Friday, 8 January 2010

Isabel Ashdown's Blog

Currently featured in Exclusively Independent is the fantastic Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown. An extract from the book won the 2008 Mail on Sunday Novel Competition, praised as "Magnificent...made every word work and left the reader anxious to read on."

Isabel Ashdown on why laughter and pain will always share the page.

Andy stands motionless, staring up the tree. He suddenly snatches up into the branches, then screams like a girl and throws something at the ground as if it bit him. “Shit! Shit!”
“What is it?” I crawl across the rug, out of the shade, to look at the thing on the ground.
Andy crouches next to it, and cautiously pokes it with his finger.
“What is it?” I ask again.
“It’s its tail. I pulled its bloody tail off.”
We stare at it a bit longer with the sun’s rays burning down on our backs.
I stand up and press my palms together to do a Japanese bow. “Ahhhh! Glasshopper! Indeed, you have patience of cobra. Your initiation is complete!”


Andy stands and returns the bow, and I suddenly see us as others might, as two skinny boys in baggy pants, standing in the middle of nowhere in the scorching midday sun. I start to laugh, but it’s a nervous kind of laugh, one I can’t control, and it takes me over till I’m on my knees pounding the dry ground with my fists, screaming and laughing like a madman. Andy’s with me, rolling about on his back, clutching at his belly as tears roll down his face. “Glasshopper!” he howls. “Glasshopper!”

When the story of Jake first started to emerge, I knew it would be the story of a boy growing up with an alcoholic parent. Let’s not kid ourselves, the subject matter is tough, and it’s not for everyone. But in telling this story, I wanted to portray the normality of such a childhood – through its profound turmoil and pain, as well as through everyday moments of humour and triviality. In every other way, Jake is an ordinary thirteen year old boy – he’s saving for a hi-fi, he has a crush on his Classics teacher, and he’s not yet worked out how to be cool around other kids. But he has his particular burden to bear, in the shape of his dependent mother; and life’s not always rosy.

It was important to me that Glasshopper did not develop into a work of ‘misery-lit’. God forbid. As I wrote, the humour in Glasshopper became integral to the storytelling, enhancing the poignancy of Jake’s difficult childhood, rather than, I hope, reducing it. Jake’s unshakeable optimism gets him through the highs and lows, and in moments of teenage comedy and laughter we are able to understand how it is that he copes with his less than idyllic lifestyle.

To quote the wise words of Mark Twain, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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