5 Questions with DD Armstrong

This Men's Mental Health Month and #Movember we're highlighting important stories from some of our Black male authors. This week we're looking at Ugly Dogs Don't Cry by DD Armstrong. This powerful novel is a retelling of John Steinbeck's literary classic, Of Mice and Men. 

Set in West London, Ugly Dogs Don't Cry follows two boys entering their first year of college and their complicated journeys towards achieving their dreams. DD's landmark work is a poignant look at intimacy, friendship, and masculinity.

We asked DD 5 questions about his book and the inspiration behind it:

Why was Of Mice and Men the literary classic that you decided to retell?

OM&M (Of Mice and Men) has always been one of my favourite books, one I always to return to. Many times I played with the idea of retelling the story but thought when it’s not broke don’t try to fix it. I think if you decide to retell a classic you should ask who benefits from your adaptation. While delivering creative writing workshops in schools I found several issues around race and language used in the book would often occur. Added to this a general lack of diversity in the national curriculum, it created the perfect niche that a retelling could fill.

What would you say is the power of the story?

The characters. There’s a real youthful innocence to some of them and through this lens readers are allowed to explore the complexities of Black masculinity and British youth culture. The novel echoes the eeriness of loneliness and isolation for young people, while still whispering the bright colours of hope in the friendships that are found within. From it we understand our own dependencies and the value people hold.

What response to your story has been most surprising?

I think it’s always flattering when you hear people say they prefer my book to the original or that UDDC can stand alone from OM&M (although I will never not pay homage to the book’s lineage). I think what has most surprised me is how much and how swiftly the book has resonated with young people and schools. Talking with students on how well it engaged them or how well they related to characters is a real blessing. Especially when you can see you’ve helped create someone’s appetite for books.

Are there any other literary classics that you’d like to retell?

There are one or two books I’d like to adapt. I’ve always said one day I would like to do an adaptation of Othello (I’m really intrigued with the relationship between him and Iago), but I don’t think I would do too many. I wouldn’t want to get pigeonholed as a hack writer who only does adaptation of other people’s work. Plus I think there are so many contemporary voices and stories to explore I wouldn’t want to do myself an injustice by continuously updating other’s work to fit new markets.

Get your copy of Ugly Dogs Don't Cry here!