write books, I tend to think quite visually and dramatically, but the way I write is also borne from having taught for many years and reading aloud in the classroom. The difference between reading aloud from a book that sends people to sleep or zings off the page is enormous and I'm always trying to write something that a reader can get into very quickly.

Q: Is that also why you wrote Liquidator from multiple points of view?

A: Liquidator was originally written from the perspective of the main protagonist, Vicky, but I ran into two problems in doing so. The first was, how can Vicky always be aware of everything that going on? You end up getting tied up with lots of retrospective narrative.

The second was something I found when I wrote Trash, which I wrote as a three-person narrative. I did that because you get bored with the same voice and desperately want to change the angle; you want a landscape shot rather than a close-up, to be able to move from what one character is doing to another.

The book is the group's account of what happened over this period, so they are looking back at what happened but telling it in the present. I like to write in the first person because for me, it feels immediate, dramatic, and it helps to keep the pace moving.

Q: Do you have a favourite character from this group?

A: Ben is one of my favourite characters, I know him so well, and Katkat. My characters, like these two, are often based on children I have encountered and taught.

Ben is an aggressive, sexist, geeky, intolerant, selfish boy who happens to be brilliant in his field (computing) and is also terribly vulnerable.

Katkat is based on a couple of girls I taught, one of whom was convinced she would become a star and this became like a titanium wall around her that it was impossible to break through.

Q: Why did you decide to use work experience as the setting for Liquidator?

A: I thought it could be really fun to play with the idea of children undertaking work experience who either become so crucial to the company they work for that they have a glorious experience, or they become such a liability that they have to be ejected very quickly.

When I was teaching we all dreaded work experience because inevitably some children would come back to school having had a terrible time. They'd have stories like, "I was doing some photocopying but I was told I wasn't insured to do it so I had to sit down again and do nothing." It worked best when the experience was paired to a child's interest and, when that was right, it could be a phenomenal experience.

In my story, the children have amazing placements. Leela wants to be a surgeon and ends up actually cutting someone open (which would never, ever happen in real life), although another student, Edgar, is left to shift boxes and has the good sense to walk out of the placement. Ben ends up flower arranging instead of installing a new computer system for the shop, as he had expected. He gets in such a rage about it that he almost stabs the florist with her scissors.

One of the other students ends up doing his work experience in an emergency call centre and another gets taken into a mortuary. Of course neither of these would actually happen in real life but in stories your characters can take more risks.

Q: Did you need to research some of their placements, like the surgery session or the rock band?

A: I made up most of what they do as I went along. I did spend some time in a hospital with a surgeon for my research and he was very helpful but he wouldn't let me into a mortuary or an operating theatre. He checked I got my procedures correct but laughed at what I'd written about my work placement student.

I also spoke to Pink Floyd's guitarist and he offered me back stage tour during The Wall concert in Prague. I couldn't go but my nieces did and I asked them all sorts of questions about it when they got back. A friend of a friend told me what it was like working in an emergency services centre but there are some places, like a surgery theatre, that are probably better for being imagined!

Q: Can you remember your own early experiences of work?

I do draw on a couple of my own experiences for the story. At one point the main character, Vicky, who has a placement with a big local corporation, is left alone to answer the phone. Vicky is totally out of her depth at the company and I remember having a similar experience when I was temping as a teenager. I was sent to a company where I had to do some typing and they all went to lunch, leaving me to man the phones.

That's what happens to Vicky and from that point, things just get out of control. She spills her drink onto the director's laptop, which is what begins the action. I was once writing in India and did exactly that, I spilled a drink onto my laptop and I just sat and watched all my work disappear. So I've used that in my book, too.

Q: The 'Liquidator' in your story is a successful fizzy drink. Why have you made it something so bad?

A: Liquidator is a sugary 'energy drink' and I wanted to use that because there's so much stuff out there that's bad for us. I drink too much coffee but at least I'm a grown-up, I can make an informed choice about what I do to myself and I'm aware of the health risks, but I think the most cynical of marketing practices is to hook kids into sugary stuff that will affect their health.

There is legislation in place now to make sure there's nothing quite as extreme as Liquidator, but you still have things like 'energy drinks' where they pretend that your health is at the top of their agenda. I remember advertisements like 'Lucozade aids recovery' while CocaCola once had this pretense that it helps to grow your teeth and bones.

I remember watching children in the Philippines where, if they had a few pennies to rub together, they would treat themselves to a sugary drink. Some manufacturers totally targeted them by providing drinks in tiny measurements. The result was that when children, who looked like angels, smiled, you'd suddenly realised that all their teeth were black.

In Liquidator I wanted to plant a flag in this corporate cynicism. It's quite topical as Jamie Oliver has launched a campaign to look at children's sugar intake because it's become such a problem.

I don't explore the global corporate in any great depth, it's simply held up as a fact that here's a company that treats the developing world as a kind of experiment chamber because those lives have so little merit to it - which takes us back to that horrible sense of cynicism in the book.

Q: As in Trash, the characters in Liquidator drive the story. Why do you want your characters to have such active roles in the adult world?

A: I love the idea of children seizing control for a moment and instead of driving the car off the road and into the ditch, which is what we'd all expect to happen, they drive it beautifully. They succeed, and that's the engine that drives through Trash. There, it's about survival and it's about getting the prize. In Liquidator, I'm looking at something so innocent and strong. What Liquidator does is so wrong and the children want to put it right and save the boy, Jamie, who has been caught up in all this.

Q: What was it like having your book, Trash, filmed? Has it changed things for you as a writer?

A: The filming of Trash has certainly provided me with more opportunities. I came to writing quite late in my life and it has opened certain doors; people look at what you're doing with a little more interest. In contrast, when I started writing in my 20's, I remember having a radio play turned down at the last hurdle and being devastated by it. I felt like I was on the other side of a door that I couldn't go through.

Q: Where do you do your writing?

A: I write a lot from my home in Chichester although I have discovered that if you hire a cottage somewhere nice and plan to get your first draft done while you're there, it's a great way to set a deadline so I often do that.

I used to go to India a lot to write, I had a cheap little hotel in Mumbai that I'd stay in and the room I'd hire had an enormous desk under a ceiling fan. I still do a fair bit of travelling, I'm going to visit a school in Egypt next month, in Cairo - they have Trash on their syllabus - and I'll be in the Philippines in December as they're doing one of my radio plays. I tend to do two or three school visits a month.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: At the moment I'm working on a play for Radio 4 about a guy who is trying to stage a play in a school and everything goes horribly wrong, there are accidents and misunderstandings and it's funny. My next children's book is about a dog who has an identity crisis and thinks it is a cat. It's called 'Dog'.






Return to Ribblestrop won The Guardian children's book award last month. We talked to author Andy Mulligan about what inspired the series about a group of pupils who run wild in their very eccentric school called Ribblestrop.

Q: Ribbelstrop is a very unusual school - what inspired it?

A: I was walking with a friend in the grounds of a run-down stately home and I had just started as a teacher at a school where everything was very structured and time-tabled and I joked, 'let's buy this house and run it as a school', but we both agreed that if we ran a school it would be awful.

We'd have no regulations and we'd employ people who would never make it as a conventional teacher, and so the children who were sent to the school would be those who had been removed from other schools, or whose parents didnt care, or who were orphans.


Q: Is there anything about Ribblestrop that you admire?

A: Where Ribblestrop works is that it goes with the enthusiasms of the teachers and students. That's where education works.

So in this story, you have a panther who is pregnant so science lessons move on that tangent and becomes lessons on birth and the world of animals. Another lesson becomes focused on how to build a roof, because the roof in the room has collapsed. So its entirely practical and relevant - education at its best.


Q: Would you survive as a teacher in a school like Ribblestrop?

A: I'm a very impatient teacher so I couldn't see myself in the Ribblestrop staffroom. Those teachers do have enormous patience and don't mind losing control a bit, which isn't me.

At the moment I teach at an international school in Manila where there are 55 nationalities. It's very structured, nothing like Ribblestrop, and I love teaching there.

It means that I turn into a writer every Saturday morning and it's the same during the holidays, I set myself a very strict schedule and write for eight hours a day.


Q: There's a lot of slapstick comedy in here, what is your favourite moment?

A: There's a boy in the story called Miles who is suicidal for various reasons and he rips his own flesh with glass when he realises his best friends have rejected him and he decides life is not worth living and reacts against those who hurt him so deeply and badly.

Then the science teacher decides to make his injury the subject of a science lesson and the class has to watch as he shows his wounds being stitched up...

There is a lot of comedy in Ribblestrop, but it's also about redemption. The young people are constantly heading towards real discoveries about friendship and a deepening relationship between them. After his experiences, Miles discovers an absolute thirst for life and that pulse goes through the whole of the book.


Q: Will there be another book about Ribblestrop?

A: Yes, the third book that I am writing is an outward bound story. The central gag is that a group of pupils are doing their Duke of Edinburgh expedition so for two or three nights will be orienteering even though they've not been taught how to do it and don't know how to survive on the moor by themselves...


Q: What's the most dangerous situation you've ever been in?

A: I'm a coward so I avoid any situations where I might damage myself!


Q: The book features a circus that is full of strange animals - are you a fan of circuses?

A: I've always loved circuses and love the irreverence with which the children in Ribblestrop treat the circus animals. They handle them and abuse them and learn to live right up close with them.

The animals are ferocious but become quite attached to the children because they are so fearless of them.

Of course it's a completely unrealistic situation but it gives room for a lot of gags. I love the one where the python eats someone's dog, and there's an elderly lion who treats one of the boys like its cub and the boy is always dripping with saliva from the lion licking him.


Q: How did you end up teaching abroad?

A: I had lost my job as a theatre director and happened to get a call from a friend saying they needed some help with a project in Calcutta, so I went to help out and became addicted to it.

It was out of my comfort zone but I loved it. I realised that the way I'd been brought up to think isn't the only way. In places like Manila and India people have such different expectations of what the world can do for them, you need to completely re-evaluate how you look at the world and you're not sure which of your values will stay with you, and which will go.


Andy Mulligan talks to ReadingZone about TRASH

Published by David Fickling Books

September 2010

Author Andy Mulligan's new title, Trash (David Fickling Books), is one of those books that take you by surprise. Trash is set on a rubbish dump in an unnamed country, where children scavenge for scraps that they can sell to earn money for food.

Since this is based on a reality experienced by many thousands of children, it is heartbreaking territory, but Mulligan's exploration of the children's enterprise and warmth, their thirst for justice and a powerful sense of community, also makes it a deeply sensitive and optimistic story.

It is also a very exciting one. The story is told through several different voices, including a young Western volunteer, Olivia; Father Guillard who is in charge of the dumpsite school at Behala; and three of the dumpsite children - Raphael, Gardo and Rat. Each describes their unfolding adventure in their own voice.

The adventure begins when one of the children in Behala, Raphael, discovers a wallet on the dumpsite which contains money, a map and a key. It soon becomes clear that the city's corrupt mayor will do anything to get hold of the wallet and its contents, but he proves no match for the dumpsite children who are determined to work out who owned the wallet and what its contents mean for the ordinary people of their town. In doing so, they put to right a terrible injustice from the past.

Mulligan began to write Trash after visiting a dumpsite on the outskirts of Manilla while he was working at a wealthy international school in Manilla. The international school had attached itself to an evangelically-run school at the dumpsite as part of a 'social agenda' to teach its pupils about the world.

Mulligan discovered that the work done by the children he had watched, picking through the region's waste, was many times worse than he first thought; as well as the usual household waste, the children were also picking through human excrement.

Mulligan says, "The waste the children were picking through came from a part of the city where there are no toilets; people would throw away their waste with the rubbish. These children were going through the rubbish, and the waste, in the hope that the next parcel they opened would be something that they could eat or sell," he explains.

"It was such a politically-charged image, that these children are raking through the effluent of the relatively rich, and it was not much a step from that to thinking, what if they came across something priceless?"

The map, money and key that Raphael finds is the start of an adventure and mystery that requires all the children's ingenuity and charm to solve. They eventually discover who was the original owner of the wallet and the mystery behind the money that has been 'stolen' from the corrupt town mayor.

Mulligan connected with the dumpsite children's "ingenuity and creativity". "You could despair that that child will only ever live and work among the trash but it is always possible that things will change for individuals," he said.

The dumpsite school he visited saw itself as a beacon of hope for children who wanted to change, although the times when that actually happened were very few.

Mulligan adds, "I also found that, despite their circumstances, these children still had the opportunity to be children. When they had earned their precious rupees for the day, they didnt necessarily run home and spend it on food, they might also go down the road and spend it playing computer games at a local store."

The children he describes in Trash were able to read and write, and to use computers. "It was important to me that the children in Trash could do these things because the children in dumpsites are ingenious and creative, and have survival skills."

Into this landscape he introduces Olivia, a young woman from the West who is helping out at the dumpsite school in Behala, until she is asked to leave the country towards the end of the novel. "She's a sensible soul and realises she has no skills of value; one thing the Developing World isn't short of is labour, but they do need our money," says Mulligan.

"Olivia may not have achieved much at the school but she learned a valuable life lesson from it and it's one that many of us in the West still need to learn there are no easy answers to the problems in these parts of the world."

Trash raises many questions for the Western world, including what we think we can do to help alleviate this kind of poverty while showing the reality of some of our rather empty gestures.

Mulligan's background as a teacher both in the UK and in developing countries has given him an insight into these worlds and how they sometimes overlap, and this is one of the themes explored in Trash.

Mulligan says, "The dumpsite school in Trash is not based on a real school but some of the facts and details are the same. I also worked in a school in Calcutta and saw the same kind of things happen."

He remembers the pointless gesture of a meaningful person in Britain who had paid for the children in a poverty-stricken school in Calcutta to each have a tie; the ties are probably still in the school's cupboards to this day. Mulligan uses this example in Trash, where the school drawers are full of uniforms for the dumpsite children; the children are never at the school long enough to wear them.

Mulligan began travelling after he was made redundant in his early thirties, when he worked as a theatre director. Following that, he says, "I was invited by a friend of a friend to help out in an orphanage in Calcutta, and it changed everything for me. After that I did a lot of travelling around India." He also moved into teaching.

His 'top tip' is to travel, and see. "Im really passionate about that for all the complications about back packers and bungee jumping and whether gap-year students can actually help, for all the uncertainties about that," he says.

"If people do go out and see with their own eyes, see what it is like for the characters in this book, then perhaps things will begin to change in our world. Once you have a better understanding of what is going on out there, you are better placed to contribute to it, to help change it."


Review of TRASH
by Joy Court (Librarian)

There is so much to admire in this story that it is hard to know where to start! It is a shocking portrayal of the grim realities of an existence clawed from a rubbish heap, in a corrupt society where there is no protection or care for the poor.

But this is not a polemic or a worthy issues book. We are not even told where this rubbish heap is. The characters do not waste their time bemoaning their fate either - they are too busy telling their intensely gripping story in an amazingly matter of fact way. This is how our life is - just get on with the story!

But for all that the reader cannot help but be appalled by their situation and enraged on their behalf since it is unquestionably authentic and real.

The narration is shared by different characters which cleverly enables the writer to portray both their internal narrative and their impact on others and brings them all vividly to life.

There is genuine pace and tension as the boys try to solve the mystery behind the bag that Raphael found on the dump, before the villains find them. They are fighting not just for their lives but for truth and justice and a fair chance. It is not often that such important messages are wrapped up in such a genuinely thrilling adventure.

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