Man vs Bookshelf: Grandpa’s Great Escape

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

After struggling to get through Good Omens in the allotted time, I wanted to dive into a quick read.

I choose Grandpa’s Great Escape. It may look beefy, and weigh in at over 450 pages, but don’t let that fool you. It is, after all, a kiddies book, and thus utilises BIG words and plenty of pictures.

So I intended it to pose no problems, and it didn’t, as I raced through it in three days.

Nice and easy.

So what did I think?

David Walliams and Me

If you had asked me twelve years ago if I could see Little Britain’s David Walliams writing successful children’s books I would have asked you who you were and what you were doing in my school.

Totally inappropriate.

I suppose it’s not that weird to think that David Walliams is now writing children’s books.

Yes, Little Britain and Come Fly With Me were utterly inappropriate for kids, but that kind of irreverent toilet humour is ripe for translation into the type of books David Walliams now writes.

So, when I heard Walliams was writing fab kid’s books, I wasn’t surprised. Not only that, but I was keen to give them a go.

Now, full disclosure, I’m not a child.

Well, not in a legal sense, anyway.

Nor do I know any children to whom I could read these stories. But, if you think kids books are for kids and kids alone, you are a poop (ha!)

Kids fiction is at its best when it works on two levels. One for adults, one for kids. After all, it’s the adults that read the books to their kids, so it has to work for them.

And, when it’s top notch, it transcends age boundaries altogether.

Remember, Harry Potter was a kids book once.

(If you haven’t heard of Harry Potter, it is a series of books about a boy wizard. It was initially intended for children but has achieved a reasonable level of success across all age groups in the past twenty years, having sold at least forty trillion copies.)

So I was ready to give Walliams a go, and my girlfriend was kind enough to buy me three of his stand-alone stories. The Boy in the Dress, Gangsta Granny, and Grandpa’s Great Escape.

Grandpa’s Great Escape

‘Grandpa’ was the third of the three Walliam’s books I read.

Set in the 1980’s, it is the tale of Jack and his Grandpa, a World War II pilot who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. When Jack’s parent feel they can no longer look after Grandpa, he is moved to the old people’s home, Twilight Towers, run by Miss Swine.

When it becomes clear that Miss Swine is mistreating her wards for person gain, Jack must help his Grandpa make a daring escape. An escape that, if successful, will give Grandpa a final chance to relive his past and once again take to the sky in his beloved Spitfire.

As with Gangsta Granny and The Boy in the Dress, this is a fast-paced, exciting read, and ‘Grandpa’ is certainly the most action-packed book of the trio, racing from set piece to set piece without ever losing the heart of the novel.

It’s also – as the others were – funny. There’s plenty here for kids – fart and poop jokes – but also for adults. The sly humour that kids won’t notice and only adults will get. Always very well done.

Based on humour and pace alone, it’s easy to see why children and parents have fallen in love with Walliams’ books, but there is something else he achieves in his writing I find so impressive.

Dealing with ‘adult topics’.

I don’t read a lot of children’s fiction, but I imagine many writers shy away from the issues Walliams utilises in his books.

The story of Grandpa’s Great Escape is all about Jack helping his Grandfather escape the horrible old people’s home – Twilight Towers.

This, alone, makes for a great story, but it’s the framework, and the heart of the tale, that really sets it apart.

See, as mentioned above, Grandpa is inflicted with Alzheimer’s. Now, this is a horrible illness, and one I can imagine is difficult to convey to children in a way they can understand.

Walliams’ does it brilliantly. It is not shoehorned in as some idealistic message, tacked on to the story. It is the story. It drives the plot along. Nothing happens if not for Grandpa’s illness, and we, the reader, are never left in any doubt that this is the case.

What is particularly touching is that, given Grandpa’s condition, grandson Jack is the only one who can communicate with him. By learning to live in Grandpa’s memories with him, Jack can help grandpa more than anyone else. He coaxes the elder down from great heights when he – grandpa – believes he is in his Spitfire and he – Jack – understands that, just because Twilight Towers is not Colditz Castle, does not mean it is not a horrible place, worth escaping.

This entangling of adventure and illness sets up a beautiful – and emotional – finale, which I won’t ruin here. But is thoroughly earned and the perfect culmination of everything that has gone before.

I’m not ashamed to say; it would make some people teary.

Not me though. I’m well manly, and this isn’t Lion King.

No matter how popular Walliams gets, a lot of people will be put off these books because of Little Britain, or Come Fly With Me, or because you’re not a twelve-year-old boy.

Don’t be put off.

Pick up a Walliams book.

Give it a go.

You won’t regret it.

“Hang on, before you go…”

Yes, yes, yes, I know what you’re going to ask, why did I give it a 3/5 on Goodreads?

I don’t know, to be honest. I probably should have given it a 4. If it had been a ten point scale I would have given it a seven.

Hey, have I mentioned how much I hate Goodreads’ five-point scale before?

Next Time

We’re going away from fiction next time out as I will be reading the first of two Brian Clough autobiographies I have.

I hope I’m reading the first released, but it’s hard to tell.

See you then!

Should you murder your relative for the inheritance?

Here at Mark Ayre Towers (shed), my team and I (just me) like to bandy around the real hot button topics. The key issues we know you are desperate for answers on. Recently we cured heart break – you’re welcome – now we’re on to the next thing. The question you no doubt turned to the moment you got over that evil heart breaker:

How can I get some quick cash, without putting much effort in?

A bold question. One many have asked and few have answered. It’s impossible, they say. Word hard, they say. Well, here at Mark Ayre Towers we refuse to accept that hard work is ever the answer. That’s why we’re here to offer you a proper, actionable solution. One that doesn’t involve those bastards hard work and time.

Murder your wealthy relative, and grab the inheritance with both hands.

Now we know what you’re thinking: I love my family, and murder is wrong.

We know, and this follows up numerous issues. That’s why we would never suggest you go out and murder someone just for the dough.

That’s wrong.

But Mark Ayre Incorporated (not a real company) have devised the perfect method for deciding when it’s okay to murder your relatives.

We think you’re going to love it.

But first…

The Disclaimers

Are you even the beneficiary of the Inheritance?

Many people go down the “murder your relative” route and feel rather smug when they get away with it. Then they remember before they can get their hands on Grandpa’s money it has to trickle down through gran and mum and dad and your little brother everyone likes better than you anyway.

At this point, people either give up or go on a killing spree. After all, if everyone in your family is dead, you’re the only one left to get the dough, right?

Well, yes, but it’s not advisable. While it might be morally okay (which it isn’t), it leaves you in a dangerous position. Police look at the family first in murder investigations and if your entire family bar you end up dead it makes it much harder to divert suspicion.

So, before you kill anyone, make sure you are the sole beneficiary or at least stand to make a respectable amount of money from any split.

Is guilt going to be a problem?

Killing is easy – relatively so, anyway – it’s what happens after that’s hard. I’ve already gone into the effects of guilt here so I won’t discuss it now but, needless to say, if you’re going to pull the trigger, be sure you’re ready to deal with the consequences.

Now onto less serious matters, the method for deciding whether you should kill your relative for their inheritance

The Method

The method is simple enough and involves a graph which is hand drawn only because I couldn’t make it work on Excel. It compares the amount of money you stand to earn with the amount of a dick the relative is. The more you stand to earn, the lower the barrier for entry on killing them.

Simple, and here it is…

The Data

Okay so the, um… (let’s call it “Up Axis”( is pretty straight forward. This is the amount of money you stand to make from any death from £100 all the way down to £1,000,000+.

Now you might say £100 is not worth a human life, and you’d be wrong because trainers are expensive.

It’s important to note that the amount indicated is the amount YOU stand to make, not the combined amount of the entire inheritance.

No cheating.

As for what I’ll call the across axis this is, you will no doubt have noticed, numbered from 0 to 9.

So here’s how it works. The worse a person your relative is, the less money there needs to be on offer for you to kill them. I think this is a very fair system, but you can see for yourself by analysing the table below which offers some types of people that might appear across the numbers as a waypoint

0 – Saint. This person has never set a foot out of line. They help old granny’s cross the street. They never swear. They give money to charity and they don’t vote Conservative. Basically, we call this kind of person: non-existent – £1,000,000+

3 – Nice guy. After old people meet the nice guy they nod their heads approvingly and say “What a nice young man”. He has sworn in the past and may even have told the occasional lie, but more often than not he’s on the side of the angels. He never cheats and he always pays his taxes. However, he did once accidentally queue jump and has felt guilty about it ever since – £100,000

5 – Mr. Invisible. When this fella arrives at the pearly gates Peter doesn’t know what to do with him. He’s never done a good deed, but nor has he ever step a foot out of line. In fact, it was hardly worth him existing. Peter allows him into heaven, but only out of pity – £25,000

7 – Bitch/ Bastard – A perpetual liar, a cheat. The kind of person who would run a blog justifying the murder of one’s relatives for a bit of quick cash. If he were a TV character he would be Dick Dastardly, except he gets away with his schemes more often, because this is real life – £5,000

9 – Devil – This person doesn’t just murder children, he enjoys doing it. He laughs about it and often films it for later use. He also believes there are more differences between black and white people than how quickly they tan – £100

And there you have it

A full proof solution to finding out if it’s okay to murder your relative for the money. So decide what kind of person they are, how much money you stand to make, and see where they end up on the chart.

Good luck!

3 steps to making a success of writers groups

Having been banned from at least three writers groups, I know a lot about their value. Today I would like to discuss how you can use (/ exploit) them to further your career.

But you’re thinking: “Mark, why would I join a writers group? Writing is a solitary art and, if the rest of the writing world is like me, they’ll all be awful humans I wouldn’t want to meet.”

Well, you’re right about one thing, writers are all like you. Awful. And chances are you won’t like a single one of them – I know I don’t.

But humour me a moment, and check out my three steps to making writers groups work for you.

I think I’m going to change your mind.

Step one: quell that loneliness

Let’s face it, your friends are sick of you. Your parents disowned you after you forced them to read that last piece of crap you called a novel. And you split with your girlfriend when she described your typewriter as “ridiculously inefficient”.

Luckily, there are fellow suffers who understand your plight. They’re called “Writers” or “The Enemy” and, while they can’t provide long term comfort (we’ll get to that), They can momentarily fill the gap in your heart left by all the people you used to know.

So find a group. Pray on the loneliness of its members to get some conversation and a bit of that sex stuff (without paying, for once). Then, when you’re getting sick of being surrounded by so many writers (usually between ten and twenty minutes), move on to step two…

Step two: steal ideas

We all know ideas are hard to come by, and yours are getting shitter by the day.

Fear not though, because many heads are better than one.

Once you’ve finished sleeping with your fellow writers, it’s time to try something radical. Listening to them. This will be boring, and at times you will want to fall asleep or hurt someone, but persevere. Sooner of later they’ll start talking about their latest ideas, and you’ll take notes.

Now, next break in the conversation, make an excuse and leave. Or just run. Go home and start writing. Take the ideas, improve them if you have the skill (which you probably don’t if you’re resorting to thievery). Churn out books on the back of these fantastic brain gems and never stress about devising an interesting plot again. That is grunt work, and you are above that.

And if they accuse you of plagiarism?

Not an issue, because you’re ready to move on to step three.

Step three: take out the competition

Do you know how many people are trying to become a writer? A study in 2014 by the Writy Institute found it to be around 8 billion, and that number has risen by at least 4,000% each year since.

That’s a lot of competition, and odds are most of them will be much better than you.

So what are you to do? Keep improving until you’re good enough to play with the big boys. Not a chance. Do you know how many authors can live off their writer’s earnings alone? Seven (and J.K. Rowling is two of them)

You don’t have to be a mathematician to know those odds aren’t good.

That’s where you turn to your writers’ group.

You’ve come in, shagged them, stolen from them, and they’re probably pretty pissed off with you right now. So make it up to them with cookies and coffee, because everyone loves cookies and coffee.

Then sit back, smile on your face and a dancing joy in your heart as they drop around you, unable to jot down another word.

If it’s not clear, you poisoned the coffee and cookies.

You killer.

And once that’s done?

Repeat… again, and again, and again. Until you and I are the only writers left.

And once we reach that point, you’d better watch your back.

3 reasons you should read this blog

Uh oh, look what happened. You were trawling the web looking for something important, or insightful, or entertaining. Instead, you’ve dropped through the never ending circus of blogs and found this, my blog. Blog #758933022173827.

You want to press backspace and try again. Some of you already have. But some of you are waiting, hovering over the key, not wanting to back out immediately. Not wanting people to know you’re a quitter. What you want – no, need – is a reason to stay.

Well, new friend, read on.

1. Achieve world domination

That heading is misleading (aka. marketing). You saw it and you imagined a gold plated throne built so high you can see over all your domain by simply turning your head, with a microphone that would allow you total and direct command over your armies. Though, if you rule the world, who are you fighting?

Waging war against the Universe? Very ambitious.

So you’re tingling, thinking I might know ‘the secret’ although, obviously, I don’t, and what I actually mean is a lot deeper and a lot less sexy on the face of it.

I’m here to offer you domination of your personal world.

That’s right.

Together we’ll tackle the big issues regarding love, sex, money, health, dental hygiene. We’ll learn how to mend a broken heart, become rich, get yourself that dog mum and dad would never let you have when you were a kid (been there) and more.

The advice on this blog will change your life, maybe even for the better.

(Disclaimer. 99% of advice from this blog will be unpractical, unsafe, and highly illegal. It will also most likely be entirely unactionable)

It’s all up for grabs, and when we’re done sorting you, we’ll move on to the bigger issues…

2. Save the economy

We’re in a sorry state, aren’t we? Brexit, recession, Piers Morgan as Prime Minister. It’s all on the horizon and what are we going to do about it?

The key is to massage the economy, spend rather than hoarding your money. There is only one reason to put anything under your mattress and that is recreating the Princess and the Pea.

Also a bed frame. Put a bed frame under there. That’s just good sense.

What I know for sure is that every penny you spend gives someone else a penny to spend, and every penny they spend keeps the economy going for at least another few days.

Trust me, I know about these things.

(Disclaimer. I do not know about these things. I’m not an economy expert, nor do I really know what the economy is, or where it’s kept.)

That’s why you need to buy my books, to save the economy. Will you like them? Best not to think about it. And if you are worried about your own satisfaction then you’re selfish, and I can’t help you.

Think of our countries future. Think of the children.

Think buying in bulk.

And remember, the world isn’t safe until I have more money than J.K. Rowling. That’s a fact.

(Disclaimer. That is not a fact)

And finally, if you don’t care about yourself or the world (I know I don’t) there’s the best reason…

3. You’re here

We spoke about that backspace, right? They used to say never look back but this is the age of the web and the saying has been adapted: never press backspace.

You’ll lose half your life looking for a good blog so why not stick with this one? There will be free fiction (yes that contradicts my earlier point about the economy and no, I don’t care), competitions, crap advice and a lot of laughs.

Maybe I’ll even sell a book.

You and me, we’re going to have a lot of fun together, aren’t we? Aren’t we?

Oh, you pressed backspace.