Tigers On The Beach
Penguin Teen AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Adam is a teenager dealing with a lot at once. His beloved grandfather, whom he shared a close relationship with, has recently and suddenly passed away. As a result his grandmother has moved into his parent’s holiday resort and seems utterly intent on making everyone’s life as difficult as possible. Her living there is somewhat sabotaging the resort – and Adam’s parents marriage.
Adam also thinks he might have found ‘The One’. Samantha is pretty and smart and Adam likes her a lot and he thinks that she just might like him too – if only he could stop getting himself into incredibly embarrassing situations when he’s around her, their fledgling romance just might have a chance at getting off the ground. However Adam is distracted by so many things – he wants to fix his parent’s marriage, find out how to make his grandmother cheer up a little bit, stop his brother doing something dangerous and stupid…and then there’s the matter of what they should do to farewell his grandfather. It all adds up to a lot of stuff to worry about.
And he also needs to work out what’s so funny about two tigers on the beach…shouldn’t be too hard.
I’ve never read Doug MacLeod before but several bloggers I follow praised his last book, The Shiny Guys very highly. As this was my first read, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. And I’m fully aware that I’m not the target market for this book but even setting that aside, there were some things that worked for me and some things that didn’t. Firstly – what did work for me.
The family. I really enjoyed the dynamic of the extended family and their relationships with each other. Adam lives with his parents and his younger brother at a holiday park his parents run. Adam helps out around the park (he even has business cards that he hands out, appointing himself manager) and the way in which he and his parents interact is really good. They have a pretty good relationship and his parents have a good relationship too, which Adam is used to being the regular situation. When his grandmother moves in after the death of his grandfather, Adam hears his parents fighting somewhat regularly and this upsets his equilibrium and he wants to fix it. He seems to undertake a lot of things himself when this is something that he can’t fix, he needs to give his parents space to work out their issues.
Last year I lost my remaining grandfather, who I was very close to (my other grandfather died when I was a teenager) and for me, this book brought back a lot of memories. My grandfather was very different to Adam’s grandfather but we shared a very close relationship and he was a core part of my life. Losing him was very hard and is still hard – I still have random moments and thoughts pop into my head about him and then a second or two later I’ll remember that he’s no longer with us. I feel as though this book does capture that loss from a teenage boy’s perspective as well as confusion, especially from the point of view of his grandmother.
As much as I didn’t really like Samantha that much as a character, I really liked the way her and Adam’s relationship was written. The two of them are very different – they like different movies and find very different things funny. There are a lot of false starts, awkward moments and fights as they struggle to reconcile liking someone who doesn’t get the same things they get. I think it’s a very good portrayal of a teen relationship – they’re 14, it’s not going to be instantaneous happy ever after with sunshine and rainbows. Boys and girls that age are often at very different levels emotionally and in terms of maturity and fighting over stupid things is commonplace. It’s refreshing to see a relationship portrayed this way (albeit for comedic effect) because although I love reading about starry-eyed teen relationships and romance novels, they in no way reflect my own experiences as a teen. This comes much closer – dating the boy who still thinks farting is funny.
Unfortunately a few other things didn’t work so well for me. For a start, the character of Adam’s brother was highly annoying and very little of that had to do with his autism diagnosis. He was just an annoying kid who needed to be told to pack it in a bit – some of his pranks were pretty savage and I always felt like he was borderline bullying Adam in some ways and getting away with it because he was “on the spectrum”. That isn’t an excuse for douchey behaviour – sometimes being a jerk is just that. Being a jerk.
I also have to mention the language. I know it’s accurate in some cases, but this is a slim book and there’s usage of “gay” and “poofter” and “retarded” packed into it and while some teens might talk this way, not all do and I’m not sure that it needs to be so common. It’s not how I want my sons to talk when they reach their teen years and I wouldn’t want to shove books on them that make this sort of offensive labeling really commonplace. However it also might be an opportunity to discuss why there are other words they should be attempting to stretch their vocabulary too, as well if they really must insult each other (which I’m sure they will!).
There’s a lot of humour in this book and whilst you might not find all of it funny, I found enough to be amused throughout although there were times when there was maybe just a bit too much “funny” in here. However my sense of humour is very different from where this book is probably aimed as I mentioned and there are many others out there who will get all of the jokes and the wisecracks and the situations. It’s a good story, dealing with loss and living life without people you care about, learning to move on and embrace what is left.
Book #38 of 2014
**Note**: When I wrote this review I erroneously said that it included the word fag which is not true, the words included are gay and poofter, as now reflected above. This is my mistake and I apologise to the author for any and all offense caused.
Tigers On The Beach is the 6th book read for my Aussie Author Challenge 2014.
Thanks to the people at Penguin AU, I had the chance to ask Doug a few questions about life and writing.
Q1. Hi Doug and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for me. To get started – when did you first begin writing and how were you first published?
I began writing in primary school. I was published at sixteen, which made me precocious, but I’m not very proud of the book. I was published because I was ambitious enough to send a manuscript to a publisher, located by reading the imprint page of a book I liked.
So, I survived the slushpile.
I did read a lot. Our school library had a fantastic series of books that were classics of literature but rewritten for a younger audience. I think I read them all, so I knew the plots of most of Charles Dickens by the time I started secondary school. (I’m not ashamed to admit to having read these books in what was ostensibly a Reader’s Digest edition). I once wrote a script with Australia’s best satirist, John Clarke, and he admitted to me that he had read most of the classics of literature as ‘Classic Comics’ when he was at school in New Zealand. I don’t think they were on the syllabus.
Q2. Describe your writing routine: do you write full time or balance with another job? Do you have a favourite place to write (such as study or café) and is there anything you consider essential to the creative process (music, coffee)?
I aim to write a thousand words a day. Before my stroke, I would always do the work first thing in the morning, but now most of my mornings are taken up by stroke rehab.
My study is at the front of my house in St Kilda. I have a marvelous view of the street, but its too distracting, so we put up some heavy curtains.
Q3. Are you an extensive plotter or more of a pantser who just likes to see where the story goes?
I do try to plot in advance, and indeed I recommend it, but sometimes the story develops a life of its own and suggests new plotlines to pursue. In my novel The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher I was actually quite unaware of the fact that
Plenitude and Thomas were father and son. I’d already written two thirds of the book, and the idea seemed too good not to use, so I went back and added appropriate plotpoints leading to that wonderful moment when Plenitude tells Thomas that he is in fact his father.
Q4. You’ve written numerous books for young people and also for a very adult audience on TV. What are the main challenges each of these mediums represent in terms of effectively communicating what you wish to say?
I much prefer writing books than writing television, because I am a control freak and I don’t like it when people mess around with my stuff, which always happens when you’re doing a TV script. And I think the reason that happens is that a lot of TV script editors are rushed and seem to make corrections and changes as they’re reading your script, not once they’ve read the whole thing and really thought it through.
Andrew Knight is one of Australia’s most highly regarded writers, having worked on hit shows like SeaChange and Rake, among many others. He was also the main script editor on SeaChange and I would despair as I saw him working on one of my scripts, changing stuff that he didn’t think fitted but which were vital for a really good part of the plot that he hadn’t reached yet. He’s changed his ways now, I’ve been told. But that doesn’t answer your question. You asked about the challenge involved in both writing for TV and writing novels. The challenge is to be interesting enough.
And the challenge in effectively communicating what you say is of course solved by writing a book, rather than a TV script, unless you have a lot of creative control.
Q5. Was there any personal inspiration between the relationship between Adam and his grandparents, in particular his grandfather?
A lot of Tigers on the Beach is based on childhood memories of summer holidays at the beach. But when I completed the first draft, I didn’t think it was good enough without an overarching theme. Since comedy is the only thing I know anything about, I thought it would be interesting to investigate how two people with utterly different senses of humour could have a relationship. So, comedy is the overarching theme.
Quite a few of of the characters have surnames of famous comedians, but not the characters that I took from Siggy and Amber. (One of my earlier books which is like a companion to this one. I liked Siggy and Amber so much that I wanted to visit some of those characters again. I should probably have written a sequel to The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, but I couldn’t think of something interesting enough.)
I describe my grandfather’s funeral in the book, and a version of that really did happen, only it wasn’t a member of my own family that made the shocking speech. I did love my grandfather, who really did tell the best jokes, and I wish we had somehow given him a better funeral. The Samsara location is actually Somers, on Westernport Bay. The whole idea of The Holiday Cabins called The Ponderosa is also real. In Somers, where I did a lot of my growing up, there was a very small, unprepossessing house with a sign at the front that proudly exclaimed that the small, average- looking house was The Ponderosa. (A very large and glamorous cattle ranch from a very old but very good TV series called Bonanza). The sign might as well have said: Disneyland. I always thought that was funny, just like it’s funny having a really small country town called Paris. It builds you up to expect something wonderful then drops you rather rudely and abruptly. It’s one of the rules of comedy, and it’s called subverted anticipation, but you don’t need to know that.
There are quite a lot of jokes in the book, and I think I capture all kinds. The book will cause arguments because people are so often divided on what they think is funny. Everyone thinks they have a sense of humour, that they know what is funny, but no two senses of humour are the same. It’s quite funny to see how passionate people are when they discuss comedy, and arguments often result. I’d like to start a lot of arguments in the classroom, if any teachers are bold enough to put my book on the syllabus.
Q6. Share five books that you think everyone should read in their lifetime.
Tigers on the Beach, The Shiny Guys, The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, I’m Being Stalked by a Moonshadow and The Clockwork Forest, all written by Doug MacLeod.
I’ve just finished On Writing by Stephen King, and I think it’s one of the clearest guides to the craft of fiction- writing that there is. I also must include the Junior Classics Library, since it had such a profound effect on me.
If you need a good laugh I would certainly recommend any pieces by Shaun Micallef. Smithereens (Penguin) is very good.
Q7. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Sorry to bring the mood down a little, but for the last two years I’ve been doing so much rehab to recover from that bloody stroke I had, (rehab means doing fairly tedious physical exercises and similarly tedious mental ones) that I really haven’t had much of a chance to do anything much. It took an immense amount of effort to write Tigers on the Beach. I’d already written draft three when I had the stroke, but I had to complete the next two drafts when my brain wasn’t working at its best. I have to thank some very helpful and encouraging editors.
Q8. And lastly … what’s next for you?
I’m going to recover from the stroke then probably write a book about it. It will still have comedy, just not as much as Tigers on the Beach.
Thanks for your time Doug – all the best with your rehab & recovery and good luck with your future books!