Add to researchMark Haddon
- Children, Fiction, Graphic novels / Illustration, Drama
Mark Haddon was born in Northampton in 1962.
He graduated from Oxford University in 1981, returning later to study for an M.Sc. in English Literature at Edinburgh University. He then undertook a variety of jobs, including work with children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. He also worked as an illustrator for magazines and a cartoonist for New Statesman, The Spectator, Private Eye, the Sunday Telegraph and The Guardian (for which he co-wrote a cartoon strip).
His first book for children, Gilbert's Gobstopper, appeared in 1987 and was followed by many other books and picture books for children, many of which he also illustrated. These include the 'Agent Z' series and the 'Baby Dinosaurs' series. From 1996 he also worked on television projects, and created and wrote several episodes for Microsoap, winning two BAFTAs and a Royal Television Society Award for this work.
In 2003 his novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was published and has been hugely successful. It is the first book to have been published simultaneously in two imprints - one for children and one for adults. It has won a string of prestigious awards, including the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year. His second novel, A Spot of Bother, was published in 2006 and shortlisted for the 2006 Costa Novel Award.
His first book of poetry, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, was published in 2005.
His latest books are a new novel, Boom! (2009) and a picture book, Walking on The Moon (2009).
Mark Haddon teaches creative writing for the Arvon Foundation and Oxford University.
Author of several children’s books and an accomplished abstract painter, Mark Haddon has also worked as an illustrator and cartoonist.
His poetry has been short-listed for the Arvon Foundation International Poetry Competition, he has written plays for Radio Four and has adapted Fungus the Bogeyman for television. He has also won two BAFTAs for Microsoap, a children’s TV drama. As the Guardian journalist Kate Kellaway puts it, ‘the man is preposterously versatile.’
Long before Haddon achieved bestseller status, he wrote the Agent Z series of books. Aimed at young teens, the stories are fresh and pacy and full of the joys of daydreaming. Ben, the narrator, allows his hallucinogenic imagination to transport him far beyond the confines of Cane Grove, the dull suburban street where he lives. With his friends Barney and Jenks he forms The Crane Grove Gang, which is dedicated to terrorising people through carefully planned practical jokes. Agent Z is the identity they adopt, leaving stickers at the scene of their crimes, as a mark of their triumphs. The books are hugely enjoyable, and play on the inherent need to escape the humdrum banality of daily life.
Haddon has also written several picture books, the most beautiful of them being The Sea of Tranquility (1996). With soft-hued illustrations by Christian Birmingham, The Sea of Tranquility is a tender, impressionistic piece of work. A man looks back at his childhood obsession with space, recalling the sense of wonder and awe he felt at the moon landing, as he watched Aldrin and Armstrong ‘bouncing slowly through the dust.’ It ends with the adult musing upon how he can still lose himself to views of the moon and thoughts of how ‘nothing ever moves year after year.’
However, his breathtaking novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003), has completely overshadowed anything Haddon did before. Narrated by a 15-year-old boy who possesses what Ian McEwan describes as an ‘emotionally dissociated mind,’ the novel won widespread critical acclaim, was longlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize and won the 2004 Whitbread Book of the Year Award. Much was made of the ‘crossover’ appeal of the novel, something that Haddon himself dismissed as being nothing more than a marketing and media construct. ‘Young people have always read books that were aimed at adults and vice versa.’ In response to those who believed that it was primarily a children’s book Haddon said, ‘like most writers, I wrote for myself and as a 41-year-old I saw it as an adult book.’ However, his publishers, seeing the novel’s commercial possibilities, rode the Rowling/Pullmann wave and released the book with two covers, one aimed at teenagers and one at adults.
On the cover of the novel we are told that Christopher Boone, the narrator, who lives with his father in Swindon, has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism. However, no specific disability is ever mentioned in the book. Christopher tells us all we need to know about his condition without actually giving it a label. He doesn’t like the colours yellow and brown. If he sees four consecutive yellow cars it makes a ‘Black Day.’ Five red cars however and it is a ‘Super Good Day.’ Christopher cannot bear physical contact and there are times when he feels so overloaded by verbal and visual stimuli (he has a photographic memory yet no means by which to filter the information he receives) that he puts his hands over his ears or eyes, retreats to a corner and starts to groan or scream. He is able to calculate complicated factoring problems in his head yet confuses all but the most basic of facial expressions. He has an acute grasp of physics yet cannot understand the motivations behind everyday human behaviour. Christopher possesses an extremely logical and literal mind. Early in the novel he talks of his dislike of metaphor, suggesting that it is a form of lying; ‘when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imaging an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.’ He does however understand similes as he sees them as more inherently truthful. Christopher also professes to not liking fiction, with the exception of murder mysteries, particularly the Sherlock Holmes stories, as they present puzzles to solve, and appeal to his scientific mind.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is Christopher’s own detective story, the one he decides to write after finding his neighbour’s dog dead in the garden. His detective work takes him far beyond the limits of his world – he never usually goes past the end of his street but his investigation takes him on a frightening journey to London – and to inadvertent discoveries about secrets his family and neighbours have long held from him. He is the victim of falsehood and betrayal and in light of the disordered chaos that surrounds him, his obsession with facts and figures assumes a sort of heroic quality. For Christopher is a hero. Although The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time may remind some of To Kill A Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye, Haddon’s achievement is to have created something entirely new. If I am reminded of anything, it is of Peter Sellars’ performance as Chance the gardener in Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Being There. Christopher shares Chance’s quiet dignity, the nobility of someone unable to process the evasive shifts and contradictory movements of human interaction in what most of us deem the ‘real’ world.
Haddon’s novel is full of paradoxes that transform it into a work of near genius. Christopher tells us that he does not understand jokes yet it is his very straightness that is the cause of the novel’s humour. Whilst interrogating Mrs Alexander he notes, ‘(she) was doing what is called chatting, where people say things to each other which aren’t questions and answers and aren’t connected … I tried to do chatting by saying, “My age is fifteen years and three months and three days.”’ Christopher cannot tell a lie and yet he confuses everything. He would seem to be a most unlikely narrator and yet he emerges as one of the most vivid of recent years. He never gives too much information away, and in the simplicity of his narration each reader is invited to find a means of interpretation and understanding.
Changed in some way by his experience, at the end of the novel Christopher has found a kind of order in the messy, illogical and irrationally emotional world of the supposedly ‘normal’ people around him. And the reader is in some way changed too. For make no mistake, this is transformative fiction of the highest order. Full of pathos, honesty and entirely of itself, Haddon’s novel is at once hilariously funny, heartbreaking and absolutely without sentimentality. One emerges from it not only wishing to re-read it almost immediately but also with one’s assumptions and perceptions checked. It is, in a word, outstanding.
Garan Holcombe, 2004
- Walking on The Moon, illustrated by John Birmingham, Candlewick Press
- Boom!, David Fickling
- A Spot of Bother, Doubleday
- The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea, Picador
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, edition for adults, Cape
- The Ice Bear's Cave, Collins
- Ocean Star Express, illustrated by Peter Sutton, Collins
- Agent Z and the Killer Bananas, Red Fox
- Secret Agent Handbook, illustrated by Sue Heap, Walker
- The Sea of Tranquility, illustrated by Christian Birmingham, Collins Children's
- Agent Z and the Penguin from Mars, Red Fox
- The Real Porky Phillips, A & C Black
- On Holiday, Baby Dinosaurs series, Doubleday
- In the Garden, Baby Dinosaurs series, Doubleday
- At Playgroup, Baby Dinosaurs series, Doubleday
- At Home, Baby Dinosaurs series, Doubleday
- Agent Z Goes Wild, Red Fox
- Titch Johnson, Almost World Champion, illustrated by Martin Brown, Walker
- Agent Z Meets the Masked Crusader, Bodley Head
- A Narrow Escape for Princess Sharon, Hamish Hamilton Children's
- Toni and the Tomato Soup, Hamish Hamilton Children's
- Gilbert's Gobstopper, Hamish Hamilton
- BAFTA (Best Single Television Drama), Coming Down the Mountain, nomination
- Costa Novel Award, A Spot of Bother, shortlist
- British Book Awards Book of the Year, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, shortlist
- BAFTA (Best Children's Writer), Fungus the Bogeyman, nomination
- BAFTA (Best Children's Drama), Fungus the Bogeyman, nomination
- WH Smith Award for Fiction, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, shortlist
- South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- Whitbread Novel Award, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- Whitbread Book of the Year, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- Carnegie Medal, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, shortlist
- British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- British Book Awards Children's Book of the Year, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- British Book Awards Book of the Year, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, shortlist
- British Book Awards Author of the Year, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, shortlist
- Booktrust Teenage Prize, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- BAFTA (Best Children's Drama), Microsoap
- Royal Television Society Award, Microsoap, Best Children's Drama