‘What started as a slightly odd children’s book became Conspiracy Theories for Kids’
Paul Gamble, the fertile mind behind The Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things, unmasks pirates, unicorns and the tooth fairy
Paul Gamble: following an encounter with a rabid bear and the discovery that there’s a secret tunnel underneath the Ulster Museum, my 12-year-old heroes find themselves plunged into a world of mysteries
“In the middle of the street lay a single shoe, an unmistakable warning that there was an escaped pirate nearby.”
They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Writing my novel, however, started with a single shoe.
One day after I noticed a single shoe lying in the middle of the road I couldn’t help but wonder – “how can someone lose a single shoe?” I could understand how a person might lose both, but it seemed bizarre that they would lose only one and not notice. And yet, this wasn’t the first time. Quite often when I was walking to work in the morning I would notice a single shoe lying in the middle of the road.
This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night (which is one of the reasons that I always look so tired). And so I kept thinking about it until the reason occurred to me. The only possible reason was that it was left there by a pirate with a wooden leg – who therefore only wore one shoe. But why would pirates be particularly prone to having their shoes fall off? The answer was immediately apparent – it’s hard to tie a shoelace when one of your hands is a hook…
And that’s how my first children’s novel begins. Of course once I’d had that idea then I needed to answer the question “Where are all the pirates hiding? And what are they up to?” So what started as a slightly odd children’s book quickly became something akin to Conspiracy Theories for Kids.
Although I don’t believe in most of them, I’ve always had something of a soft spot for conspiracy theories and the possible existence of secret societies. Generally, most people think of them as products of paranoid and disturbed minds but there’s actually something incredibly hopeful about them. Think about it. You know how difficult and time-consuming it is to arrange a surprise birthday party for your best friend Evelyn? Imagine how much more difficult it would be to fool the entire world (and not just Evelyn) into believing that the world is flat, or that you’d just landed on the moon.
To be honest it’s probably a lot easier to land a rocket on the moon than it is to try and get a group of more than a dozen people to keep a secret. Especially these days wheneverybody seems to have to appear on a reality TV show and tell everyone their innermost secrets at least once in their life. Precisely which show just depends on what talents you have. (It seems that there are three categories – you can either sing, bake or just have incredibly rich parents.)
But the fervent hope that there are real conspiracy theories and secret organisations runs throughout my book – The Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things (or Ministry of SUITs for short).
As the book opens, the two 12-year-old heroes, Trudy and Jack, are living the sort of day-to-day existence that we all take for granted. However, following an encounter with a rabid bear and the discovery that there’s a secret tunnel underneath the Ulster Museum, they find themselves plunged into a world of mysteries where the dinosaurs never went extinct, where stuffed animals turn out to be ruthless assassins and it’s possible to move at incredibly fast speeds merely by thinking sad thoughts.
I think we’ve all found ourselves wondering what the tooth fairy’s business model was? I mean, what’s he actually doing with all those molars, incisors and canines? And how can he afford to pay for them?And I know that like me, you’ve spent many evenings wondering why unicorns have an enormous, sharp, dangerous horn in the middle of their foreheads. If they’re really all about truth and love then why are they always carrying a very unconcealed and deadly weapon about with them? My book will answer these questions for you. (Just as long as you don’t have any follow-up questions, because admittedly some of the explanations are going to seem slightly unfeasible…)
In a world where truth is becoming an increasingly rare commodity it’s going to take a children’s book to reveal to everyone what’s really going on. And just wait until you find out what’s been kept hidden in the Marble Arch Caves all of these years…
So if you’re looking for something that’s a little different, with more than a few surprises along the way then this just might be the book for you. And more importantly, if you’re looking for a book with clear and concise instructions on how to deal with a sudden and unexpected attack by pirates, then this is definitely the book for you…
Paul Gamble is a writer and civil servant, who lives in Belfast. He strongly suspects that there is more going on in the world that people are really telling us. The Ministry of SUITs, his first novel for children (and adults who want to know how the world really works), is published by Little Island and is now available from all good bookshops. littleisland.ie