Saturday, September 01, 2007

MWF - Louis Sachar and John Marsden ...

... and Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, with Lili Wilkinson as "boss". This session was in the program as The Hormone Rush, meaning it was about books for teens. No one seemed very impressed with that title, least of all Agnes.
Her new book is Right Book, Right Time, and is about great books for young readers, mostly YA. She talked about how the book is structured, and also showed examples of books she loves, including those by Meg Rosoff, American Born Chinese (won the Printz Award this year - it's a graphic novel), The Arrival by Shaun Tan and Centre of the World (which I can't find on Google but is translated from German - no author, sorry).
Louis Sachar started writing in 1976, and was told his books couldn't be published overseas because they were too American. Holes changed all that when it won several national awards. He says he writes two hours a day, sometimes less, and doesn't use an outline. While he's writing, he gets lots of ideas and puts them all in, but the first draft is terrible so subsequent drafts are about cutting and getting rid of what doesn't work. By the time he gets to the final draft, it's not that the book is perfect but that he has simply had enough of it.
Every draft is a series of questions - does this work? does this fit? He never talks to anyone about a book while he's writing it - by not talking about it, the energy stays there and forces him to write (this reminded me of things I've heard before - that if you talk about your book, you talk it out of yourself and the urge to write it dies).
John Marsden said he started writing by editing each bit as he went - which was a crippling process. He finally decided to write in a different way, by completing the whole draft before re-reading it. He also decided to write for teenagers at that time. His two "rules" are that he never uses contemporary slang (he tries to use timeless language), and he reinvents the old stories - plots are eternal, and he believes that the themes and ideas that appealed to him when he was young are the same universal things that appeal to kids and teens now.
The current vogue for fun as a principle in everything leaves him cold - fun is nice but there are better things to motivate kids with, such as the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom. Kids of 13 or 14 have many interests other than having fun, and we should cater to all those other interests as well. He looks for integrity in a book.
All of the speakers felt that if you write the best book that you can, it will find an audience. And they also agreed that there is only so much time you can spend physically writing before the words go "stale". Lili finished by quoting Les Murray (poet) from another session: "There is writing, and there is writing down. I write 24 hours a day, but I might only spend half an hour writing down."

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