Five minutes with... Meg Rosoff
Published on: 2 Gorffennaf 2012
We caught up with award-winning author Meg Rosoff.
When we interviewed you, in 2005, you had recently published your first book, How I Live Now, to critical acclaim. Seven years on, the bookwas made in to a film, for which you wrte the screenplay. How do you feel about the film and what challenges have there been along the way?
I didn't actually write the screenplay. I wrote the very first draft, and thenthree fantastic professionals worked on it in the seven intervening years. The main challenge for me was patience -- it can take a long time to get the whole team and the money together to make a film, and you can't be impatient. But we had an amazing director (Kevin MacDonald) and a brilliant star (Saoirse Ronan).
Your book, There is No Dog, offers an unusual take on God - he's actually a 19-year-old called Bob whose mother won him the job in a poker game. Bob is a brilliant character - what inspired you to create him and to tell his story?
I've always been trying to figure out a good alternative creation story -- since I was a small child and didn't quite believe that man and life on earth could possibly be the work of a benevolent, omnipotent creator. I mean....cancer, war, rape, disease, death...it all adds up to someone whose eye wasn't entirely on the ball when he or she was doing the job. My husband heard a radio programme about all the people who played God in the movies, and came downstairs grumbling about why God was always an old white guy. Why isn't he ever a teenage boy, my husband asked, and that was it. I knew I had to write the book. It just seemed to explain life on earth so perfectly!
There was some controversy around the book, with one school even pulling out of an event on the basis of its 'blasphemous' content. Did you expect the book to provoke this kind of discussion, and what was your reaction to it?
I try not to think about anything when I'm writing a book other than the book and trying to make it work and trying to make it good. Teen books are often considered a kind of sub-genre of literature, one not to be taken too seriously, so you can deal with pretty much anything you want without worrying about having a fatwa put on you or having your car blown up by religious extremists. I think the schools and festivals that banned me were being over-cautious, however -- the book is actually a very thoughtful, humorous treatment of religion, one that really inspires discussion, and in addition, it has an ending that confirms faith in a way that I never expected. Kind of shocked me, really, as I'm a life long atheist! But once a book is finished, it belongs to the readers. I just like to eavesdrop on the conversation every once in a while.
Your books all feature strong young characters with very distinctive voices. How do you find inspiration for creating your characters and bringing their voices to life?
At risk of sounding a bit like a psychopath, all the voices are in my head. Like many writers, I find it fairly easy to inhabit characters in a very deep way -- I invent them and they come alive, and then my job is just to follow them as they wander through my book. Because of the way I create characters and write books, I'm often wildly surprised by what they end up doing or saying. As to the inspiration -- I think I was always a bit of a chameleon, for better or worse, trying on different personalities, watching people closely to see how they 'did it,' ie, were clever or popular or powerful or whatever. A lifetime of trying on different personalities equips you quite well to write.
Are there any books or authors who have particularly influenced your work?
I'm influenced by nearly everyone I read -- from wonderful writers like Jane Austen and Hilary Mantel and Madeleine L'Engle, to the truly awful (too many to mention!). I think it was probably the truly awful writers who first encouraged me to take the risk and try to write -- after years of procrastinating and figuring I wasn't remotely good enough, I thought, 'well, at least I can do better than that!'
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write for teenagers and young adults?
Make sure you're writing for young adults because you feel a connection with that age group in yourself, not just because it's a bandwagon. And also, take your time. Not everyone is destined to be a published writer, and of the few who are, not all are destined to be published with their first book, or at the age of 21. I was 46 when I wrote my first book, and the timing seemed perfect for me. The more life experience you can bring to your writing, the better.