Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

Sky falling

Discovered someone was sitting in ‘my’ seat in the Corner theatre for the event with Sophie Cameron and Sally Gardner. But I can be flexible, if I really have to.

Sally and Sophie’s books are both about people falling out of the sky. Sally was looking for what it is that makes us human; what we have that aliens don’t. It’s love. Sophie, on the other hand, had been inspired by the falling angels in an old deodorant commercial.

Sally kicked off by reading from My Side of the Diamond, and I was reminded again of what a great voice she has.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

From there the discussion went on to Sally’s dyslexia, and then back to how she came to start writing in the first place. It was the bailiffs. And you can’t argue with that. If you need money, you need to find a way to earn some. Sally’s first book came about with ease, as did the way it was accepted for publication. (Something to do with a Sainsbury’s carrier bag with a hole in it…) But after the first time, it’s not been quite such smooth sailing.

Asked if she prefers a certain age group, Sally said no, and that she has now written an adult book. Although she does feel that younger readers are more intelligent than adults.

Then it was the turn of Dick King-Smith fan Sophie to read from her debut novel Out of the Blue, which is set in Edinburgh, during the festival. Originally set elsewhere, Sophie changed this when she returned to work in Edinburgh and realised that there aren’t a lot of books set there. Her second, standalone novel, also has an Edinburgh setting. And somewhere in all this there might have been talking dolphins.

Both books have a black main character, and this led to some discussion as to whether white authors are allowed to write about black people, which Sally finds worrying. Also, there are not enough translated books, and after March next year she reckons other countries will not want ‘our’ books.

Chair Lucy Popescu had an author mother, who always put her in her books, so she wondered if Sally and Sophie have done that. Sally said her children would have killed her if she had.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

It’s important to bring boys up to read books by and about women, and Sally mentioned her favourite heroine, Daisy in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. In some cases it seems that statistics on who reads might be incorrect, as boys don’t want to say they do. Sally had a story about a school where pupils were not allowed to read on their phones. One boy was caught doing so, but was nearly forgiven when the teacher discovered he was reading Dickens. But the boy insisted on the punishment of being expelled, rather than have his reading habits made public. He enjoyed books, but wanted to stay cool by reading on his mobile like everyone else.

So, books can be a very private thing for many.

Asked about fan fiction, Sophie said she’d written some. It’s good practice, and you get feedback on your writing. Sally used to tell herself stories [before she could read] and tried to see if she could make herself cry. She sees all her stories as films in her head, and until recently believed that this happened to everyone. When writing I, Coriander, she listened to the story as though it was radio.

Sophie is happiest writing in cafés, while Sally has adopted a rescue dog who insists on sitting on its favourite chair, forcing her to stay and write in the same room.

And apart from a drunk giraffe and a Rupert Bear with tits, that was pretty much it.

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We’ve lost that community feeling

I had honestly forgotten about it. Totally, I mean, and not just the finer details. A while ago a freak pingback on a nine-year-old post on here made me have a look to see what it was. To begin with I didn’t even recall it as I read, but slowly it came back to me.

It, and the 27 comments, from nine authors, including the then children’s laureate Michael Rosen. Usually I remember my more successful posts, even in the past. But not this one.

The funny thing is, it started as nothing more than a disappointed review of a television programme on school libraries. A programme about Michael Rosen visiting a school. I wanted a good moan, and then I was fine.

But people commented like there was no tomorrow, and then, as I said, Michael himself pitched in with a couple of very long comments. I don’t even know how he found the post. (Until that day a few weeks ago, I’d been proud that he’d joined in a discussion on a blog I’d written for the Guardian…)

By now, it’s not just the comments on blogs that we’ve lost; it’s the school libraries too. So from that point of view, the programme is obsolete, even if our opinions are still valid.

Much as I enjoy the bantering on Facebook, it is what killed blog communities. I miss those comments and the way people returned to see what had been said and then offered up more thoughts. I get the hits, and if I hadn’t disabled the like button, people would like my posts.

But most of any chatting about anything I write on here now happens on Facebook. That’s not bad, but it happens away from the actual article we’re discussing, and it’s limited to my friends, or friends of friends, if someone shares. But you can’t do what I did that day recently, which is revisit the post, and then read all the comments from the past.

I called it a freak pingback. It really was, because it wasn’t new, it was a repeat from nine years ago, and presumably happened for some technical reason in cyberspace. But revisiting the whole thing was interesting.

McTavish Goes Wild

McTavish is back. Do you remember this clever little dog? Meg Rosoff introduced us to McTavish the rescue dog this time last year. He sorted his adopted family, the Peacheys, out in their time of need. So OK, maybe he was ‘rescued’ from a dogs’ home, but he’s more rescuer than rescued.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish Goes Wild

It’s holiday time in this Conkers book from Barrington Stoke, and every Peachey has their own idea of how to spend the holiday. But Betty says they should go camping, and Ma Peachey agrees.

They have a surprisingly good time, when they don’t have a rather dismal time (it rains). But there’s no getting away from their personality differences, and Pa Peachey really is a little silly. Yes, you don’t know for certain about piranhas, but surely he could relax a little?

When things begin to look iffy, McTavish has an idea, and he rescues the holiday.

What they do for reading

As I mentioned at the time, it wasn’t until I saw Meg Rosoff limping, walking back to her hotel, after an event in Glasgow two years ago, new boots causing her discomfort, that I really stopped to think about what it is they do, all these authors who travel to meet their fans.

You know, travelling and not sleeping in your own bed is one thing (or would that count as two things?), but to have hurty feet as well? It’s just heartrending.

This week it was World Book Day. It was also snowy. That’s not a good combination, as we had authors travelling the country for WBD events. Or not. Lots of events were cancelled. Partly due to the snow and travelling difficulties. Partly because of schools closing. (I bet that didn’t go down well with the thousands of parents who have had to come up with WBD fancy dress for their children, only to find the schools were closed on the day.)

And the authors who were already ‘out there’ when the snow hit. Could they get home? Some did. Mostly with difficulty, being delayed, cold, hungry, travelling on crowded trains.

Some didn’t. What do you do when stranded in a town, and there is no room at the inn? Everyone else got there first. Possibly because they weren’t performing in a school, so had an opportunity to book that last room.

Just as heartrending as Meg’s new boots, was the fact that I noticed one author asking around on social media if any of his/her friends happened to live in this town and had a spare bed. The case I saw had a happy ending, with someone offering a bed pretty swiftly.

But it’s sad, isn’t it? You come to talk about your books at a school, and then you are stranded. (In this case I believe it didn’t end the next day, because there were still no trains home.)

Thank you all!

Aarhus 39

Sigh.

I’m absolutely green with envy.

This is the Aarhus 39 weekend (if that’s what it is when it begins on a Thursday), and I’m not there. Meg Rosoff is swanning around in the company of Eoin Colfer and Chris Riddell, two ex-children’s laureates. Two of my favourites. They, in turn, are swanning around in the company of Meg, favourite everything.

I don’t see how it can get much worse. For me, that is. They and Aarhus are probably having a great time. They are probably swanning around with Daniel Hahn, assuming he’s in a position to swan with anyone.

This Astrid Lindgren nominated whirlwind has gathered at least two more ALMA nominees – Maria Turtschaninoff and Ævar Þór Benediktsson – as well as most of the other 37 Aarhus 39ers. That’s them in the jolly photo below.

Aarhus 39

No doubt they are mostly swanning too.

And the lucky citizens of Aarhus will have been going round to all these book events, most of which appear to have been free.

I hope this means that it might become a habit, and that maybe next year I can swan somewhere. Unless all the laureates are worn out by then.

The 2017 Gothenburg Book Fair

Next week it’s time for this year’s book fair in Gothenburg. Maybe we should refer to it more as a Swedish book fair? Because it is the book fair, and it just happens to take place in Gothenburg. People travel there from Stockholm. In fact, perhaps they need an excuse to leave.

Before I out-festivalled myself this summer I was seriously tempted. It was as if the nine-year gap from 2007 to 2016 had not been. I was there last year and although I was exhausted from the word go, it still felt as if I should – would – be going. But we all get funny notions occasionally. I started with Philip Pullman, and ended with Meg Rosoff. Not sure what the fair would need to offer to rouse me this time.

The programme, which I perused carefully, has a lot going for it, and that was before I recollected that many authors are boycotting it this year, for permitting the far right to attend. And – this might gall them, if they actually read Bookwitch – I didn’t miss them in the programme. It looked interesting enough anyway.

My new ‘pal’ Christoffer Carlsson will be there on the Saturday. There are talks on subjects such as Arabic children’s literature today, and Are there too many children’s books being published? It bears thinking about. Black Lives Matter, on politics in teen books. Quality or Quantity? on children’s publishing. Read Yourself Well. Very important. Does the Swedish school system kill the creativity of its pupils? Chapter books vs YouTube.

Jenny Colgan will be there, talking among other things about living in a castle. I didn’t know she did. How to use children’s books to talk about current affairs. And it seems Norway has never been hotter [in children’s books].

Perhaps there are fewer ‘names.’ I’m not sure. But then, it’s not necessarily the ‘names’ that make for a good event. We flock to see and hear our literary stars, but occasionally they can be less good at performing than other literary professionals.

YA in Icelandic; how about that? Or there’s M G Leonard and Frances Hardinge. And does educated = well read? I suspect there won’t be any cake in the Afternoon Tea event with Jenny Colgan and Sophie Kinsella. Or even tea. An event on how reading trash could be the start of good reading sounds just like my kind of thing.

In fact, right now I am wondering why I’m still at home. (I know why, but temptation is back.) David Lagercrantz talks about his Lisbeth Salander, with Christopher MacLehose. FYI I’m still only on Saturday. One more day.

Astrid Lindgren and Jane Austen. Not together, and not in the flesh, for obvious reasons. More Val McDermid. Some [Swedish] superstars like Sven-Bertil Taube and Tomas Ledin. It gets lighter as the weekend progresses. It’s a way to tempt the masses to come on the Sunday, and it’s a way for the masses to rub shoulders with stars.

There’s Arundhati Roy. Ten years ago I grew – almost – blasé about seeing Orhan Pamuk all over the place. It’s what it’s like.

I might go next year. But I’ll – probably – never again have constant access to my favourite author as I prowl those corridors.

Meg Rosoff at Vi Läser in Gothenburg

Meg as Mal

Jake Hope began his chairing of Meg Rosoff’s event on Tuesday evening by saying so many nice things about her writing, that she felt the need to pat him on the arm and explain to us that he had to say those things.

Either that, or he really meant them. The trouble with Meg is that she doesn’t understand that Jake and I and everyone else quite like her writing and occasionally feel compelled to mention this. And where better than in a tent full of her fans?

Meg Rosoff

Meg had new hair, and the red chair she was sitting on (I don’t mean Jake) went well with her black and grey outfit. (See, I’m managing to steer clear of the writing!) Jake wore a new pair of colourful boots.

This event was about how Meg finished writing Mal Peet’s book Beck after he died, and she explained how offering to do this was the one thing she could say when Mal phoned her with the unwanted news of his illness. You know, the time when you desperately want to say something nice or kind, but you can’t, because there is nothing that will make it better.

After reading what Mal had written so far, Meg felt she could definitely adopt this book. She read a lot of Canadian literature to get a feel for the country Beck ends up being ‘deported’ to as a teenager.

Mal Peet

The end was in place, but she felt the story arc needed pushing for a special ending. She made Beck’s love interest a little younger, and Beck had to be made more attractive [to an older woman].

At Jake’s request Meg’s reading from Beck was the [beginning of the] abuse chapter, which she felt was all right to have in a book for young adults, as long as it was made terrible enough, with no chance of the reader finding it the slightest bit exciting. That is the important thing about what might be taboo; it mustn’t appear tempting in any way.

Despite the beginning of the book being great, Meg reckons she started changing things from about page three, to make it fit in with what she wanted it to be, and now she can barely remember who wrote what in some cases.

The discussion then moved on to politics and her belief that the 45th President has never read a book, so is ‘entirely unshaped by other people’s views of the world.’ Cultural appropriation was next, and Meg feels that children don’t need mirrors in fiction, so much as doors. She said she’s part of the generation who thought things were going to get better… That makes two of us.

Early favourites were A Wrinkle in Time, as well as Hamlet and Lear. We need a mix. One book that inspired her was The Cat in the Hat, which she used to scare her daughter by reading in a funny voice. Then there were pony books, dog books, her parents’ books, books about spies and finally reading le Carré aged nine and not getting it. And why did no one ask Meg to write one of the new Bonds? She liked literature like The Secret Garden, and she read trash, for the good bits.

Meg Rosoff

She knew she could never be an author because she could never write as well as the writers she liked. But when she realised she didn’t want to be run over by a bus, having only worked in advertising, she still wrote a book. And she says she really wrote it for her agent (Catherine Clarke), to please someone difficult to please.

Meg’s well-known inability to plot surfaced a lot. For her the characters come first, and as there are no rules for how you are an adult, hers are weird, singing rabbits and invisible greyhounds. Writing Beck didn’t change her way of writing, but she tended to ask herself ‘what would Mal do?’ And she toned the sex down.

Asked if she wanted to cooperate with others, she said ‘not really.’ Although she does discuss plots with Sally Gardner, and recently disagreed with Sally on rewriting Romeo and Juliet as old people; because she didn’t make them old enough. And ‘I’ll have that idea if you’re not using it.’ She admits to getting weirder as she grows older.

‘How does she plot?’ ‘Haha, I wonder that too.’ The best thing is stealing a plot. For instance, Jonathan is really Lucky Jim. And if she waits a while after she’s written something, ‘a bit of plot creeps in.’

We can be satisfied with that.