Authors: A. F. Harrold
for Dan & Jo
Some Things People Said About the Fizzlebert Stump Books
Wonderfully told, fabulously eccentric, and certain to leave everyone in the family
wearing a broad smile.
– Jeremy Strong
– Primary Teacher
Walks a high-wire of daft ideas and deft storytelling, ringmastered by a narrator who intrudes on the action with hilariously incongruous asides. Top fun at the Big Top.
– Financial Times
One of the funniest books I’ve ever read!
– Amy, 10, Girl Talk
If you like funny, exciting and entertaining books, read about Fizzlebert Stump. The author keeps the reader gripped by the way he ends each chapter, making you want to read on to find out what happens next. Even my mum enjoyed this book and I had to keep telling her what was happening!
– Freya Hudson, 10, Lovereading4kids
In which introductions are made and in which a stranger is spotted
This is a book about fish, and it’s a book about Fish, but mostly it’s a book about a boy. If you looked at the front cover you’ll probably already know this since it’s got a boy’s name written across the top in big letters, and the biggest words on the front of a book are always the most important ones (or the shortest ones, because it’s difficult to make short ones fill the space properly without making them big). But instead of going on about the cover we ought to pay some attention to the insides of the book, which is, after all, what you’re reading now. So, here we go . . .
Fizzlebert, who some people call Fizz for short (or Fizzlebert Stump for long (or Young Mr Fizzlebert Stump for even longer (or Fizzlebert Graham Stump for embarrassing purposes))), was sitting on the steps outside his caravan sipping a cup of hot chocolate.
It was late in the evening. Overhead a few stars valiantly pushed their way through a smattering of clouds. The distant noise of a crowd of perfectly normal people going home could be heard off in the distance, round the other side of the Big Top, and Fizz was smiling to himself (between sips) at the memory of a job well done.
In the circus it was always important to put on a good show. The best publicity, they say, is word of mouth, and if your audience see a lacklustre show they’ll go to work or to school the next morning and tell their friends, ‘Well, it was
, I mean, if you like unfunny clowns, a weak strongman, missing sequins and an out-of-tune sea lion.’ If you heard a review like that, would you want to go and visit the circus the next night? And a circus always needed people to go the next night (unless they were due a day off. Which this evening they weren’t.).
Fizz was certain that he hadn’t let anyone down. His act, with Charles the lion and Captain Fox-Dingle the lion-tamer (although Charles was so friendly he hadn’t needed taming for years), had been a star turn. He’d put his head in the lion’s mouth even further than normal and had held it in for very nearly a whole minute, which, considering the smell, was not to be sniffed at. And then, when Captain Fox-Dingle had tapped him on the shoulder and he’d pulled his head out, he’d done so with such grace and aplomb, in such a swift, deft movement, that the applause was guaranteed. It was something people would be telling their friends at work or in the playground about the next day for sure. And for all the right reasons.
Fizz was especially pleased because recently the act hadn’t gone quite so smoothly. Charles sometimes let his mouth droop a bit and once or twice Fizz had caught his ear or his cheek on a tooth as he withdrew his head. Fortunately Charles always wore his false teeth, the ones made from rubber, so no harm had been done, but it had made it a bit awkward, less slick than was professional, and he’d seen the Ringmaster give them A Look.
The Ringmaster is the master of the circus, and A Look from him isn’t something to be ignored. It means, ‘Tut tut,’ and any act that gets one of those knows that socks need pulling up. If an act ever gets too sloppy then the Ringmaster doesn’t give the act A Look, but A Word. Fizz had never had A Word, and he didn’t want one now, which was why he was smiling at how well the show had gone, especially after that afternoon’s rehearsal.
They’d just been going through the act (it never hurts to practise) and while Fizz had his head in the lion’s mouth, Charles did something he’d never done before. He fell asleep.
The great wet rubbery teeth fell shut around Fizz’s head. For a moment he was stuck but by pushing on Charles’s nose he managed to pull free. It was only when he tried to stand up straight that he realised he was wearing Charles’s false teeth like a crown. A wet white toothy crown that covered his face, but a crown all the same.
Fizz had looked at Charles, all gummy and shut-eyed, snoring away (while still sat up) and he’d shuddered. Captain Fox-Dingle had shuddered beside him.
They both knew that if such a thing happened in a real show, with an audience watching, it would be the funniest thing that the spectators had ever seen. This would be great if they were clowns, but a lion tamer and his proud king-of-the-jungle companion are not a comedy act. In fact, there’s nothing sadder, nothing more embarrassing, nothing more depressing than a toothless lion who’s being pointed at and laughed at by five hundred strangers.
But that had been at rehearsal. The show, as I’ve mentioned several times already, had gone without a hitch and Fizz was sitting out in the fresh air, smiling to himself and drinking his hot chocolate when he saw the bobbing beard of the bearded boy, Wystan Barboozul, running towards him through the gloom of the evening.
Wystan (an orphan the circus had picked up in an earlier book) was a boy about Fizz’s age who did an acrobatic act with Fish the sea lion which was
as good as the act Fizz did with Charles the land lion. He was a somewhat grumpy boy normally, given to complaining and beard-stroking silences, never mean, but then again not often jolly either. The fact he was running up shouting in an excited manner caught Fizz’s attention.
‘Wystan? What is it?’ he asked as the bearded boy leant on his knees and got his breath back.
‘Oh, Fizz,’ he said between pants (Fizzlebert’s mum had hung the washing out to dry that afternoon and hadn’t taken it in yet. Wystan didn’t seem to notice the underwear hanging either side of his head (one pair said ‘Monday’ and the other said ‘14th of April’ and both had Fizzlebert’s dad’s name sewn in the back of them).). ‘I just saw something really weird.’
‘What was it?’ Fizz asked.
I ought to tell you one thing, before letting Wystan speak. While Fizzlebert had been doing
daring act with Charles and the Captain, and while everyone else had been doing
daring acts in the ring, the bearded boy had not been doing anything daring at all. His act with Fish, the sea lion, had been cancelled. They hadn’t done it. None of it.
To explain why we need a quick flashback to earlier on that evening. Here goes. (In a television show they often do flashbacks in black and white, to make it look different to the bits of the show that are happening here and now. The problem I have is that this whole book is in black and white, so you’ll just have to imagine that this next bit’s
black and white than the rest of it. Trust me, I’m an author.)
The two boys were having their tea in the mess tent. Fizz was pushing the fricasséed clown fish round in its sauce (it didn’t seem quite right to be eating it, not when his mum was a clown human), and watching an argument.
By the serving station, where Cook ladled out portions of food, the Ringmaster was looking at the steaming mound of dinner that had just landed on his plate.
‘Fish again?’ he asked.
‘Yes, fish again,’ snapped Cook.
‘Mmm,’ said the Ringmaster, in a way that suggested he wasn’t that fond of fish.
parked by the seaside, Ringmaster. Plenty of fish around.’
‘Well, maybe tomorrow we could have some vegetables as well?’
Cook threw a hand in the air (though not very high since it was still attached to his wrist) and made a huffing noise.
‘I’ll have a word with me suppliers,’ he grumbled.
Cook was a wiry man, with heavy stubble and red, bloodshot eyes. In years gone by he would’ve had a cigarette hanging from his bottom lip, but in these health-conscious days he didn’t. He’d replaced it with a stubby little pencil, which didn’t burn as well, but gave him something to wiggle between his lips and was much more useful for making notes on recipes.
The Ringmaster nodded and took his dinner off to a far table, where he proceeded to prod at it with a fork. (Maybe he ate it, maybe he didn’t. This story doesn’t give you all the answers. Some things will remain mysterious.)
Cook scooped another ladleful of clown fish and was about to dump it on the next person’s plate when he stopped with the long-handled spoon poised in mid-air.
‘Oh, it’s you,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ said Dr Surprise, unable to fault the chef’s deduction. He leant closer, looked at Cook from behind his monocle and said something so quietly that Fizz couldn’t hear what it was. Cook shook his head. Dr Surprise said something else. Cook looked angry and shook his head again.
This was the quietest argument Fizz had ever not heard.
The Doctor stood up straight. ‘When?’ he said.
‘Soon,’ said Cook, pouring the contents of the ladle onto the Doctor’s plate.
‘And a carrot, please,’ said the Doctor. ‘For Flopples.’
Cook reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small orange carrot. He handed it over.