The Blueprint by Will Hadcroft

Liam Creedy is knocked out in a nasty accident at school. When he comes to, he finds that everything has changed. For a start, he is seeing in black and white. Oddly, though, his own body remains in colour. Flashes of colour also manifest occasionally in other people, but for the most part they are uniformly back and white. Patrick Freeman High has changed even more radically. The school crest now features a fingerprint enclosed by a “no entry” sign, as if to say “No individual identity.” Prefects have become a kind of school police force. Corridors are more like streets, classrooms more like workplaces, and there is no exit to the outside world. In this strange self-enclosed microcosm of society, Liam has one friend, the strange Mr Samson, who tells him enigmatically: “Find the blueprint and change it. Only then will you find the way out.”

It’s clear that the author is using a lot of symbolism. The story is a vehicle for exploring the faults of the education system, its misuse as a means of indoctrination, ensuring that the population thinks a certain way. And the end result of this way of thinking, symbolised by a millstone inscribed with the words “Cause and Effect” rolling down a distant mountain towards the school, is the destruction of us all.

I can get on board with Hadcroft’s thinking to some extent. Like the author, I’m a fierce individualist, which makes me perceptive to the problems caused by mass herd-conformity. People work like crazy to buy like crazy, and this sort of attitude is gradually assassinating the planet. Religious hypocrisy and the pointlessness of war are touched upon in the book. I did find Hadcroft’s stance a little confusing at times, but while reading I was constantly analysing where we both differed.

I think my views would have been more in line with the author’s a few years ago, when I was reading a lot of conspiracy material. But these days, I see the competitive nature of life as something natural – a sort of stratification process, with winners and losers, a process that is mirrored in the animal kingdom. Although we fight against injustice, I don’t see a world without power struggles and exploitation as something that’s even possible. Hence, I don’t see the world we have in quite so dark terms as the author maintains. Even though we are undoubtedly indoctrinated in early life, it’s also true that the world today is so full of exciting education resources, if we would only reach out and take them – rather than spending our evenings wallowing in front of a television set watching soap operas. The real root of the problem is that many people simply don’t wish to learn. In fact, I would say that the TV is a far bigger source of indoctrination than the education system. I see television as the modern replacement for religion. It’s what people use to fill a hole in their lives; meanwhile it subliminally shapes their views and opinions.

I happen to know of the author’s personal religious convictions, so it tickled me when the protagonist had an argument with his teacher about evolution. The author takes the view that evolution is a lie, but the anecdote supplied in the story simply fails to deal properly with the issue. Today, for evolution to be false, there would either have to be a massive worldwide scientific conspiracy, or mass stupidity among scientists. While there is certainly a religious agenda against evolution, motivated entirely by a need to defend an inflexible dogma (which the author himself admits), the same accusation cannot be levelled at the scientific community, whose aim is simply to formulate the best theory from the available evidence.

Fans of the television series The Prisoner will notice a deliberate nod to the show in the design of the book’s cover. Elements of the story are also reminiscent of Life on Mars and Quantum Leap. The Blueprint is an enjoyable story, extremely well written, with an intelligent and thought-provoking subtext.

Anne Droyd and Century Lodge by Will Hadcroft

Three children, Gezz, Luke and Malcolm, are playing on some waste ground close to where they live, when they bear witness to the arrival of an old man and a startling young girl. The man is Professor Wolfgang Droyd and the girl is Anne Droyd – not his daughter, but his android creation, capable of great feats of agility, speed and ingenuity. The two are on the run from the facility where Anne Droyd was developed: The Ministry. The children are initially frightened by the duo, but it soon becomes clear that the two escapees need their help. Soon, the professor is recaptured, and it falls to the three children to take care of Anne in his absense. Whilst Anne is in many ways superhuman, she is sub-human in terms of her emotions and experience. Gezz, Luke and Malcolm arrange for Anne to attend their school, to help her learn how to be human.

On the surface, the novel is a fairly straightforward children’s story, in a similar vein to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures. But there’s also something going on underneath: a look at the human race from the quirky perspective of a non-human. For instance, if someone said to Anne, “Go back,” she might start walking backwards. Misunderstandings are part of the fun of the story, but this is also a theme close to the author’s heart. Will Hadcroft has felt a bit like an alien all his life, suffering a mild form of Asperger Syndrome. I’ve already read Will’s autobiography, The Feeling’s Unmutual (I thoroughly recommend it), and I recognised immediately that some scenes in Anne Droyd were straight out of his past experiences, for instance, his childhood fascination with smokers and a particularly bad bullying incident. The novel is currently marketed as an “Asperger Adventure,” designed to give affected readers a protagonist that they can really empathise with. Note: the novel’s first publication was not aimed at such a restricted target audience; I don’t want to convey the idea that it’s not aimed at all children, when it is.

I sense a three-act structure to the novel. First, the story charts Gezz, Luke and Malcolm’s experiences of getting to know Anne, followed by Anne’s impact on life at school, and finally a showdown with the bad guys from The Ministry. When reading, I couldn’t help thinking about those multi-part dramas that I used to see on Children’s BBC when I was a kid – often adaptations of novels. Anne Droyd and Century Lodge would make a pretty good one.

The novel is not without a few problems. I felt the pacing was rather slow; some of the more mundane and domestic scenes in the novel were over-developed and took up too much reading time. Sometimes, characters made incredulous decisions, like the police apprehending Professor Droyd at Gezz’s house, then failing to search the property for Anne just because the professor told them she wasn’t there. Kids won’t care about that, of course, but this kind of faux pas does hinder the novel from being appreciated beyond its target audience. Quibbles aside, the author demonstrates a good writing ability that shows a lot of promise. I have to confess, also, that I’m reading well outside my preferred genres on this one. Any children’s literature I do read tends to be the more gritty “young adult” stuff. I think kids will enjoy Anne Droyd.

A sequel, Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows, is due to be published in 2008. Keep up to date with news on the author’s blog.

The Feeling’s Unmutual by Will Hadcroft

The Feeling’s Unmutual is the autobiographical account of Will Hacroft, author of a children’s novel entitled Anne Droyd and Century Lodge. You’ve never heard of him, right? And given the novel’s small-press status, I’ll take a wild guess that you haven’t heard of it, either. So, what’s so special about this non-celebrity in his thirties that he gets to have his very own autobiography? Aspergers Syndrome, that’s what.

This condition manifests itself in a difficulty relating with others and in obsessive tendencies, amongst other things. Will has had a “ghosting” of the condition all his life, but was only recently diagnosed with it. That means he’s gone through most of his life not knowing what the heck was wrong with him or why he found certain tasks so hard while others around him sailed through.

I haven’t got the syndrome, but back in school I was the fat kid who was unpopular with the cool people, so I know all about what it feels like to be different. Will’s account is told with raw honesty, and I felt a real sense of empathy with him. Of special interest to me were Will’s digressions into cult television. He often speaks about why certain series, such as Doctor Who, The Incredible Hulk, or The Prisoner, made such an impression on him. In these shows, the hero is a misfit, not belonging in society, but he’s still the hero. Will’s philosophising made me question why I like particular films and TV shows. I realised that the theme which is cloeset to my heart is that of loner men, abused by life, by society, by their own wives even, yet they fight on and win the day, usually standing alone at the end. Now I know why I’m so fond of Mad Max II, The Shawshank Redemption and Gladiator.

There’s something in The Feeling’s Unmutual that’s not directly talked about by Will, but it’s there if you read between the lines: the idea that there’s a big plus side to being a misfit. From a very young age, you will see Will demonstrating an uncommon compassion, such as trying to help a school friend when everyone else (the typical, popular kids) just wants to cause pain. Later, in another context, Will has the courage to help a girl who is being sexually abused by her stepfather. Will simply tells what happened and doesn’t blow his own trumpet, but what I’m seeing is this: suffering breeds character. You don’t build courage by having an easy life. And what I’m getting at is that maybe it’s not so bad to be a misfit. Maybe, in fact, it’s best. Popularity and cruelty are easy elements to find together in a person.

I recommend this book, not only for sufferers of Aspergers Syndrome, but for everyone who has ever felt like a misfit. Will’s life story will touch your heart.