Kathryn Ross chaired an event this morning, and it set me thinking about what I’d written on the rather good event she chaired earlier in the week. Now, which one was it? Oh yes, it was the Southern hemisphere one, on my Aussie day, with Morris Gleitzman and Jason Wallace. The one Mal Peet was sad to have missed. And the reason I couldn’t recall what I’d written was that I hadn’t. At all.
I assumed Morris to be here for his umpteenth EIBF appearance, but it turned out to be his first. I’m fairly certain it was Jason’s first, as Out of Shadows is his first book. And here he was, paired with old-timer Gleitzman, whose new book Too Small to Fail is yet another laugh-and-cry story about a young child who tries to do his best in an awkward situation.
They started off by each reading a piece, with Jason in the nice boots choosing the snake story from somewhere at the beginning of Out of Shadows. He did a passable Zimbabwean accent, or so I’d like to believe, anyway.
Morris read the early chapter with Oliver standing outside the pet shop loving the doggie in the window. It quickly goes from sweet and traditional to potentially dangerous but also funny, because this is Morris Gleitzman, after all. He was probably rather tired, as he’d just arrived from Australia, but you wouldn’t have known.
Both authors like introducing difficult situations for their characters to solve, or for the readers to solve. They go for characters who do what you yourself wouldn’t do. Jason is an optimist who wanted to find out why Ivan was quite so horrible, and Kathryn suggested that perhaps we can sort of like him, simply because he is so awful.
When asked if they like their characters, Morris said it’s like with your children. There is a reason you don’t strangle them, even if you sometimes feel like it. Characters and children can be disappointing and surprising, but it’d be hard to live with the characters for the length of the book if you don’t like them.
Jason found he ‘enjoyed not liking Ivan’ very much, and that it made the writing work. And no one sees themselves as totally bad or evil. He believes in writing about what you know, whereas Morris subscribes to the idea that you should write about what you feel.
Someone asked if Morris felt bad about the end of Then, and he admitted it was the hardest thing to write, ever, and he had had to force himself. Morris then asked if they thought it was the wrong end, but was told that Then needed to end this way.
The eight-year-old Morris was a daydreaming wannabe dentist who wrote in secret, until the day someone in the football changing rooms found a story of his and was still reading it ten minutes later. That’s when he realised that if he could ‘keep kids in bag rooms’ his writing might be OK.
A question as to why adult characters come across as a lot weaker than child characters was explained by describing parents as ‘collateral damage’ in children’s fiction. There wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise, and the books need to be written from the point of view of the child, seeing adults as the child sees them.
Which makes a lot of sense. The same goes for the child being a smaller person, while their feelings are not smaller.
We didn’t want this event to end. Kathryn could have gone on and on, and so could most of us. Except perhaps for Morris who really might have been ready for bed.