Saturday, 15 May 2010

An Evening With Meg Rosoff

Yesterday evening, my middle daughter and I went to a book festival event in a lovely old Quaker meeting room. It was in an ancient building I have passed many times and at last I was in there. There was a warm and friendly atmosphere in there under the oak beams, not to mention home-made cakes.

We were there to listen to Meg Rosoff talk about writing. It was wonderful. She is down-to-earth and chatty, sparkly and intelligent. She said many things that I could relate to, but I was too shy, even when prompted, to mention that I was a writer when she asked if any of us wrote. I was just there to absorb her wisdom, I think, not talk about myself. And she was mesmerising company.

Her novel for adolescents, How I Live Now, is one of my favourite books. I couldn't put it aside once I started it. If I picked it up now, I would do nothing else all day but read it. My daughter prefers her other books and is just about to start reading The Bride's Farewell, the latest one. They are all very different, but Ms Rosoff does not consciously make these changes. She just sits down to write, without planning, which she loathes, and sees where the characters take her. She claims to be a bad plotter. Her books are character-led. She usually 'cheats', she says, by using the trusted themes of 'stranger comes to town' or 'a journey'. Her first successful novel, How I Live Now, unwittingly contained both!

She gets the first draft done quickly, so that she can feel the relief of having a beginning, middle and end. She can't wait to show this to her publisher, unpolished and rough though it is. After that, she loves working with words and weaving her own magic with the characters. She claims to be hard to live with because she doesn't like to stop writing, even to cook.

She told of a writer friend, who works in a little room upstairs in his house. When he realises he's wasting time on the internet or gazing out of the window, he imagines his characters sitting downstairs at his kitchen table, saying, "When are we going to do something? When can we get out of here?" The guilt at his neglect of them pulls him back to his writing.

She became an adolescent late, in her twenties, which may be a reason why she can appeal so well to that market. In America, her books are marketed to adults, however. American youth, she says, doesn't read books the way the English do. She is herself an American, who has chosen to live in London and clearly loves it. She meets other writers belonging to the London Writers' group on a regular basis for dinner, but they never talk about writing!


  1. The only one I've read of hers is 'What I Was', which I really enjoyed. I should make the effort to search out a few more.

    She sounds an entertaining speaker too. It's always interesting to see writers in the flesh isn't it, and find out if they fit your mental picture of them.

  2. That's interesting Joanne - What I Was is Meg Rosoff's own favourite of her books so far. The one she's writing at the moment is about a nineteen-year-old who happens to be God. She is having trouble with it, though, getting stuck, which was somehow reassuring!

  3. I adore book festivals. Sounds like you had a great time.


  4. Meg Rosoff sounds lovely, Joanna. I haven't read any of her books yet.

  5. That's really interesting, glad you enjoyed the festival.Interesting how her books are marketed for adults in America.
    I don't quite know where my novel fits in, the main character is a teenager, so I always thought YA, but I'm really not sure, that's not a good start is it?