Rebecca Stead: Writing fearlessly

Published on: 10 Hydref 2012 Author: Katherine Woodfine

Rebecca SteadKatherine Woodfine talks to award-winning children's author Rebecca Stead about her latest novel, Liar and Spy.

Tell us about your latest book, Liar and Spy. Where did the idea for the book come from?

The story grew from the main character, Georges. There was no high-concept idea, no outline, just Georges, who is not telling himself the whole truth.

Your previous novel, When You Reach Me, was highly acclaimed and won the prestigious Newbery Medal. Was it easier - or more difficult - to write Liar and Spy after having such an incredible success?

Both: Easier because the Newbery gave me a little pump of confidence and a firmer grasp on the 'writer' identity; Harder because the attention made me self-conscious about writing for a while. But there is nothing like the long, lonely struggle of writing a book to make you feel less confident (and less visible), so both effects wore off quickly. Which I think is a good thing.

Both these novels are set in New York. What role does the city play in your writing - and how important is place to you as a writer?

I grew up in New York City and have lived here nearly all my life, so it's the landscape of my childhood memories, and it's where I continue to make most of my observations. For me, memory and observation are the two biggest parts of writing.

You worked as a lawyer before becoming a writer. Do you think that your experiences in the legal profession have influenced your work?

I've thought about that, but I can't see a clear relationship. (Although I have written about the experience of working in the criminal justice system.)

Tell us about your writing routine - where and when do you write?

For better or for worse, and probably for worse, I don't have a writing routine. If I'm going to get anything done, it will probably be in the morning. My single rule is to stop and write down any worthwhile writing-related thought, even if it comes to me when I'm running to catch a bus. I stop and write it down.

What advice would you give to an aspiring children's author?

Never condescend.

In When You Reach Me, there are a lot of references to Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Was this one of your own favourite childhood books - and has L'Engle influenced you as a writer?

Oh yes, I loved A Wrinkle in Time as a kid – and many of Madeleine L'Engle's other books as well. I don't think my writing is similar to L'Engle's, but her work is fearless in a way I admire and probably try to emulate in my own way.

Which other children's books and authors do you admire?

So many! Just off the top of my head: Russell Hoban's Frances books, William Steig's Brave Irene, Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family books, Hilary McKay's Casson Family books, Robert Heinlein's Red Planet, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, anything by Geraldine McCaughrean or Margo Lanagan, and E.L. Konigsburg's Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. I believe that in the UK you use a shorter title for that last one.

What are you working on next?

A middle-grade novel. I think.

And finally... in Liar and Spy, Safer and Candy are allowed to pick their own names. If you could name yourself, what would you be called?

I don't know - I would actually hate to name myself, I think. There are just too many choices.

Topics: Interview, Blog

Check out Rebecca's book

When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

Miranda's familiar world begins to unravel when her best friend is hit by a stranger and refuses to speak to her anymore. Then mysterious notes start to arrive with clues about the future.

Read more about When You Reach Me

Check out Rebecca's book

Liar and Spy

Author: Rebecca Stead

Georges is having a miserable time at school and at home - until eccentric neighbour Safer recruits him to join his Spy Club and he is drawn into an investigation of the mysterious Mr X.

Read more about Liar and Spy