Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pg. 69: "The Dead Fathers Club"

Matt Haig is the author of The Dead Fathers Club, The Last Family in England, and a forthcoming children's novel called Shadow Forest.

I asked Matt to apply the "page 69 test" to The Dead Fathers Club, which will be published in the US in February. Here is his reply:
Okay, my page 69 is mainly white space because it comes at the end of a chapter. Mind you, the white space itself is pretty representative of the book not only because of the short chapters but because when the main character, the eleven year old Philip, is prescribed Diazepam for panic disorder I use blank pages to illustrate his state of mind.

Anyway, there is one sentence on page 69. The sentence is this:

“And I was pointing at Uncle Alan but not looking and my body was shaking and Mum was holding me and spit was out of my mouth hanging and I was in her jumper my face was and I closed my eyes and smelt her warm jumper and it was a nice smell like flowers.”

This is a key point in the book, when Philip finally believes his father’s ghost and is convinced his Uncle Alan is a murderer (there’s a lot of Hamlet stuff going on). It is the first night Uncle Alan stays with Philip’s mother, and the first time Philip expresses his anger.

You will notice there are no commas. There are no commas in the whole book because it is all from the perspective of Philip, and I figured Philip’s thoughts would be too fast to accommodate much punctuation. I am well aware this might put people off the book but the truth is when I wrote with commas and apostrophes it didn’t feel as good, so I changed it. In the UK where I live there is a lot of debate about grammar, especially in education, and knowledge of correct grammar is obviously significant and necessary but in my view there is not enough emphasis put on imagination. After all, Shakespeare was inconsistent with punctuation and even spelt his own surname six different ways and he seemed to do okay.

Another thing that this whole page 69 exercise has made me realise is how many chapters end with Philip needing a hug. Here he ends up in his mum’s jumper (sweater). In other chapters he fantasises about being embraced by his History teacher, Mrs Fell, or his girlfriend (Ophe)Leah.

For instance, page 162 ends: “The bell went and Mrs Fell just looked at me with sad shoulders. I wanted her to hug me and to put my head in her warm boobs for ever. But that wasnt going to happen so I picked up my bag with my weapons in it and I went out.”

So, ultimately, I have no idea how many people would want to read the book after reading page 69. People who love blank space or loose punctuation or maternal hugs or – preferably – all three, are, I suppose, the perfect page 69 readership.
Many thanks to Matt for the input.

Read chapter one of The Dead Fathers Club.

The novel has scored much praise, including:
Philip is a breathless storyteller who seldom stops for punctuation but whose honesty and innocence, which shine from every sentence, are utterly captivating and heartbreakingly poignant. The result is an absolutely irresistible read.
--Booklist (starred review)

We now owe another debt to Shakespeare, and one to Haig, for re-imagining a tragic masterpiece with such wit, force and - yes - originality.
--Kirkus (starred review)

The plucky hero impressively navigates the gloomy, pungent waters of retribution, death and guilt, and Haig gives an enviable job of leavening a sad premise through the words and actions of a charming, resilient young man.
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Totally engrossing.
--Stephen Daldry, director of Billy Elliot and The Hours, (Observer)
Online extras include a video interview with Matt, an audio interview, a reader's guide which includes a Q & A, and some FAQ that Matt's fielded.

Then there are lists-- of favorite writers, favorite movies, books that altered Matt's existence, etc.

The movie rights to The Last Family in England have been optioned by Brad Pitt's movie company, Plan B and Paramount. The movie rights to The Dead Fathers Club have been optioned by film producer David Heyman, the man behind the Harry Potter movies. (Which is just the sort of news to catch the eye of someone who publicly advertises his availability to adapt fine novels for the screen.)

One of my favorite top ten lists of 2006: Matt Haig's top 10 novels influenced by Shakespeare.

Visit Matt Haig at MySpace or his official website.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue