17 October 1971 |
Fort Belvoir, Virginia, United States
|Occupation||Writer, screenwriter and television producer|
Folk tales and myths, they've lasted for a reason. We tell them over and over because we keep finding truths in them, and we keep finding life in them.
I got tired of books where the boy is a bit thick and the girl's very clever. Why does it have to such an opposition? Why can't they be like the girls and boys that I know personally, who are equally funny and equally cross? Who get things equally wrong and are equally brave? And make the same mistakes?
If I sit down to write a young-adult novel, then I'm going to write either to the punch-pulling expectation of what I can't do, or I'm going to go the other way and think about what can I sneak in to be 'down with the kids' – which would be excruciating.
How you leave the reader is so important – not the climax; I call it the 'exit feeling'.
A book cannot apologize for what people may think it should be. It has to be authoritative. That's what I want as a reader – I want to be confident that the book will do its job.
Anything that anybody wants to give me is great! I've had folk songs, heavy metal songs, jewellery… I would never call anything any fan gives me weird, as it's how people express what they like about the books, what it means to them, and that's a wonderful thing.
The magical and fantastical isn't something I'm uncomfortable with in books, and I chafe slightly at the idea that a purely realist novel somehow has more value.
Whenever I have tried to write for other people, that's when my writing has failed, when nobody wanted to read it or buy it. But it's only when I've been able to write a story that makes me excited, only then have other people wanted to read it.
I'm a long distance runner, and I get my best ideas when I'm out running. It also helps that I can't write it down immediately – if you hold onto an idea, other things will stick on it.
Plot is a framework on which to drape other things. So once that's working, I can just let it go and do all the stuff that I love – 'Trojan horse' it. There are so many great YA heroines, and that's fantastic, but what about the emotionally complex boy out there? That's who I tend to write about.
I think the reason teenage fiction is so popular with adults is that adults hunger for narrative just as badly as teenagers do.
The world is cynical and sarcastic, but that doesn't mean that that's always the truth.
Happiness is precious, and so I prefer to keep mine private. In a world where everyone shares everything, I can think of a lot of happy moments, but they're mine.
Forget market or publishers or whatever. Just write with fire and joy, and in my own experience, those are the stories of mine people have wanted to read.
For me, when I start a novel, I only have a general sense of what I am going to do – usually three or four big scenes or something to which I can really respond emotionally.
The books I like to read the most feel like they've been written by somebody who had to write them or go crazy. They had to get them out of their heads. I like that kind of urgency.
I don't purposely push the boundaries… I think if you pay attention to a story, it will have exactly as much 'difficult material' as it needs, and nobody will complain about it because you've earnt it.
I meet blind and partially-sighted young readers all the time, and it's a shock that so few books are available to them.
If you're 15 and you tell someone a secret, they can put it up on Facebook. If you make a mistake, someone films it on their mobile and puts it up on YouTube. When you're 15, you deserve privacy.
We have lost the idea that something can be secret because it is valuable, not because it's shameful. If you share everything with everybody, what have you got for yourself? I tweet and I blog, but I save a lot for myself. Not because I am ashamed.
If you set out to write an adjective novel, you're setting out to write a mediocre novel; your allegiance is to the adjective, not to the story, and then that just sucks all the joy right out of it.
I like writers who seem to write because they have to. You get the feeling of this burning desire to tell a story. I find it in Peter Carey, Nicola Barker, Ali Smith and David Foster Wallace.
Online is such a brilliant, brilliant way to connect with young readers – even if they just want to tweet, 'Hey, I read your book!' – that, absolutely, I connect with that. But I also treat writing as solitary and keep it to myself as long as I can.
If you sing beautifully about nothing, no one will listen. If you sing badly about great stuff, no one will listen. Ideas are everywhere, but my theory is that a writer doesn't just think of an idea: they perform them.
I live in England, so I take a lot of trains, and you can't really go anywhere without somebody talking on their mobile phone behind you, forcing you to listen to their conversation. With the Internet, with texting, with networking sites, there's already information everywhere.
I write 1,000-1,500 words. The next day, I rewrite it and add 1,000-1,500 words to the end of it.
It's really important to me not to be a snob about age division or about genre or whatever. The story needs to be what the story needs to be.
I get tired of comedies where there are a bunch of funny guys and a beautiful woman who doesn't do anything funny. And I don't like books where there's a rough-and-tumble boy and a really clever, snotty girl. That's just not my experience with teenagers.
It's fun being paid to read stuff and air your opinion about it – pretty much a dream job for a writer.
In some ways. I always feel between worlds, between cultures, and I think that's not necessarily a bad place for a writer to be. Writers are kind of on the fringe anyway, observing, writing things down. I'm still mostly American, but it's a nice tension.
Limitations can be hugely creative and hugely inspiring – so long as they are the ones you choose for yourself. I will not allow anyone to take anything off my palette, but if I do, then within that, I can be creative.
I try to avoid describing one interpretation of my books. Of course I have an opinion. I have things I want to say, but I don't ever want to limit anybody, to have them say, 'Oh, he said this, so that's what it's about.' I'm happy people bring their own stuff to it.
The best characters in books are always the difficult ones, and why would you want to fall in love with someone difficult? The ones I'd fall in love with are the ones I'd definitely keep out of a book.
Your reader is interested in a guileless, fresh, first-time-we-talked-about-it way. What a great liberation that is. And teenagers, if you respect them, will follow you a lot further than adults will, without fear of being a genre that they may not like or have been told not to like. They just want a story.
When I'm writing, I'm just in it and trying to figure out what seems best.