‘The Caravan at the Edge of Doom’ is the hilarious debut novel of comedian, Jim Beckett, and has been dubbed ‘Pratchett for tweens.’ I can see why – its madcap humour, crazy characters, and hilarious take on the afterlife make it a sure-fire winner with fans of funny.
I got the chance to ask Jim a few questions about the processes and inspirations behind the book so make sure you scroll down to read his responses….
‘When her grandparents explode in their caravan toilet late one night, twelve-year-old Harley discovers a surprising truth: their toilet is a gateway to the Land of the Dead, and they are its Guardians. Well, they were. But there’s no time to mourn their passing. Because Harley’s baby brother has accidentally gone with them to the Land of the Dead. And Harley only has 24 hours to rescue him before he’s trapped there FOREVER!
This hilarious and heartbreaking debut features exploding grandparents, unexpected heroes and a truly EPIC adventure.’
After reading, I had a few probing questions for author, Jim Beckett. Here’s what he had to say:
Jim Beckett – The Caravan at the Edge of Doom
1. You have written across a wide range of genres during your career, but this is your first middle grade novel. What drew you to this genre?
Writing children’s books is a privilege and a responsibility. I don’t think I’d have felt qualified when I was younger… Maybe I’m still not! A few years ago, I read some recently published middle grade titles, and I was excited and inspired by the possibilities. With the funny stuff, I was particularly drawn towards the potential for anarchic surrealism, the liberating mayhem of it all. The freedom to be silly and serious at the same time.
2. How did your skills as a comedian help or hinder the writing process?
Thank you for skills, Jo!
Writing jokes requires a precision akin to poetry – there’s always a better word. And syntax is critical: which part of this sentence or paragraph is set-up and which part is punchline? What needs to be foregrounded? But I think a comedic approach might have hindered me to begin with. My first middle grade book grew out of funny characters and their situation. I didn’t pay sufficient attention to PLOT and structure. I’ve since learned to devote a lot more time and energy to plotting. As a book grows to 20, 40, 60 thousand words, it’s easy to lose your grip on the logical cause and effect of all those strands and intertwining characters. And jokes can get in the way. Anything that doesn’t serve the plot MUST GO! You have to be ruthless. Writing a comedy routine is different. There, you want to pack in as many laughs as you can – little ones during the build up to the big ones. In a novel, you can’t pack the jokes in too densely because you’ll lose your reader’s emotional investment in story and character.
It’s early days. I’m still learning. I love that learning!
3. The Caravan at the Edge of Doom begins by introducing readers the premise of a toilet in a seemingly abandoned caravan being a portal to the Land of the Dead! Where did the idea for that come from?
Well, unsurprisingly a lot of people have been enquiring about this of late. Unfortunately, I don’t have a clear answer. I’m working on one, though… I do remember sitting down to write an idea in my notebook one day. There was a caravan on a lonely moor at midnight. The toilet was a portal to the Land of the Dead. Someone was going to pass through by mistake and would need rescuing. I think I had Orpheus going into Hades in mind a bit (but only a tiny bit – I had to google-check his name just now). Part of me suspects that I heard someone exploding in a caravan toilet when I was young and I’ve erased it from my conscious memory. Maybe the whole thing happened to me?
4. Which character was your favourite to write and why?
Harley. She’s got genuine courage and humility, but she’s not insipidly selfless – she remains constantly annoyed by this obligation to sacrifice her safety and half-term to be heroic. I may have made Harley too cross and impatient for some readers, but I love her impatience. I admire people who get cross and impatient with outrageous behaviours and systems.
I know some readers have been drawn towards Olly – as Harley is herself. And Olly’s great, obviously. But the Ollies are only great because of the Harleys.
5. Harley faced several trials on her path to becoming a Legendary Hero. Would you have attempted them if you had found a way to avoid them?
I doubt I’d have been bold enough to follow Olly’s great wisdom and skive off completing the Twelve Tasks. I’d have shared Harley’s reluctant sense of duty and obligation. But I’d have wanted to be like Olly – and found a sneaky shortcut so I could spend more time relaxing and enjoying myself.
6. There are strong themes of overcoming fears and taking control of your destiny in this story. Why did you want to make these central to the plot?
Fear stops us from doing good things and sometimes makes us do bad things. Harley’s biggest fear is exposing herself to the possibility of rejection in friendship. She has to learn to let others in – to share the journey. And to recognise that those others – friends, family – may steer her off course, but that’s part of the fun!
Others keep defining Harley – her parents, teachers, grandparents – and in the Land of the Dead, the expectations and assumptions of what she is or should be become even more exaggerated. Harley has to learn to resist the limitations of these versions of herself. But she has to learn to embrace their possibilities too – because, potentially, not all of these alternative versions of Harley are wrong; they’re just different interpretations, different perspectives, different possibilities. She’s all of these things, sometimes, to someone, and more. In a way, Harley has to learn to let go – to resist this urge to be always in control. She has to accept that she can’t and shouldn’t make this journey alone; her destiny will be shaped with and by others.
I love that Harley has to learn to both embrace and shape her own destiny, but to also accept help from others – lessons I think a lot of us need to learn!
*Many thanks to Farshore for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*