DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
And finally, a report about writer Mark Haddon. His first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was an international bestseller. Haddon also writes children's books, screenplays and plays, and he draws, paints, teaches, and designs his own Web site. WMRA's Martha Woodroof explores Haddon's creative range and his often quirky sense of humor.
MARTHA WOODROOF: Mark Haddon spent 18 months promoting Curious Incident, a mystery told from the point of view of a teenager with asperger syndrome. This, he says, meant answering the same questions over and over. So with his second novel, A Spot of Bother, just out in the United States, Haddon is cheerfully reluctant to answer so banal a question as what's the new book about.
Mr. MARK HADDON (Author): From the perspective of the writer it is rather like doing a painting and someone saying to you, yeah, can you do a quick pencil sketch of that painting for me? Or you know, writing a symphony and someone's saying could you whistle it really quickly for us?
WOODROOF: Let's just say Spot of Bother is a funny book about serious interpersonal snarls and problems. The characters are wacky in the way all of us are wacky during times of great stress, which the author hopes also makes them endearing.
Mr. HADDON: I think you don't read many books in which you hopefully feel great empathy for a woman in her 60s having an affair and her gay - her rather sort of conservative gay son and her extremely hidebound husband and their sort of tempestuous daughter at the same time.
WOODROOF: The hidebound husband and central character is George Hall, 61, retired, perhaps a bit removed from life. The book's title, A Spot of Bother, refers to an actual spot.
Mr. HADDON: This is George, who's just discovered this sinister lesion on his hip which he thinks is almost certainly cancer, and he's deciding what he can do about it. And he's realized that suicide might be a good solution to this problem.
If he drank enough whiskey he might be able to summon the courage to crash the car. There was a big stone gateway on the A16 this side of Stamford. He could hit it doing 90 miles an hour with no difficulty whatsoever. But what if his nerve failed? What if he were too drunk to control the car? What if someone pulled out of the drive? What if he killed them, paralyzed himself and died of cancer in a wheelchair in prison?
WOODROOF: A Spot of Bother proceeds to unfold, according to the book jacket, as the portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely. Critic Heller McAlpin, writing in the LA Times, had mostly praise for the new novel.
Ms. HELEN MCALPIN (LA Times): It's essentially a British caper, a British domestic comedy, but he's really getting at some serious issues in the family. And he does it through humor and sparkling writing.
WOODROOF: Haddon's first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, garnered praise for it's take on asperger syndrome. A Spot of Bother is quite a different read from Curious Incident.
Ms. LINDA PRESCOTT (Co-owner, Bear Pond Books): I loved some of the understatement of the book when they some real, very, very serious things going on.
WOODROOF: Linda Prescott is co-owner of Bear Pond Books, an independent book shop in Montpelier, Vermont.
Ms. PRESCOTT: I love the title, because I think that it captured a lot of that understated style in the book. That's how he looked at his mental illness, his going crazy. It's just a spot of bother.
WOODROOF: Haddon's second novel is also for grownups only, while Curious Incident was marketed in England as both adult and young adult fiction. Mark Haddon actually started off by writing and illustrating a dozen or so children's books. And in defiance of all conventional publishing wisdom, Haddon followed up the commercially successful Curious Incident with a book of poetry.
Mr. HADDON: It looks like professional suicide, doesn't it, after Curious Incident to publish some poetry. I'd been writing poetry for a long time and the success of Curious gave me a lot of confidence to go back to the poems and throw away the ones that didn't work and work really hard on the ones that were left. And to write new things.
WOODROOF: One poem, called Bushings, was inspired by a walk Haddon took beside derelict telegraph poles and discarded electrical equipment.
Mr. HADDON: They lie discarded in the long grass between the lighthouse and the kyle(ph), a yard of snipped-off wire knotted around their necks. At one end a white-washed room, the fog of woodbines, the terrier, and the vastness of the Norwegian Sea running in a mildewed frame.
WOODROOF: Reviews of Haddon's poems were generally kind and occasionally glowing. But critic and poet Ranjit Bolt, writing in the British newspaper The Observer, hated them. He wrote about, quote, the tendentiousness, the unjustified formlessness, the ghastliness of Haddon's verse, end of quote. Haddon responds.
Mr. HADDON: I actually found this review quite funny, to the extent that we are actually thinking of putting a little quote from it on the paperback cover. We didn't, of course. The publishers wouldn't let us do that.
WOODROOF: Mark Haddon's willingness to take risks has been fueled by the success of Curious Incident, which surprised everyone, including the author.
Mr. HADDON: The fact that it worked and it worked so well has encouraged me to listen to that voice, that voice that says here's something that doesn't seem particularly promising, but I think there really is something there. You know, and I've been trying to follow that voice ever since. Not the louder voice which says this is obviously a great idea, this is obviously going to be a success. You know if I'd listened to that voice I'd be writing Curious Incident 2, which would be a disaster.
WOODROOF: So don't expect A Spot of Bother 2 either. Mark Haddon's been working on a BBC screenplay, and this fall he'll be writing a play during a residency at the National Theater in London. For NPR News, I'm Martha Woodroof.
ELLIOTT: You can get a glimpse at what all the bother is about. There's an excerpt at our Web site, npr.org.