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Bad Magic

This book begins with a bad word.
Can you guess which one?
WAIT! Don’t say it out loud. Don’t even think it to yourself. I get into enough trouble as it is.
In fact, if the only reason you opened this book is to find the bad words in it, you will be sorely disappointed. I learned the hard way to keep my writing clean.
Alas, when the hero of this book, Clay, first pronounced this word that I just mentioned, or rather that I most definitively did NOT mention, this swear word, this curse word, this very, very bad word, this word that I am not repeating or in any way revealing, he didn’t know there was anything wrong with it; he was only three years old.
Where would such a young boy learn such a grown up word? I have no idea. I certainly didn’t teach it to him.
Maybe his father yelled it when he stubbed his toe. Maybe his babysitter grumbled it into her phone when she thought Clay was sleeping.
Maybe an older boy taught him the word because the older boy thought it would be funny to hear a three-year-old say it.
It really doesn’t matter where Clay learned the word any more than it matters what the word was; it only matters that he said the word when he did.
At the time of this fateful event, Clay was in a crowded elevator, leaving his first dentist appointment. As his brother would tell it later, Clay was happily sucking on the acid-green lollipop he had been given as a reward for his good behaviour,  when all of a sudden he took the lollipop out of his mouth and hollered this terrible, terrible word at the top of his little lungs.


Needless to say, everybody in the elevator was shocked to hear such foul language come out of such a small child. A big kid giggled. An old lady frowned. Even her Pekingese lapdog seemed to whimper in distress.
Mortified, Clay’s brother, who was twelve years older than Clay and who was in charge of Clay for the afternoon, leaned in to Clay’s ear and whispered, “You can’t say that – that’s a bad word.”
Clay looked at his brother in confusion. “Why? What did it do?”
Everybody laughed. The mood in the elevator, er, elevated.
But that isn’t the end of the story.
On the bus ride home, Clay’s brother couldn’t get Clay’s question out of his head. What did bad words do? What made them bad?
Finally, he had an answer: “Bad words are bad because they make people feel bad. That’s what they do.”
Clay nodded. This made sense to him. “And good words make people feel good?”
“And magic words make people feel magic?”
Clay’s brother hesitated. He was an amateur magician and said magic words all the time – mostly while practising tricks on Clay – but he’d never thought about them in this particular way. “Um, I guess. How ’bout that?”
“Accadabba!” said Clay, giggling. “Shakazam!”
Sometimes, between siblings or close friends, words take on meanings that can’t easily be explained to other people. They become like inside jokes – inside words, as it were. After the elevator episode, bad word became Clay and his brother’s inside word for magic word. Also for code word and for password and for any other word that had some unique power or significance. For any word that did something.
“Can you think of a bad word for me?” Clay’s brother would ask before making a coin disappear behind his hand or before pulling a scarf out of Clay’s ear.
“What’s the bad word?” Clay would demand, blocking his brother’s access to the refrigerator or bathroom.
As Clay grew older and became more and more adept at magic tricks himself (possibly more adept than his brother, although please don’t tell anyone I said so), bad word maintained its special meaning.
“Hey, bad man, what’s the bad word?” they would ask each other in greeting.
When they left coded messages for each other, they would leave hints about the bad word needed to decode the message.
When they did magic shows for their parents or friends, they called themselves the Bad Brothers.
Bad was their bond.
Then, around the time Clay turned eleven, his brother pulled off the biggest, baddest magic trick of all: he disappeared, with little warning and no explanation.
That was almost two years ago. And still Clay would sometimes wonder what he had done to drive his brother away. What had he said? What bad word had he uttered without knowing it?
And what bad magic would make his brother come back?


Clay was not the type of person who would want a book written about him. I may as well admit that now.
Go ahead, judge me. Call me names. Curse me and the horse I wrote in on. But there it is.
He wasn’t shy exactly, but these days, at the age of twelve, almost thirteen, he liked to keep a low profile. He slouched in his chair. He hid his face in a comic book or skateboard magazine. He wore a hoodie, even on warm days. It wasn’t that he had a big nose or funny ears or horrible acne; I may be biased, but I think he was almost handsome, in a dried-snot on his- sleeve sort of way. It was just that he preferred not to attract attention. Just being looked at for longer than a moment or two made him start jiggling his knee. I can only guess what Clay would have thought about being scrutinized for almost four hundred pages.
Still, it happens to everyone occasionally. Being looked at, I mean.
On the morning to which I now turn, the morning Clay’s life began to tumble helplessly out of control, on that morning, kids kept looking at Clay, not just once or twice, but repeatedly, and he had no idea why.
It started as soon as he got to school. The staring and the whispering. The first few kids he caught turned away so fast that he almost thought he’d imagined it. But the next few were bolder; they openly ogled and snickered. One girl he knew just looked at him and shook her head. Two boys he couldn’t remember seeing before gave him a thumbs up. And that was even more alarming.
After he stowed his skateboard in his locker, Clay ducked into the bathroom and examined himself in the mirror. There were no boogers hanging from his nose. His fly wasn’t open. His hair was a mess, as usual, but it was hidden under his hoodie. He could see nothing wrong. Nothing that wasn’t always wrong, anyway.
Had somebody been spreading rumours about him? Had he been mistaken for someone else? It made no sense.
Clay’s first class, English, was on the ground floor with an entrance directly off the schoolyard next to the basketball court. When he walked up, a half-dozen kids were already standing around, talking in hushed voices.
While the others took a few steps back, Clay’s best friend, Gideon, stepped right up to Clay.
“Okay, yeah, sure, it’s kind of...awesome? And I’m kind of...impressed?” said Gideon. “And I know I’m always saying you should just do this, like what are you waiting for, but here? Now? At school? Seriously?” Gideon had this odd way of speaking so that it always sounded as if he were in the middle of a conversation; it was a little hard to follow, even for Clay.
“I mean, do you have a death wish?” Gideon persisted. “Or are you just totally certifiable?”
“What are you talking about?” Clay asked. “Why is everybody—?” He faltered. “What the—?”
Behind Gideon, on the outside wall of their classroom, there was a freshly painted graffiti mural, or “bomb” as they are sometimes called.
As soon as he saw the mural, Clay’s leg started to jiggle. He felt dizzy. He thought he might puke.


it said, in big black bubble letters.
Underneath was a small tag, the signature of the artist:


“Don’t worry – I took a picture,” said Gideon, holding up his phone. “Yeah, they’ll kick you out of school, and yeah, you’ll have no future, and yeah, your parents will kill you, but at least your words will live for ever, right?”
The name, the lettering style, the entire mural was unmistakably, unquestionably, undeniably Clay’s.
The trouble was, the mural wasn’t his. He hadn’t painted it. And he had no idea how it had got there.
It was as if the mural had appeared by magic.
Very sucky magic.

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This book is incredibly BAD. It does not contain MAGIC. Or a mysterious ghost girl. Or spontaneous combustion. Or Spanish-speaking llamas.

Nope. None of these things.

Okay... maybe one of these things. But certainly not MAGIC.

It’s just an ordinary tale of a normal boy who goes to summer camp on a desert island. Nothing exciting or weird happens. The camp is definitely NOT for crazy, badly-behaved kids, and there are NO SECRETS or MYSTERIES at all.

And absolutely NO MAGIC whatsoever...

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Book information

Key Stage
Accelerated Reader level
5.2 MY
ISBN: 9781409587682
Extent: 384 pages
Dimensions: 198 x 130mm

Author information

Pseudonymous Bosch

Pseudonymous Bosch is a pseudonym, or as he would prefer to call it (because he is very pretentious), a nom de plume. Unfortunately, for reasons he cannot disclose, but which should be obvious to anyone foolhardy enough to read this book, he cannot tell you his real name. But he admits to a deep-seated fear of mayonnaise.

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Reader reviews

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“One of the best books I have ever read”
Bad Magic is a fascinating book about an ordinary boy who witnesses something extremely unusual and creepy. It has a very interesting storyline about magic, secrets, mysteries and many other absorbing topics for children from ages 10-13. I would strongly recommend them to oblige and parents to indulge their kids in such books. Pseudonymous bosch is an imaginative and creative author and uses appropriate text for children with nothing obscene whatsoever.

Press reviews

“The perfidious and puzzling Pseudonymous Bosch is on top form in this stupendously surreal and marvellously mysterious adventure. Throw in a ghost girl, spontaneous combustion, a nod at J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan and the great William Shakespeare, plus some devilishly good plotting, and you have the funniest and craziest reading experience this side of Neverland.”
“An unputdownable read with a very clever mix of suspense and humour.”
“Bad Magic is a fun, page-turning, magical mystery that is sure to thrill and engage young readers.”
“An adventurous page-turner of a book... I would mark this book a definite 10 because I couldn’t put it down once I started it. It was chilling one moment and exciting the next.”
“Never a dull moment in this book. Constant adventure, a reasonable amount of fantasy and an element of mystery, just the way I like it.”
“‘Bad Magic’ is a very gripping book and if you liked his ‘Secret Series’ you would like this too. It is filled with jokes and odd language I would recommend it to anyone who likes the ‘Harry Potter’ Series.”
“'Bad Magic’ is weird, well written and funny. I recommend it.”
“Full of totally unexpected twists and turns, brilliantly original, crazy and very weird (but in a good way!).”
“‘Bad Magic’ is a brilliant book.”

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