I've channelled my inner JK Rowling to write my son's perfect novel


I was always a bit worried about my internet history. I mean, Edward Snowden's surveillance revelations hardly came as a huge surprise. But recently, well, with all the heightened awareness. I expect to hear the front door crashing in any minute.

I've been asking Google, you see. Yes, Google. Not even the dark web. Using my normal IP address and browser. About hand-guns, semi-automatics. What it feels like to load and shoot a weapon, how much noise I can expect and the effectiveness of silencers. Oh - and there's all those searches on explosives too.

I really, really have been researching a book. OK? For kids. Perhaps I can be the new JK Rowling. Let me explain.

In my day job, I'm a financial journalist and mother of three.

I must have been in need of distraction. Pensions, investments and barmitzvah preparations permeated my dreams.

Some would say, as a financial journalist fiction came naturally.


The kippot selection, endless food negotiations, the trying to persuade the barmitzvah teacher to turn up on time. It was all becoming a drag. I started thinking instead about what it actually means to have a barmitzvah and become a Jewish adult. Just how adult can a little boy get, at the age of 13? How would that translate into secular life? What could possibly go wrong, if you are forced to grow up that early?

Bang. There goes the theme of my story, or at least one of them.

My motivation for writing? Well, my own trainee barmitzvah boy was an insatiable reader, had exhausted the Harry Potter/Alex Ryder/Percy Jackson kids' canon, and was desperate for further thrills and spills. He had an advanced reading age and irreverent sense of humour. But much of young adult fiction - the next step up - was thematically inappropriate. So I wrote my own instead.

Guns, Goats, Gran and Me is a comedy thriller about Daniel, a small, wise-cracking, neurotic boy, inveigled into a lethal adventure by his wayward grandma.

My aim was to get clever children like my 12-year-old giggling at every page. I wanted them to fall in love with flawed, larger-than life characters they could instinctively identify with, and get tangled up in the pacey web of misadventure.

My first step was to get to know the characters. I sat down, and in my own pretentious way, chanelling Irène Némirovsky and her preps for Suite Française, listed the traits, attributes and verbal tics of my own cast.

Then I threw it away.

I got to recognise the tone of the characters, I listened to them talk and take over. I grew to inhabit them, or they me. Once the plot's there, you can hear them chatting, riffing, arguing - they develop the dialogue themselves.

All Jewish kids are to a greater or lesser extent unsure and nerdy like anti-hero Daniel. Different, but not quite understanding why. Weighed down with the uncertainty of incipient adolescence and family dysfunction. Using laughter to cope with the unmanageable. I bet you remember all that. With me, clearly, it never really went away.

Every Jewish family has a magnificently mad mother or grandmother. Daniel's outrageous Grandma Phyllida sits uncomfortably close to me. (Will I some day become like her?) You've probably always known her, too. She's a fount of uncontrollable energy, a whirlwind of illogic, irresistibly drawn to trouble. Phyll's at once super-bright, brush-daft and emotionally illiterate.

Right this moment, Gran's into goat liberation.

Watch her floor the police and assorted armed forces, with her chutzpah, sweet old granny routine and martial arts.

In fact, Grandma Phyll would make the perfect spy.

Sorry, spoiler alert.

All the adults in his life gradually let Dan down, with their preoccupations and self-obsession.

Again, there's a deep well to draw on here. All the noise, absurdity and the pathos of Daniel's family relationships are horribly, culturally familiar.

The boundaries almost epigenetically trampled. (Daniel is collateral damage in the war between divorced parents, battling it out over money.)

The times I've found myself bawling out the mishpocha, while part of me stands apart, saying no, please, not you, too.

But comedy, edge-of-seat action and yet more comedy is the heart of the book - my kids can't get enough funny stuff - and the market is under-served.

Daniel narrates his own fantastic yarn, gently mocking, blending the hilarious with the desperately sad. He makes fun of chaotic school lessons and home life, of his poisonous, political headmaster, the gentlemen of a certain age, unfathomably attracted to his Gran.

Gross-out is important, too. Disgusting puts in quite an appearance. With farting, vomit, mould and cockroaches, goats and foul smells, body parts and pus. All the stuff my 9-13 year-old readers get off on.

There are copious jokes, and nothing's off-limits in Daniel's world-view. With cracks about bad poetry, bad pizza, bad karma. About Daleks, depression, Shakespeare, out-of-control spoilt brats, goat group wierdos, airless business people, public toilets.

My lad loved Guns, Goats, Gran and Me. My God, he didn't want to admit the fact. Well he wouldn't, would he? I'm his Mum.

Smart girl readers were enthralled, and wanted to know when they could lay hands on the next adventure. The boys laughed like drains. Some parents told me, it's that fun fantasy book their child keeps going back to, and reads at night for comfort. And, for me, now, the real adventure begins, as I start looking for an agent.

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