Mi furst book

This is the cover of the first book (indeed, the first story) I ever wrote. As you can see, I was a big fan of the bespoke, handmade approach back in those days (circa 1987), but quickly learnt such personal attention did not quite go hand in hand with an initial run of 3,000 copies.

I quite presumptuously named the book The Stories, as you can see, as if I had not just written a bit of fan fiction, but had invented literature. In my own little way, I suppose I had! Hopefully the writing has improved a bit since, though.

If you’ve spotted the shark’s fin on the cover, you can probably guess what happened in The Stories. The day before I wrote it I had seen Jaws for the first time and when I woke up on the morning I became a writer, the world seemed just a little different somehow. I set about writing my sequel to Jaws, which involved Chief Brody’s kids narrowly avoiding being eaten again (this is actually the plot of Jaws 2, as it turned out).

Here are some sample spreads (publishing term for you – are you impressed?) from inside the book. As I am sure you agree, it was quite a suspenseful tale. However, I can reveal that poor Hannah was indeed confirmed dead on the next page.

To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever written dialogue any better than this Hemingway-esque exchange:
‘Mike, go with Jo to the USA.’
‘No, no, I am not going to the USA with Jo.’
‘Why?’
‘Well, you go to the USA.’

If you’re wondering what all those DD-DD bits are about, I asked my dad how to write out John Williams’ Jaws theme…

I went on to write plenty of other fan fiction sequels before I started coming up with my own ideas. My most notable sequel was probably the postmodern follow-up to The Towering Inferno in which all the actors from the movie (Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Fred Astaire… and O J Simpson) get caught up in a real burning skyscraper.

Yes, I am very much a child of the movies. Who knows, if my family had had money and a video camera, I might have ended up making films instead.

Mockingjay

The final part of the Hunger Games trilogy veers between brutal and savage. So much so, in fact, it’s hard to imagine how they will make a movie out of it without either cutting out (or sanitising quite considerably) key scenes or releasing it under an adults-only rating (rather unlikely). Suzanne Collins doesn’t lose her nerve. The violence has escalated because this isn’t a story about a sporting event any more, it’s a story about a civil war, and that’s what happens.

Katniss and Peeta have survived another Hunger Games. It had been set up to kill them off in a politically acceptable fashion, but on escaping the arena, they discover it has had unintended consequences. Unrest in the Districts of Panem has not been quelled, it has turned into open rebellion against the oppressive Capitol. The Hunger Games were designed to keep the oppressed Districts hating and fighting each other, but now they have inspired them to unite.

Katniss and Peeta quickly catch up on everything they missed whilst in the arena, including the complete annihilation of one of the Districts, and the re-emergence of another – District 13, the one that led the failed rebellion against the Capitol generations before, and supposedly paid the ultimate price. District 13 wish to use Katniss as the figurehead for their latest attempt to overthrow the Capitol, and Katniss is willing to go along with the plan providing she gets to seek personal revenge against Panem’s cruel dictator President Snow. Unfortunately there’s more going on in District 13 than Katniss is being made aware of.

Where Catching Fire felt somewhat staid after The Hunger Games, Mockingjay pushes a lot of boundaries, some of which perhaps didn’t need to be pushed to keep the story moving. And where Catching Fire felt like setup, Mockingjay is pure payoff. It is a fitting end to the trilogy, as thrilling as the first part, even if not as suspenseful. All of the books’ themes about the power of propaganda and the destruction of the individual in the machine of a totalitarian state (especially one waging a war against itself) culminate in the surprising final act.

I wonder how much of this novel goes over the heads of teenagers. Katniss’s mentor since the first book, Haymitch, is no longer the alternately embarrassing or aggressive drunk, he is just one of many characters seeking recourse to oblivion on a regular basis, and the precise reasons why are barely explained, even less judged. Meanwhile District 13 try to prevent Katniss from getting into danger, whilst still needing to broadcast footage of her fighting the Capitol to inspire the rebels – the image is more useful, more important than the truth.

It was always going to be difficult for Collins to crib a third Hunger Games tournament into this novel, so sensibly she doesn’t even try. But in a way, this is the story where the Hunger Games are most prominent. The Hunger Games aren’t just a sporting event contested by an unlucky few. Everyone who lives in the cruel, unjust society of Panem competes in the Games every day of their lives.