Sunday, 20 December 2015

Muddle and Win, by John Dickinson: reviewed by Sue Purkiss

I recently met John Dickinson at a writers' conference, henceforth to be referred to as Charney. All sorts of things took place at this conference, including serious (well, not very) writers masquerading as Tudor market traders, innkeepers and thieves; a savage and snarling quiz, a great deal of talking and eating; and one of the most effective and funny talks I've ever listened to. This last was given by John Dickinson. It was on the not-obviously-riveting topic of publishing and finance, and it was brilliant.

Another thing we do at Charney is that we take some of our books with us, and swap them or buy them or - if we're very desperate - bribe people to take them away. Curious, I looked at John's books, to see what kind of thing someone so clever and so funny would be writing. Not surprisingly, the answer was - something very clever and funny. Muddle and Win, in fact.

There were other books by him for older children, and they looked good too. But I liked the format of this one. It was a hardback, smaller than the average size, with nice cream paper and a beautifully clear font. Just right, somehow.

Now, you need to know what it's about. It's not all that easy to say. The battle between good and evil? Well, yes, but so's Paradise Lost, and it's not much like that. A cross between Terry Pratchett, Horrid Henry, and that new Disney film called Inside Out? Hm, that's closer. It has the comic fantasy of Pratchett, it has - like HH - a perfectly horrid character and an annoyingly virtuous character, and a lot of the action takes place inside a character's head. By that, I mean it actually takes place; we aren't talking about thoughts here, we're talking about a rather dear little devil called Muddle, and a very cool guardian angel called Windleberry, who are fighting it out for the soul of the practically perfect Sally Jones - inside the complex, beautiful and well-ordered chambers that make up her mind. The consequences for either of them of losing will be dire, so the stakes are high.

And the resolution involves muffins.

I don't think I can put it any more clearly than that. It's witty, it's funny, it's beautifully written, and it's full of characters such as you'd meet almost nowhere else. Here's a little taster: introducing Windleberry, guardian angel and celestial super-agent.

He had served in every heavenly department and was thorough in everything he did. Other angels marked the sparrow's fall, but Windleberry gave it marks out of ten, and made it fall again if it scored less than three. Other angels counted the hairs on a human's head, but Windleberry clipped a tiny numbered label to each one and offered them round for sponsorship... He never carped, he never questioned, he never came back to complain about how difficult it was...The only thing with Windleberry was that you had to remember to shout 'stop'.


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