Billy and Ant Lie – James Minter

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” ― Mark Twain

Billy and Ant Lie is the fourth book in James Minter’s ‘Billy’ series – a life learning collection for children entering adolescence. The series focuses on difficult or troubling situations faced by many preteen’s as they embark on their journey towards adulthood. The world is a confusing, complex and ever-changing place, and Minter’s Billy series attempts to help young adults to understand the decisions and situations which they many encounter. The first book in the Billy series – a review of which you can find here – in which Minter’s main character, Billy, has his extra-special birthday present stolen by an older boy, tackles the issue of bullying, and how best to react, and deal with situations in which you find yourself victimised or picked on by other people. The fourth book, which uses a very similar approach to Minter’s first book, tackles the issue of lying.

The book begins with Billy setting off on his bike to meet his friend Ant so that they can ride to school together. It is a simple, ordinary enough day, until Billy and Ant stumble upon a £1 coin in the bus stop. Despite running a little bit late for school the two friends head off to buy some sweets from Mr Gupter’s garage.

There is something to be said for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, which Billy and Ant discover, when their sweet buying attempt is interrupted by a fleeing shop lifter. Shocked, and presumably a little upset, the pair rush off to school before they can be questioned by anyone else at the scene. Worried that their lateness will land them in trouble, they concoct an elaborate lie to get them off the hook, deciding to say that Ant had a flat tyre, and that they had to return home to get it fixed before coming in to school.

Lies are never simple though, and they rarely get you off the hook. So when the police come to school appealing for any witnesses from the incident at Mr Gupter’s garage it is only a matter of time before the Billy and Ant’s story begins to unravel. When the local Police Constable asks to speak to Billy and Ant about the situation their teacher is shocked – they couldn’t possibly have seen what had happened, they were very specific about their whereabouts during the incident. Billy and Ant realise that it is only a matter of time before the truth catches up to them, and they discover just how much trouble their lie has caused.

The guilt and fear at having told a lie proves to be more trouble than it was worth. When Billy and Any made the decision to hide their true whereabouts from their teacher, they may have thought they were committing a victimless crime, but in reality, like a pebble being dropped into a pond, their lie created ripples that were more far-reaching than either boy could ever have imagined.

The reality is that if they had just told the truth to begin with, they wouldn’t have got in any trouble – their teachers and parents would likely have been concerned for their wellbeing, rather than disappointed and hurt.  By telling a lie, they made things the worse not just for themselves, but for all those around them too.

Billy and Ant Lie is another a wonderful example of a story that young children can enjoy reading along with the parents, while learning a little bit about the world around them. The book is well-written and easy to follow, offering an accessible route for parents to broach an issue that is likely to affect many young children as they begin their journey into adulthood.

Minter’s Billy Books are designed for parents, guardians, teachers and the young minds they care for, to help smooth the journey along the bumpy road from late childhood into adolescence. The books provide lessons and advice for children, as well as a conversation starter for adults wishing to approach these subjects with their young counterparts. By providing a character than children can relate to, the books help children to form an understanding of the real-world implications of their actions.

Billy’s Tenth Birthday – James Minter

 “If you’re horrible to me, I’m going to write a song about it, and you won’t like it. That’s how I operate.” ― Taylor Swift

21685402-256-k269886Billy’s Tenth Birthday is the first volume in James Minter’s new Life Learning Series. The story follows Billy, a young boy who turns ten on the tenth October – 10, 10, 10 – a once in a lifetime occasion. Billy’s excitement at his ‘big’ birthday perfectly encapsulates that of a child who is bordering on adolescence – each birthday seems so much more important than the last, and the move from single to double figures is one of the greatest of all.

On Billy’s birthday he is over the moon to be given a £20 note by his granddad. No more silly children’s toys, he can finally buy what he wants. At the age of ten this must seem like a huge amount of money – possibly more than Billy has ever owned. The options available to him seem countless. But things take an unpleasant turn when the local bully hears about Billy’s birthday present, and forces him to give it up – or else. Billy, like many other children his ages, agrees to the bully’s demands.

Billy is devastated to have lost his special birthday present, but he attempts to keep the situation a secret from his mum and granddad. He has nothing to be ashamed of but has convinced himself that the adults in his life will be cross if they find out what has happened. Like many bullied children he feels he cannot turn to anyone for help. Fortunately, luck is on Billy’s side, and a little bird finds out about the Bully and tells Billy’s granddad. Together they are able to hatch a plan to get the note back and to ensure the bully gets what’s coming to him!

Billy’s Tenth Birthday is a wonderful example of a story that young children can enjoy reading together with their parents. The book carries Minter’s trademark wit, and is well written and accessible, but it also deals with a serious issue that will affect many children as they grow up. Bullying can be a difficult subject for children to talk about, many may feel frightened or embarrassed if they fall victim to bullying. Minter’s book acts as the perfect icebreaker for adults and children to begin discussing these issues.

The message in Minter’s book is clear – you can’t rid the world of bullies but you can do something about how you deal with them.

“People in a small town tend to do a lot of talking, even when they don’t know what they’re talking about. ” — Don Roff

A hilarious take on village politics at their very worst.

A Tunnel is Only a Hole on its Side – James Minter


James Minter was born in Oxfordshire, from whence he is said to draw much inspiration for his writing. Prior to writing fiction, Minter spent 35 years in the IT industry working on specialist literature, including training manuals. In 2009 Minter turned his mind to writing fiction, the experience of which he soon fell in love with. Five years on and he has become an award-winning author. His first book, The Hole Opportunity,was published in 2011 and formed the beginning of The Hole Trilogy. The book went on to be the Bronze Winner for Adult Fiction at the Wishing Shelf Book Awards in 2013. Minter’s second book, The Unexpected Consequences of Iron Overload, was published the following year, taking a humorous look at the medical condition Haemochromatosis and written to help raise awareness of the condition, from which Minter himself suffers. The second book in The Hole Trilogy, A Tunnel is Only a Hole on its Side, was published in 2013.

The Hole Trilogy follows the lives of the citizens of the small town of Harpsden. In A Tunnel is Only a Hole on its Side, Minter takes a look at the reaction of the town’s citizens when faced with the idea of change. Harpsden is in dire need of a bypass – the roads are so clogged that the traffic backs up right to the high street, making accessing Waitrose an absolute nightmare. When a letter arrives from the council to announce a proposed new bypass, which threatens to cut through the local golf course, the citizens of Harpsden are driven to distraction. The club’s members, including the captain Major Woods, are horrified by the proposal and take it upon themselves to redesign the route. Major Woods takes the opportunity to reignite a feud he has with ‘hole farmer’ Colin Griggs and proposes a route that will effectively wipe the Griggs’ farm off the map. Meanwhile, kindly Colin opts for an alternate route that will suit everyone – tunnelling under the golf course and constructing the tunnel himself, potentially winning the favour of Major Woods in the process. As with all small town politics, however, nothing is ever that simple.

When I started reading this book, Minter’s writing style immediately appealed to me. The text is very well written, accessible, and humorous. I had to do a little of my own research to begin with as I hadn’t had the opportunity to read the first book in the trilogy. I was a little confused by the concept of ‘hole farming’ and wasn’t familiar with the feud between Colin Griggs and Major Woods, but after a bit of surfing the web I soon set this straight and was able to enjoy the book for what it is, a really funny, light-hearted read.

My initial reaction to Minter’s work was that it reads like an English sitcom, an opinion which I maintained throughout. It really does feel as though you are watching an episode of Keeping up Appearances or One Foot in the Grave. I really liked Minter’s introduction of Colin Griggs (whose character I absolutely love, by the way – but more on that later). Colin is introduced as an aging farmer, whose thoughts are so plagued by the rumour of a new bypass that he is unable to sleep and decides to put pen to paper to help clear his head. The description of Colin, sneaking downstairs in the early hours of the morning, trying so hard to be quiet and ultimately stumbling aimlessly in the dark, is priceless:

‘Making his way downstairs, he remembered the third from the top produced a loud squeak. Stepping over it, he stumbled past the next two treads. In the dark, he’d misjudged the distance. He struggled to maintain his balance ricocheting off the walls like a pinball in an arcade machine.’

Another aspect of Minter’s writing I enjoyed was being able to see the characters thoughts through the use of the third person omniscient. This too, for me, added to the feel of the book being like a sitcom. An example which immediately comes to mind is Colin’s wife’s description of Colin coming in from the cold in the first chapter:

‘Dropping his smile he flopped back into his chair. The fly on his pyjama bottoms gaped. There was nothing to see. It must be cold out there, she thought.’

Minter is said to draw on his own knowledge of rural Oxfordshire as the inspiration for his characters. Hailing from a small town myself, I can definitely relate to Minter’s choice of characters and his description of village politics. Those involved in community interest groups can very often get far too carried away, especially if it is a heavily contested subject. This is evident with the characters in Minter’s book and none more so than Major Woods, who sees himself as being at ‘war’ with several other citizens of Harpsden and takes his role as head of the Golfer’s Against the New Bypass very, very seriously:

‘The Major felt his hackles rise. “Mr Flanagan, you’ve been invited here today as a guest, to report on proceedings only. This is not a public debate. Please keep your thoughts to yourself. If you’d listen and not interrupt, then as Mary said, you will learn. Now please be quiet. Questions will be allowed later.” The colour in his cheeks was reminiscent of a Macaques’ red bum.’

The Major in general is only too reminiscent of someone taking a role far too seriously. No doubt the bypass is an important subject, but the Major appears more than a little unhinged. I hope I don’t make any enemies by saying that from why I understand of small groups like this there is always a character such as the Major, who feels they can take the law into their own hands, Minter just does a rather fantastic and hilarious job of describing such an individual.

One final passage of praise for this book: I thought the characters were fantastic. Minter presents a really good mix of characters, including a fantastically posh and aging Lady of the Manor, a sultry seductress, as well as characters who appeal to a reader’s better nature, and others that are just downright infuriating. Major Woods is firmly rooted in that last category for me; I find the idea of such a man absolutely repugnant, which I think is what makes him such a great character. A friend of mine once told me of an aging army Major who would always sign his name ‘Major’ so and so, if there was a chance the person reading it might think they were better than him. I don’t know if such a man actually exists, but it is of him that I thought when reading about the self important, furious and somewhat ridiculous man that is Major Woods.

‘The persistent drone of the Mercedes horn alerted him to the Major’s arrival. Looking up he was taken aback to see him, eyes staring, mouth trembling, moustache twitching, face reddening, nostril flaring, only a few feet away from him.’

Needless to say, anybody who insists on being called Major outside of a barracks by close friends is not ok by me, but he does make for a rather amusing read.

On the other hand, I struggle to see how anyone could fail to warm to Colin Griggs. The man is so well meaning, while perhaps a little short sighted at times. I really took to Colin, finding his inability to use a computer an endearing and largely accurate description of many older people I know.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the book as a whole. Minter has created something very unique to him – it is different to anything I have read before. The only aspect of the book I struggled with slightly, and which I feel could perhaps use a bit more work, is the transition between settings and chapters. At times the text can read a bit like a script and it can get a little bit much, making it difficult to read too much in one sitting.

Overall, I found A Tunnel is Only a Hole on its Side to be a really light-hearted and entertaining look at village politics and rural living. I think Minter is undoubtedly unique in his writing style and has created something, which, while it may not be for everyone, will have a lot of people singing its praises. I would strongly recommend anyone give it a go, if only to experience something a little different.

Many thanks to James Minter for providing me with a free review copy of the book.