Sunday, 31 August 2014
Tuesday, 8 July 2014
That's where Lady Sedgwick and I were headed, for ALA 2014 and the evening when I would pick up the Printz Award, but we took the chance to have a little American road trip before that.
First up was Stockbridge, Massachusetts. A small and very pretty town in The Berkshires, and the reason for going - to pay homage to the American branch of the Sedgwick family, to whom I am VERY distantly related. The Stockbridge Sedgwicks were notable for some 'characters', including Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol's muse back in the day, and Kyra these days. Even further back in the day, 'Judge' Theodore Sedgwick was quite a gentleman - he defended 'Mum Bet', then a slave, in her attempts to be freed in one of the first test cases for the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence's 'All men are created equal'. They won, she became Elizabeth Freeman, and came to work for Theodore. He must have thought pretty highly of her, because when he came to design the very unusual cemetery plot in Stockbridge, she found a place reserved for her.
It was this cemetery that we'd come to Stockbridge to see: it's unique; a circular cemetery; with a series of concentric rings radiating out from the Theodore's monument in the centre.
There are generations of Sedgwicks here; the idea of the circularity being (rather amusingly) that on Judgement Day, as they arise from their tombs, Sedgwicks will only have other Sedgwicks to look at. Superb snobbery :-)
Also in the cemetery, another notable Sedgwick, and the one I am most proud of; Ellery Sedgwick, who was a magazine publisher, and just happened to be the first person to publish Ernest Hemingway, in Atlantic Monthly. I'm not claiming this took amazing insight; I suspect Papa would have made it as a writer anyway, but nonetheless, I'm very happy that he did, because I have always loved Hemingway's writing. Ellery's grave, like so many, is rather beautiful.
Time to move on.
And our next destination was here, once upon a time a Kirkbride hospital, an extraordinary type of Lunatic Asylum built at the end of the 19th century across the States. This one, in Danvers, MA, is now an apartment block, many others have been razed to the ground or are derelict. A Kirkbride hospital is the basis for the 3rd quarter of my next book; The Ghosts of Heaven.
If it was hot in Massachusetts, it was nothing for where we were heading; the gentle 110F of Nevada.
Never mind the clouds, they soon disappeared, and left no rain behind, as a short trip out in the desert proved. We passed a couple on Vespas, which looked very incongruous indeed.
And then it was time for the Printz Award evening itself, a small and cosy affair with 5 or 600 hundred of my closest friends ;-)
|All dressed up with somewhere to go.|
There really wasn't time to be nervous; the way the Award works now is that Jennifer Lawson, chair of the judges, presented prizes to the Honor recipients (Sally Gardner, Rainbow Rowell, Clare Vanderpool and Susann Cokal) and within five minutes I was up to make my speech. And even then I couldn't really be nervous, when faced with a room full of very, very friendly and welcoming librarians, who I now love very deeply indeed.
|The judges and the Printz recipients for 2014|
Sunday, 15 June 2014
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
This interview first appeared on the fantastically disrespectful Hostile Questions site, over here.
Posted by: Daniel Kraus
It’s just a couple weeks before Marcus Sedgwick accepts the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. It’s a pretty sweet deal: your books get these neat foil dealies and you get to take home a glass — well, I don’t know what to call it. It’s a thing. A glass thing. Perhaps they should rename the award to The Glass Thing?
Anyhoo, what did Mr. Sedgwick do to deserve such unusual glassware? He wrote a historical-novel-in-reverse called Midwinterblood. I know, it sounds brilliant, but I have a theory. The Youth Media Awards are always announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, so isn’t it possible that Mr. Sedgwick wrote this book for the sole purpose that the title would worm its way into the minds of Midwinter-ing Printz Committee members so that they rubber-stamped it like glassy-eyed Manchurian Candidates? Isn’t it possible we are all victims to a massive conspiracy by a foreign interloper? That’s right, Sedgwick isn’t even American.
And to think, he almost got away with it. The clever little bastard.
Just who do you think you are?
I think I’m a 46-year-old British writer with a liking for red wine and the films of Stanley Kubrick amongst other things, but somehow I also think I’m a 17-year-old dude who plays bass in a garage punk band. There is no evidence for this whatsoever, any more than there is that I have always felt like I’m about 72, even when I was 12. I hope I’m not getting any weird looks now – I believe we all have this feeling; who else might I have been? Who else could I be? Isn’t that one of the reasons we like to read? So we can become a thousand-year-old telepathic go-go dancing cat living in another galaxy? If no one has written this book yet, please could they?
In summary, I have no idea who I am; I’m certainly not the person I often find myself describing when invited to speak about being a writer. It’s odd that other people always seem to know exactly who you are. Or think they do.
Where do you get off?
Well now, that would be telling. I seriously don’t think I should talk about that here, on the Booklist blog. I mean, this is a classy place, right? But I could perhaps mention other forms of mind-altering behavior, such as writing. Because this is an interview about writing, isn’t it? It isn’t? Oh. Well, anyway, I don’t do drugs because that whole thing is incredibly boring. And people talking about it is even more boring.
If you take even a few minutes to look around, it rapidly becomes obvious that the whole world is a spectacularly strange mind-bump anyway. And as a writer you get to pick and choose the freakiest drugs in the candy store. And then, rather than ending up as a burned-out, bankrupt bore with ruined health, you get to turn these things into stories, for which there’s even the slim possibility you might get paid. So that’s how I get off. But I’m not letting on where.
What’s the big idea?
The big idea is linked to the above. It seems that the world falls into two kinds of people; those who think the world falls into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. And of those that do, the world falls into two kinds of people; those who seemed interested in the universe into which they have been deposited, and those who don’t look further than their toenails. As a writer, you are always being asked what’s the most important trait to have, and BEING INTERESTED in the world is right up there with good typing skills and a sassy agent. It’s probably the most depressing thing in the world when you meet someone who simply has no desire to look around, to understand himself or herself, or anyone else for that matter, or, in the loosest sense of the word, to explore. Note, these kinds of people tend not to be readers. That’s a generalization of course, but the world falls into two kind of people; those that… Oh yeah. Sorry.
What is your problem, man?
How long have we got? Do you want a list? I could draw you a picture if that makes things clearer, or maybe I could do a matrix diagram, like those that the incredibly-intelligent and not-at-all-patronizing people who work in advertising use to work out how to sell us stupid people rubbish stuff we don’t need. Matrix diagrams (potential for unlimited harm..!?) are dumb because they try to make the world simple. The world isn’t simple, it’s very complicated, but that’s not my big problem. My problem is that many people seem to think the world can be simplified; black/white, good/bad, Coke/new Coke, when the truth is way more complex than that. It would be like trying to classify everyone in the world as falling into two types of people; those that… Oh, yeah. Right. Sorry.
My other big problem seems to be using the phrases ‘seem to’ or ‘seems to’ because I haven’t got the nerve to say what I actually think.
Haven’t you done enough?
Yes and no. I’ve probably done too much of some things. I guess you know what I’m talking about. But I haven’t done enough of the things that really matter to me, and writing is one of those. The very best part about being a writer is the time when you are putting words next to each other, trying to find an interesting and original and good way of doing that. When it’s going well, it feels very, very nice. I don’t get to have that experience anywhere near often enough – and actually I don’t think it would be possible to. So in the meantime I will go on, trying to ‘fail better’ as Samuel Beckett put it. But I’ll stop doing the other stuff. Thanks for pointing it out.
Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Since it's the birthday of Vladimir Nabokov, here's a little quote from this great writer.
"A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish - but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence."
I didn't know this quote by Nabokov when I wrote She Is Not Invisible. I wish I had because it sums up perfectly the way some people have tied themselves in knots trying to explain and find meaning in the phenomenon. And it makes me smile.
Sunday, 13 April 2014
This post first appeared on Waterstones.com
I’ve written about thirty books, of which all but one, A Love Like Blood, is ‘for children’. Or so I’m told, and so I am led to believe by the fact that it’s the imprint of a children’s publisher that appears on the spine of all of them, apart from this new title. But is it all that straightforward? What makes a book for children, and another for adults? And indeed, what does that innocent preposition ‘for’ even mean?
The world of children’s books has changed over the years. It used to be pretty obvious what was a children’s book and what was an adult novel. That was the case when I was a teenager at least, and I should probably specify that in this train of thought I am speaking about the reading that teenagers choose. Perhaps we can all agree that not many adults are picking up Horrid Henry’s latest outing. Perhaps.
Of course, even back in those dim distant days of teenagehood, there were strange books that threatened to make things more confusing; Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies are the ones that are most often touted as hovering somewhere in a liminal space between the worlds of the teenager and the adult, but there were always other books that appealed to the young adult as much as the more mature version of the human being: Camus’ Outsider, the science-fiction of Heinlein, the horror of Poe, the epics of Tolkein. Publishers, being canny people, have over the last few decades been instrumental in defining a new area of the bookshop – the notion of the YA novel was born, with those at the forefront being writers like S.E. Hinton, like Alan Garner (I defy many adults to fully appreciate Red Shift on first reading), or Robert Cormier, who pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to find in a book ‘for’ children. There were many others. So now we live in a complex grey area of what’s-for-who, and I can say that at least four of my books have been widely perceived to be as appropriate for adults as young adults. When John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let The Right One In) read Revolver for example, he told me he couldn’t see why it wasn’t published as an adult novel. To confuse things even further, some of the foreign editions of my books have been published as adult books.
And yet, despite this, I can see that A Love Like Blood is the first of my books that is ‘for’ adults. Why?
To unpick this, it’s necessary to understand what motivates a writer. I’ve spoken to many writers about this, and with a totally unscientific guess, I would say 99% of them don’t write a book for anyone other than themselves. This can sound a bit arrogant at first, but if you think about it, it’s quite the reverse. What would be arrogant would be to assume that you, the writer, knows best. That you know what a 40 year old male commuter in Berlin would like to read on their Kindle, or a 16 year old girl in Rio, or a 65 year old pensioner in Penzance. No. That’s not how you write. You write the book that you yourself would like to discover. Nothing else is going to make you sit at your laptop for 8 hours a day for months on end until the thing is finished. That’s the only honest and true way to do it – to write something that excites and moves you, and then, when it’s published, you can hope that someone else might be excited by it too.
Looking at it from the other side, the reader doesn’t by and large choose a book because they think it’s ‘for’ them. Of course, things might put a certain reader off reading a certain book, but all the reader is looking for is a book that grips them. That’s why, as a teenager, I was reading Arthur C. Clarke alongside Hemingway, and why any adult now is as free to choose The Hunger Games and Twilight as Martin Amis’s latest, an author I mention for his contention that he would only ever write a book for children if he had a serious brain injury (Faulks on Fiction, BBC 2011). And we know adults are reading these apparently teenage books because the sales figures could not possibly be as high if they were only being sold to teens. Although, Amis went on to reinforce the very point I make above when he added that ‘the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me’. Quite.
Like the White Queen, I also believe in the possibility of thinking six impossible things before breakfast, and here’s just one: at the same time that I am writing the book purely for me, I am also aware that it has a publisher waiting for it, and beyond that, a logo that will be printed on the spine and an area in which it will be placed in the bookshop. So, once I had the concept of A Love Like Blood, I knew no children’s publisher would publish it. For one thing it’s just too unpleasant, for another, I wanted to delve more fully into psychological depths which would be deemed uninteresting to the young adult reader. Who knows? Has everyone forgotten what the landscape of their teenage mind was like? These questions are not mine to ponder, however. It’s only up to me to write the best book I can. And do I care who it’s ‘for’? Ultimately, no, I don’t. All I hope for is that someone will like it, that people will buy it, and I for one am glad to be selling books to adults as well as their younger selves.
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
(This post first appeared on Mulholland's tumblr)
A few years ago I moved back to Cambridge: when I saw this shed in the garden of one of the houses I was viewing, I put an offer in on the spot. Like most writers, I’ve had to work in all sorts of inappropriate spaces, and, like most writers, always craved the perfect place to work.
My shed is near perfect. It’s a little on the small side, but that just means I have to tidy up from time to time, which is no bad thing.
Here’s what it looks like on the inside (just after a tidy up)
The stuff on the walls is never just random – they’re all things to do with books, most usually, they’re inspiration for books I’m writing or have just finished writing.
High up on the wall are a couple of guardians – ‘V’ from Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, one of my favourite films, and Edgar the raven, both of whom make me smile every time I walk into my shed. That’s more important than in sounds, and links to the word that Edgar’s standing on. That one word – PLAY – is the single most important thing I’ve learned in the 15 years I’ve been a published author. I’ve thought a lot about writing in that time, I’ve had moments of block, I’ve had many fears and worries and concerns about how to best do the art. The importance of play, and I mean play in a focussed yet relaxed, serious and yet fun way, cannot be denied: it underlies the best work I do, I think.
Underneath that are a few spirals; I’ve just finished the second draft of a new YA novel called The Ghosts of Heaven – it’s a slightly complex quartet of novellas, each of which has the motif of the spiral underlying the text.
Beneath the spirals we come to a series of rough art by my friend Thomas Taylor. I’ve started to write graphic novels in the last year or so – and these are images from a forthcoming project: Scarlett Hart. It won’t be out for a while though. I finished a first draft in the autumn; a second draft is due and then Thomas has the gargantuan task of producing almost 200 pages of full colour art. That will take him a year or so to do. And then publication will be a year after that – comics take MUCH more work than many people give them credit for. Personally, I’ve found it a wonderful challenge to learn how to write for comics – to set up plot, character, backstory, atmosphere etc etc and yet to have so few words to do work with (95% of what you ‘write’ as the author of a graphic novel disappears into the images) is a huge task. Then, add to that, that you have to hit a page count more or less exactly (due to the cost of production of comics) and you have a major set of hills to climb. But I like a challenge.
On the left of the desk here are a few books I’ve been using to research my next novel for Mulholland – I’m deep in that process of hunting out things that I know will be useful, or hope will be, and connected to that, I guess, are the red notebooks at the back of the desk. I’m on book 10 at the moment, since 2000, and the previous 9 I keep close at hand as you never know when browsing through old ideas might finally make a connection to something that’s been lurking in your unconscious for a while. Connections are as much the stuff of a writer’s art as the imagination.
Next to the books are the edits for a short story I was recently asked to write – that will be what I work on later this week. I love writing short stories – they’re a chance to let your hair down, try something new, and experiment with style. Something which can feed back into longer work in the future, perhaps.
I tend to change the view on my screen saver, and find something central to what I am writing about at the time – this is a building that will appear in this second Mulholland title. I won’t say where it is but it’s more sinister than it might first appear. Me view is pretty limited - a hint of my neighbours’ garden – but that’s a good thing – it’s interesting enough to stimulate day dreaming (a friend in my opinion, not an enemy), but not so interesting that you end up not doing what you should be doing.
Over to the right, although I’ve finished work on it long ago (the book is about to be published) is the cover of my first novel for Mulholland – A Love Like Blood. Covers are so important. I know that’s obvious but what might be less obvious is the nerves with which you open an email with the subject line “cover of your book”. Whenever we get to the moment of designing the book cover, I live in fear, and the hope that your publisher will come up with something you love. Fortunately, this time, I loved the cover from the first design. A little tweaking and it was done. If you get sent a dodgy first attempt, you know you might be in for months of wrangling. But if you have to, you have to, because covers are the first and primary thing that sells your book once it’s out in the world. Something that some authors might not like to admit, but which, having worked in sales, in publishing for many years, I know to be true. Above the book jacket is a photo of the Italian village where the book opens – a weird and wonderful hilltop place called Sextantio by the Romans.
And finally, here’s another important tool for me. Along with notebooks themselves, maps of one form or another have always been key to how I organise a book. So I use large sheets of paper, on which I write in pencil (because it changes all the time) and on these maps I sketch out a novel’s structure, themes character notes, and so on. Every book has a different kind of map, because every book needs to be written in a different way. Understanding that and not being scared of it is very important, and is again something I am still learning about. This map is the first go at one for the second book I’ll write for Mulholland. At the moment it doesn’t even have a working title, the characters don’t have names, the plot is still forming. It’s simultaneously one of the scariest and most exciting periods in a writer’s work cycle.