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 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.
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.
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.