Mark Lowery - Charlie and Me: 421 Miles From Home - Short Extract

Here we have a short extract from the marvellous novel Charlie and Me:421 Miles From Home. This is a funny and sad story, which is full of kindness and loss. I feel this was a book that may have got slightly lost and swept under the carpet - it has appeared to have missed people's attention. Yet, it is a brilliant book and one that you should definitely track down. Read the synopsis and short extract to hopefully whet your appetite. It's out now in all good bookshops. 

Thirteen-year-old Martin and his younger brother Charlie are on a very special journey. They're going to be travelling 421 miles all the way from Preston to the very tip of Cornwall. They're hoping to catch a glimpse of the dolphin that regularly visits the harbour there. But is that the only reason they are going? 

It's a journey that's full of challenges and surprises. Martin adores his brother Charlie but he's not like ordinary kids. He's one in a million. He was born far too early, and ought to have died. And cheeky, irrepressible, utterly unique Charlie is always keeping Martin on his toes - especially on this crazy trip they are now on. Martin is doing his best to be a good big brother, but it's hard when there's something so huge coming once they get to Cornwall ...

I always try to help Charlie with his homework. He struggles at school because he can’t focus on things and he’s a bit hyperactive. Mum says this is common with kids who were born early. She’s always having rows with the teachers about it, because he can’t be expected to learn like everyone else, can he? And if they let him use his imagination instead of trying to stuff his poor little head full of useless information, then maybe he’d have a chance in life. 

She’s very sensitive when it comes to Charlie. And she’s sort of right – people think he’s thick, but in some ways he’s mega-smart. His brain’s just wired up differently that’s all. 

Even so, the teachers have got a point. When he was in Year Three, he brought a letter home saying: ‘Charlie did not complete today’s spelling test because he was pretending to be a tortoise.’ Dad thought this was hilarious and stuck it on the fridge. 

‘Times tables? On a Saturday?’ says Charlie, flinging the stick down. The baggy sleeves of his jumper swing round afterwards. ‘Child cruelty! I’m calling the RSPCA.’ 

‘What?’ I say, ‘The animal charity?’ 

‘Yeah,’ replies Charlie, as though this is what he meant all along.

 ‘I’ll tell ’em you keep a . . . a pig in a shoe box and . . . you throw darts at it and you make it smoke cigarettes. 

They’ll lock you up and then I’ll be safe.’ 

I snigger. ‘Come on. Which times table are you doing at the moment?’ 

‘The one times table,’ he says immediately. ‘One one is one. Two ones are t—’ 

‘Rubbish!’ I interrupt, giving him a friendly jab in the arm. ‘Nobody learns the ones. Let’s do the eights. One eight is eight. Two eights are . . . ?’ 
Charlie looks off into the distance and scratches his head. ‘Er . . . fourteen . . . ?’ 

‘Try again.’ 

‘Twelve . . . no, seventeen.’ 

‘It can’t be seventeen,’ I sigh. I try to be patient with him, but I’m pretty good at maths and working with Charlie can get seriously frustrating.

 ‘We’ve been through this. Seventeen’s not in any tables. It’s a prime number.’ 
This was a mistake. Straight away he’s talking about something else. 

‘Prime number? 

Is that like the Prime Minister?’ he says, and before I can answer he’s off: ‘If I was Prime Minister, I’d make everyone wear top hats.’ 

We reach a red light and I push the button. ‘What? Why?’ I say, my brain struggling to catch up. 

‘I like ’em. Plus then I’d be taller than everyone.’ 

‘But they’d all be wearing top hats too.’ 

He thinks for a second. ‘Yeah. But only the Prime Minister would be allowed to wear high heels.’