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Geoffrey Guy (1942-) - Sidelights

hannibal rat mice scratchbelly

Geoffrey Guy told SATA: "Over the years, I've written various articles, hopefully humorous, for local papers. Indeed, the first chapter of Hannibal's Rat is derived from one of these. However I was unable to concentrate on extended writing while working for Customs and Excise and it was only after retiring to become a gardener that I had the time to think about it.

"Hannibal's Rat is a children's book, but I did not write it with children in mind, or indeed with anyone particular in mind: in effect, for my own enjoyment. Nor is there any consciously-expressed moral message or lesson in the three books which, if the remaining two are published, will make up what might be called the "Scratchbelly Trilogy." However, on considering them after completion I can discern a sort of moral theme: When a character cheats and breaks the ethical rules he eventually receives his comeuppance, though it may be delayed until a later book.

"The books are about mice, cats, dogs, rats, etc., with the action perceived from the mice's point of view. I make no attempt to be 'true' to the lives of real mice, which are almost certainly nasty, brutish, and short. There are nevertheless a lot of deaths in my stories; in fact the number increases with the second book, and in the third, Mice on the Move, the mouse deaths reach apocalyptic proportions. I feel that this is inevitable if you are going to write about animals which are the main food source for a great many creatures.

"I usually think of the stories' plots while gardening and, indeed, construct many of the actual sentences in my head at the same time. This considerably reduces the time spent actually putting pen to paper. I always hand-write the words because I find it easier to note something wrong with a sentence when it is handwritten: typing is too neat.

"Terry Pratchett's trilogy Truckers, Diggers, and Wings is, I think, one of the funniest and most attractive series of 'fantasy' books. Richard Adams' Watership Down is a fine book which I suppose mine might be said to resemble in terms of the animal/fantasy element, but I've consciously tried to avoid similarities. To my mind, his rabbits get off too lightly. And I've never quite understood why Wind in the Willows is a good children's book. It is a brilliant social commentary on Britain between the wars but as a child I found it mightily inconsistent and confusing.

"I know little or nothing about illustrators but I was immensely impressed by the work of Douglas Carrel who created the pictures for Hannibal's Rat. I certainly wouldn't presume to offer advice to anyone aspiring to be a writer, although I might be able to help him with his gardening."

In Hannibal's Rat, mice are not given names until they survive to adulthood—before that, they are numbered. Scratchbelly and his family are living comfortably behind the walls in a house until a new family moves in, and Number Three, Scratchbelly's son, is spotted by the newcomers. The mice avoid the traps and poison set out for them, but the greatest menace is Hannibal, a cat recruited specifically to catch the mice. Fearing for his life, Scratchbelly negotiates a truce with Hannibal. If Scratchbelly can provide a rat for Hannibal to catch, Hannibal will leave the mice alone. Scratchbelly must go outside, literally, to find a suitable rat. Andrea Rayner in the School Library Association Journal described Hannibal's Rat as "an appealing and convincing fantasy where the animal characters really do come to life." Julia Jarman in Carousel liked the "believable characters, humor and . . . exciting plot."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Carousel, summer, 2003, Julia Jarman, review of Hannibal's Rat, p. 17.

School Library Association Journal, summer, 2003, Andrea Rayner, review of Hannibal's Rat.

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