Mucking About by John Chambers

Mucking About

Written by John Chambers

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The Lovereading4Kids comment

In a nutshell: Charming, funny adventure stories set in Ireland, a long time ago | Manchán is the kind of boy who loves mucking about with his best friend, regularly gets into scrapes, and is horrified at the career path his mum has chosen for him - no way can he become a monk. Yes, a monk, because while Manchán shares all the characteristics of a modern boy, he lives centuries ago when there were wolves and druids in the forests, and Vikings on the seas. His world is presented as something of a dream for today's children, days can be spent picking blackberries or messing about in coracles, and a pig can be your pet. In a series of self-contained adventures, we get to know Manchán, his family, Muck his pig, and best friend Pagan-of-the-Six-Toes very well, and spending time with them is a real treat; John Chambers even wins readers round to the view that 'monking', as Manchán describes it, might not be that bad after all. Charming, quirky, and lots of fun. ~ Andrea Reece

A Piece of Passion from Siobhán Parkinson, publisher at Little Island; ‘John Chambers is a firm favourite of ours as a children’s writer, so we were delighted when we heard he had a new book that sounded very Little-Islandish – “being the adventures of a boy living at that time in Ireland when the old ways were changing and the new ones were just getting started”. How could we resist this funny, adventurous, charming book? The cheeky, put-upon character of Manchán stole our hearts. Add in the delightful Muck (his pet pig), the sharp-voiced and superior Méabh and the heroic Pagan-of-the-Six-Toes, and you’ve got a recipe for a great romp of a read. When John casually announced that he might do “a few drawings” to accompany the text, our joy knew no bounds, and the “few drawings” have of course turned out to be a hilarious interpretation of the text. Written out of a deep affection for Ireland and with a terrific ear for dialogue, this is a book that has universal appeal and will be enjoyed way beyond the Irish Sea.’

A message from the author, John Chambers; When I was a boy I enjoyed drawing large-scale detailed pictures of round towers being attacked by Vikings. Long ladders were involved, and fire, and things thrown from above. There was generally a river nearby, with a flat-bottomed longship so the Vikings could make their escape once they were done plundering – the get-away car of the day.
Later on I discovered that the round towers of my imagination, as places of refuge and security, with their high small doors, were actually really only bell towers, as the Irish cloigthithe should have told me. I learned this on Scattery Island, in the Shannon estuary, where there is a fine example with the door opening level to the grass. Then, coming back on the boat with my daughters, a picture popped into my mind of a young boy, an unwilling monk, creating pictures in his manuscript and havoc in the monastery, and who flew about in a round tower as if it were a rocket, the other thing that those thin elegant buildings make me think of. Manchán, for that was what the boy was called, never actually made it to the monastery; there are no Vikings in the stories, and as everybody knows, round towers can’t fly. The book instead is about the world Manchán lived in back then, its nature, his adventures with his pet pig Muck and his best pal Pagan-of-the-Six-Toes, and most especially, Manchán’s relationship to his family. It was an attractive world I think, at least until you got your first toothache, and it was a world that was changing.
I wrote these stories for myself as a boy, and I hope that other children will like them too. I hope they enjoy the drawings as well. Manchán can’t read, and he can’t write either. At the end of the book, he is about to leave his childhood behind. I wrote it down for him.


Mucking About by John Chambers

We are in Ireland and it's an awfully long time ago. Centuries and centuries. The country is supposed to have gone Christian, but there's still magic in the air, salmon in the rivers, berries in the bushes, druids in the forest, a Worm in the lake, fairy music in the distance. Manchan's mother wants to make a monk of Manchan. Manchan most emphatically does not want to be made a monk of. He'd rather sing songs with his father, or go fishing with his friend, Pagan-of the-Six-Toes, or go charging through the forest with his pet pig, Muck, or go bare-back riding over the bog on the chieftain's mad ram, Balor. Anything fun or adventurous or magical, and absolutely nothing to do with turnips, penance, prayers, monks and chanting. Poor Manchan! The more he mucks about having fun, the more his mother is determined to tame him.

About the Author

John Chambers

John Chambers is a cartoonist and screenwriter who has developed concepts and written scripts for many animated series over the past ten years, including Jasper the Penguin, The School for Little Vampires, Oscar the Balloonist, The Little Knight Trenk and Molly the Little Monster.

He also writes and draws the long-running comic strip The Adventures of Festy O'Semtex for Phoenix magazine, and has contributed many cartoons to other publications. John lives in Berlin, Germany.

As a child

I was born and raised in Ireland. I had a nice childhood. Every summer we used to go to the West. Now I have a family of my own and live in Berlin. But I still go back to the West of Ireland every year in the summer. My summer holidays were three months long. My children only get six weeks. We didn’t have mobiles or Nintendo or ipods back then. Once my Grandmother went to America and brought me back a handheld computer game with a black and white screen. I left it in the back window of our car and the sun fried it. I was upset for a week.

As an adult

My first teacher was called Mrs O’Flaherty and she said I was a very nice child but a bit of a peata, which means soft. When my mother brought me to school in the pram I used to insist that she pushed me all the way to the door of the classroom. She told me to get out of the pram or all the other children would laugh at me. But I said I didn’t care. And I didn’t. I don’t think that was soft. I think that was hard. That was primary school. When I went to secondary school I used to draw the teachers and make comics about them. Some of the teachers liked this and asked me to do other things for the school, like rugby posters, but some didn’t like it as much and didn’t much like me either. One of those second kind of teachers can be now be seen in the Granny Samurai book. I enjoyed school. When I left school I went to university but only briefly. One day the dean of the faculty told me that I would have to leave if I didn’t start showing up for lectures and tutorials. The next day I went to a tutorial and when I walked into the room the professor said, can I help you? I said no, and left. That was a good decision. The next one was even better. I went to New York and stayed for years. That was fun. Now I live in Berlin with my partner and our three children. Our children are aged 9, 7 and 5. I write a lot for TV animated series and last year I taught animation at the Academy for Children’s Media in Erfurt. One day one of my group didn’t have his homework done and I got very annoyed with him. I thought my teachers would have had a good laugh at that.

As a writer/illustrator

When I write I like to sit in the kitchen. Or in a hut on our allotment. When I am writing shorter things I like to sit in cafés and work there. When I draw I have a big room at the front of the apartment overlooking the street outside. Every twenty minutes the train rushes past and I like the sound. When I draw I like to stand but when I write I prefer to sit. I have written lots of things for children’s TV and two plays for adults, and three films. I also like making things. I have a friend who is puppeteer and every two years he comes up with a new idea for a play and I make the puppets for him. .

Things you didn't know about John Chambers

I don’t think I am allergic to anything. I had a canary when I was a boy so I know I’m not allergic to birds. And I had a cat for many years because a friend gave me his when he got married. That was because his wife was allergic. The cat’s name was Heaven and she was a street cat when he found her. That was in New York. When I moved to Berlin I took her with me, and one day she jumped from the balcony and ran off. She became a street cat again and went to live in the weeds near the train tracks on our street. She must have liked it there because she never came back to me, though I would see her from time to time. Once I nearly fell off a roof in slow motion. I was fixing a window and I slipped. I landed on my back and started sliding very slowly towards the edge. The roof wasn’t at all steep but I just couldn’t stop. I slid the whole way to the edge and only finally stopped when the heel of my foot pushed against the gutter. Then a friend rescued me. I used to love reading books about magic. But I was horrible at practising so I couldn’t do very many tricks. It was the same with homework. When I was 20 I did a drawing for my cousin who was 6 and he entered it into a competition and came first. Then his brother told on him and he got into trouble. I like looking at art, all kinds of art. Except for video installations. I find them mostly annoying. In school I studied biology, chemistry and physics. The only thing I can remember from biology is a drawing from the textbook of what a human body would look like without a skeleton. Think jelly. On the Summer holidays when I was young we used to drive for hours and hours from one side of Ireland to the other. The roads back then were much smaller than they are now. I used to wonder how exactly my father knew the way, especially when there were no signs. I used to earn money by selling books on the street in New York City. Sometimes I stayed out all night doing it. You see a lot of interesting things happening when you stay out all night on the street, especially in New York. I like cooking and I even like cooking things that I don’t like to eat, such as periwinkles or innards. I even like reading recipes. Some cooks are brilliant at writing recipes. It is an art. In school I used to sell fire crackers that I brought home from holidays in France. You weren’t allowed buy them in Ireland at the time, and possibly still can’t. I sold them in the secondary school and my brother sold them in the primary school. We had the market cornered, until we got caught. Then we were cornered. Maybe if that hadn’t happened, I would have been a fire cracker millionaire today.

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Book Info


129 pages


John Chambers
More books by John Chambers


Little Island

Publication date

6th September 2018




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