Allison's Book Bag

What Imagination Can Do

Posted on: April 2, 2015

Although Mark Haddon has received other writing recognition, his most notable claim is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In 2003, he won the Book Trust Teenage Prize, Whitbread Book of the Year, and Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A year later, he won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Commonwealth Writers Prize for best first book, and Los Angeles Times book award for first fiction for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The list goes on. Tomorrow I’ll review this highly-acclaimed novel. Save the date: April 3!

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

MarkHaddonBorn in England in 1962, Haddon wasn’t much of a reader as a child. He tells Guardian that the little he did read, he doesn’t really remember. He attended Uppingham School and Merton College, both in Oxford, where he studied English.

When talking about why he became a writer, Haddon declares to Guardian that he was born too late for steam trains and a lazy eye meant he would never be an astronaut. Instead he aspired to be a palaeoanthropologist, excavating Australopithecus bones in northern Kenya. Somehow this translated to him reading books about chemistry and how cars worked and life on the ocean floor.

When then did he decide to become a writer? According to Haddon, he never really did, but instead for him “Writing is like being gay. You finally admit that this is who you are, you come out and hope that no one runs away.” Yet Haddon also acknowledges to Guardian about reading R.S. Thomas at 14 (‘Iago Prytherch his name, though, be it allowed,/ Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills,/ Who pens a few sheep in a gap of cloud’) and being astonished that someone could arrange these perfectly ordinary words in a way that did amazing things to the inside of his head. Since that time, Haddon has spent most of his life trying to understand that mystery and trying to give other people the experience he had.

After college, Haddon worked part-time in a theater box office and in a mail order business. He explored different occupations too. One included working with people with disabilities, specifically those with multiple sclerosis and autism. For creative venues, he created illustrations and cartoons for magazines, as well as wrote children’s television series. He even took up painting and selling abstract art.

Wikipedia notes that Haddon describes himself as a “hard-line atheist,” when asked if he’s like the main character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but he’s also apparently always asking himself the big questions: Where did we come from? Is there a meaning to all of this? While Haddon has read the Bible, he asserts that science and literature are what give him answers.

Haddon resides in Oxford with his wife. They have two young sons. When not writing, he likes to cook vegetarian.

WRITING BACKGROUND

Years before The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time gave him bestseller status, Haddon wrote his first children’s book, Gilbert’s Gobstopper, in 1987. This was followed by many other children’s books, including his series of Agent Z books, which even inspired a 1996 Children’s BBC sitcom. Haddon admits to Guardian that he made this choice, partly because he thought writing children’s books would be an easy task. He soon learned the difference, but also recognizes that such a choice gave him a stern apprenticeship.

What is remarkable about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is it represents the first book that Haddon wrote intentionally for an adult audience. After having written more than a dozen books for children over the years, he wanted to write about more complex themes. Notable Biographies quotes Haddon as saying, the resulting novel “was definitely for adults, but maybe I should say more specifically: it was for myself. I’ve been writing for kids for a long time, and if you’re writing for kids you’re kind of writing for the kid you used to be at that age. I felt a great sense of freedom with this book because I felt like I was writing it for me.” In presenting the final manuscript to his agent, however, it was decided that it would be marketed to both an adult and a teenage audience. It was even published in two identical editions with different covers, one for adults and one for teenagers, and its success astonished everyone.

According to Notable Biographies, the idea for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came from an image in Haddon’s mind of a poodle that had been killed by a gardening implement. Haddon thought beginning a novel this way could be funny, but in order to make it work he would have to tell the incident from a unique viewpoint. “The dog came first, then the voice. Only after a few pages did I really start to ask, ‘Who does the voice belong to?’ So Christopher came along, in fact, after the book had already got underway.”

Notable Biographies writes that what interested many reviewers is that even though Christopher has autism, Haddon in no way makes this the theme of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Indeed, the word “autism” is never even used. As noted above, Haddon has worked with autistic people. Beyond that, he admits to doing very little formal research when creating the character of Christopher.

Another question Haddon shares with Guardian is that he has been regularly asked over the past year is what models he had in mind when writing Curious Incident. The answer is Pride and Prejudice. He notes that “Jane Austen was writing about boring people with desperately limited lives. Her heroines were bound by iron rules about what they could do, where they could go and what they could say…. Yet Jane Austen writes about these humdrum lives with such empathy that they seem endlessly fascinating. And her first act of empathy is to write about them in the kind of book these woman would themselves read.” This is apparently what Haddon’s what tried to do with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

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