I am extremely excited to have Meg Rosoff, author of There Is No Dog and many other fabulous Young Adult books, join me on the blog today to talk about her writing techniques.
You have written six children’s novels and three picture books, do you find the writing process gets easier with each new book you write?Tragically, not. Books seem to have their own agendas, and it definitely doesn’t get easier. There is No Dog was incredibly difficult to write and took much longer than any of my previous books – I guess I should have realized before I started that the subject of God and the universe would be a bit tricky to tackle. I always think it’s interesting that when you read a book, the chapter order and arc feel inevitable (if you’re lucky) whereas writing can be a completely different matter – messy, chaotic, frustrating. There were times with this book that I wanted to bury it (or myself) in a hole in the garden, but most of the time I just plowed on. As for picture books – I’ve pretty much given up. It’s too hard to write a really good one, and pays too little when you do (or think you do!)
Growing up in America, must have provided you with lots of writing material, do you use any of your own experiences within your books?
I always thought that one of the reasons I could never be a writer was that my life was so ordinary. I grew up in the suburbs in a comfortable academic family and it seemed to me that the lack of exoticism was a terrible curse. What I’ve realized over the past years, however, is that being a writer is about how you process experience – what you observe and what you do with it. All the wild rides in the world can’t compete with a brain that sees things slightly askew.
And yes, I always think people who say they don’t draw on their own experience to write are lying. What else is in your brain? But having had the experiences, it’s then the writer’s job to transform it into something new, something magic. Alchemy: dross into gold.
Have you ever included areas you know well in the books you have written?
I set What I Was on a stretch of coastline in Suffolk that I know quite well, and that has a magical and ancient history. But I also mixed in a bit of the Martha’s Vineyard I remember and loved from the 1960s and 70s. Places you love come alive on the page.
I never specified where we were in How I Live Now, but the house in the book, which is so important to the action, is based on a beautiful old house owned by friends in Oxfordshire. For The Bride’s Farewell, I combined a general knowledge and love of the English countryside with a couple of trips down to Salisbury Plain. And when I went to Luton to research Just In Case, I felt so sorry for it that I changed the name to Orking. But then my agent made me change it back. Luton is not the world’s most auspicious place, but made a perfect suburban base for poor Justin to escape from.
The concept behind There Is No Dog is amazing. What inspired you to write it?
My husband was listening to the radio and heard a programme on all the actors who’d played God in the movies. He came downstairs annoyed that they were all old white guys, and said ‘why don’t they ever have a teenager play God?’ And it was like a light bulb appeared above my head. The minute he said it, it seemed to make total sense of why the world is such a mess. So the idea was easy, but the book itself was much harder to write than I thought it would be.
What kind of research did you need to carry out before writing There Is No Dog and how long did it take you?
I didn’t do any research, really. Though I did go back and read through the Old Testament. A lot of it is unbelievably weird.
Do you plan before you begin writing or just go with the flow of the idea in your head?
Most of the time I jump first and think later. But in the books that have been easier to write (How I Live Now, What I Was, and The Bride’s Farewell) I had at least a vague idea of the story arc before I started.
When writing, what is your daily word target?
I don’t believe in word targets. Quantity is irrelevant. I write because I want to get through the book and make it work.
Do you use Mac or Windows to write in?
I’m a Mac fanatic. I’m attached at the hip to my MacBook.
Do you edit your first draft as you go along, or do you wait until it is completed?
Both. Depending on the book, though, I try not to read the draft too many times while I’m working on it. I like to be able to read the whole thing as if someone else wrote it, and you can’t do that if you know every paragraph by heart.
How long did it take you write the first draft?
There were about nine million drafts of There Is No Dog. I’m not sure the first one took terribly long to write – it was the next ten thousand trying to get it right that took more than two years.
What do you normally do once the first draft is finished?
My first drafts tend to be short (about 25-30,000 words) -- sometimes I’ll show it to my agent or editor at that point because I’m so excited to get to the end, and they’re usually bemused and/or appalled, so I just go back to work and start sorting it out.
What are you planning to write next?
I’ve started a new book about a man who disappears, and the father and daughter who set out to find him. I wasn’t sure why he disappeared when I started writing, then I thought I‘d solved it at the end of the first draft, but now I’ve changed my mind again.
When is your ideal time to write? Morning, afternoon or evening?
I’m not at all a morning person. It can take me hours to work up to writing. So, definitely afternoon/evening.
Do you write in silence or do you need music to help you?
Music is much too distracting, though I don’t mind other kinds of noise.
Which authors inspired you whilst growing up?
Joseph Heller, Ian Fleming, Dostoevsky, Graham Greene, Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander. Just to name a few.
Who is your favourite author now?
I don’t really have a favourite author. Anyone who writes something surprising and delightful becomes my new favourite.
Out of all the books you have written, which is your favourite?
I don’t really have a favourite. If I had to choose, I guess I’d choose What I Was, because it’s possibly the most personal.
If you could have written any other book in the world, what would it be?
Wolf Hall (by Hilary Mantel). Or on days I’m feeling short of money, Harry Potter.
What advice can you give to unpublished authors?
Keep writing. Age and wisdom don’t ruin anyone’s books.
Thank you Meg for giving us an insight into your writing life.
What fabulous answers from an amazing,unique author. There Is No Dog is available to buy from the 1st September. If you would like to read my review of this book, please come back at 3pm for my post.