There’s so much talk about feuds and rivalries in the literary world, not to mention back-stabbing, grudge-reviews (and best-friend reviews), people hating writers who are more successful than they are, etc. etc. etc. But what about those fantastic hidden relationships that help writers survive?
As I might have mentioned a few thousand times before, I’m lucky enough to have a husband who’s a brilliant first reader – unsparing with caustic comments in the margin and huge black question marks scrawled all over particularly exquisite pages of self-indulgent nonsense. He’s also the Sentimentality Police, ruthlessly snipering all puppies and paint-on-velvet-urchins as they sneak into my books. Even the subject of my next (ahem) masterpiece (I haven’t started writing it yet) came from a conversation I had with him (“why,” he asked, “is God in the movies always an old white man? Why isn’t he ever a teenage boy?”)
The other relationship I couldn’t write without, is with fellow north London novelist, Sally Gardner (author of I, Coriander, the amazing The Red Necklace, and other children’s classics). A writer of fierce intelligence and astonishing instincts, she has managed repeatedly to dig me out of plot holes in my books. I’m the sort of writer who will order a cup of tea and a biscuit online from Amazon rather than leave the computer and descend to the kitchen to make it, but I have learned that going to Sally’s for a cup of coffee is always a revelatory experience. It usually goes like this:
ME: I’m in deep despair. The book is dull, empty and strangely hollow at the centre.
SG: Yes, darling, I know.
ME: But you haven’t read it!
SG: Yes, but from the way you’ve described it, I can sense that the problem is that your plot is like an oyster without grit. Have you thought of making the youngest child a cuckoo in the nest?
Now this will mean nothing to you out there in blogging land, but since that coffee, I have taken said child away from his original family, given him a different set of parents, and replaced him quietly in the nest. And the book has practically exploded with weird edgy echoes of darkness. Or at least I hope it has. It’s with a slew of brilliant editors at the moment, who are all probably shaking their heads and thinking “not sure about this…”
The only way I could ever repay Sally was to make sure she had the world’s best agent. Mine, that is.
By the way, there’s a NEW new title for that old favourite (are we sick of it yet?) Nomansland, which may or may not stick. It’s the heroine’s name, and it’s Pell Ridley. You can use the response form on my contact page to let me know what you think. I’m really sorry I can’t answer all e-mails, but my daughter would kill me if I spent another half hour on the computer every day. I read them all, though, and with great pleasure. So do cast your vote….
And lastly — anyone out there who likes picture books, should have a look at Jumpy Jack and Googily. Once again, it was my daughter’s idea for a story, and it makes me giggle. Even though it’s only available from the US until early next year, you can order it here from Amazon and have it delivered wherever.
This month I finally got around to reading The Book Thief, which I think is a great way in to the Holocaust for children, but I think Morris Gleitzman’s Once, on the same topic, is a more powerful, haunting book.