Meeting Andy Mulligan

I am so glad it stopped raining last Tuesday, because I got to attend the launch of “Trash” by Andy Mulligan at National Book Store Glorietta 5. I came from work so by the time I got there, a bevy of eager fans were already queued up to get their books signed so I was able to browse through the book while waiting for my turn.

Less than an hour later, I got to meet Andy Mulligan himself, and we were able to chat a bit about his latest novel “Trash,” a young adult novel loosely based on the Philippines, an adventure story featuring three dumpsite boys.

Check out what he has to say about the book!

Q: Where did you get the idea for Trash?

Andy Mulligan (AM): It emerged from visiting the dumpsite in Tondo; it emerged from that awful detail that children are doomed to wade through human sewage forever. And then it was simply the storyteller’s first job — you start imagining, what if, children, instead of finding a McDonald’s carton, instead of finding a bit of old tire that they can recycle, what if they find something truly life-changing?

Q: How did you come to be at the dumpsite?

AM: The fact that my school, British School Manila, is twinned with Tondo school, so my school has a certain agenda whereby we introduce well-heeled, privileged students to the other side of the tracks. We take them and say look, this is how a significant section of the population lives. You need to be aware of this.

Q: Does the social issue in this book drive the story?

AM: It’s a story with a social issue. It’s not a work of journalism; it’s not a revolutionary tract or pamphlet. First and foremost it’s the story of three amazing boys who find something precious and through their ingenuity and skill and courage manage to ultimately right a wrong that’s been lodged in their culture and history for the last twenty or thirty years. My priority is always story and always character. The fact that yes, of course, there’s this great, overwhelming social issue is part and parcel of it. but no, that never drove it at all.

Q: Were the boys modeled on real children? What was your experience meeting them?

AM: Yes, very much so. I’ve spent a lot of time in Calcutta, Bombay, and Manila, and you don’t have to look very hard to find streetkids around, streetkids that are desperate to sell you cigarettes, flowers, whatever it may be, and you don’t have to work very hard in striking conversations and getting to know them in some way. The characters in the novel are based on kids that I spoke to, whose houses I visited, whom I have spent a certain length of time getting to know at least some of their aspirations, and yeah, I pinched them and stuck them in the book.

Q: Dumpsites are commonplace in this part of the world; how do you think readers from the other side of the world would react to this story?

AM: I think it will vary; surprisingly there are a lot of people out there who have no idea, who’ve successfully protected themselves from certain realities and I don’t mean children….  I’ve met a number of adults who’ve looked at me with horror and asked me if dumpsites like that really exist, and I’m blown away, I think, yeah, what planet have you been living on, don’t you know that there are problems like this all over the world. The reaction’s quite extreme sometimes.

Q: As a writer of books for young people, are you challenged by the distractions that keep children from reading?

AM: I’m not challenged by it, I don’t have to encounter them myself, really. As a teacher, I’m always aware that children have another agenda and that reading might not be their first love. I think it’s always been the case that children are distracted by a good game of basketball and a good computer game. The distractions will always be immense; the duty of the writer is to create something compelling when they do open the pages.

Q: What can the readers expect from the book?

AM: The readers can expect a thriller, they can expect a story that moves quickly, a story that doesn’t spend time reflecting and pontificating. And if the story works, if the book works, then it really keeps up that pressure; you want to get to the end of the chase, and I hope that the reader, like me, will care very very passionately about the protagonists.

Will post the review of the book in the next post. Meanwhile, here’s a short clip of Andy Mulligan, with a message for you, yes you, the readers of this blog! :)

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