Archive for February, 2013

Author Q&A: being polite to a hedge and embarrassed about researching mermaids

I answer lots of questions about writing: questions from readers, questions from teachers, questions from journalists, even questions from publishers.
Usually when I’m answering questions at author events, I’m too busy thinking about my answers and trying to be both honest and interesting, while also trying not to fall off a stage or stand on the kids at the front, that I don’t really listen to my own answers. Sometimes afterwards I can’t even remember what the questions were, let alone what answers I gave, because it was all so fast and furious and exciting.
And once I’ve answered questions from journalists, I never read the articles or listen to the interviews. I just give them to a trusted family member or friend, and ask them to check I didn’t say anything really embarrassing.
But I’ve had to watch an interview recently – a rather beautiful interview filmed by my publishers for their website, with me standing in front of the maze which stars in the first chapters of Maze Running, and answering lots of questions about writing the First Aid series. I had to watch it to let Floris know I was happy with it before they made it public.
It was really interesting to see how I reacted to some of the questions. I wasn’t worried about standing on any kids (though there was a danger I might fall off the terrace into the maze!) and I knew the lovely Benedicte would let me have another go if I fluffed an answer, so this is probably about as relaxed as you’ll see me talking about writing.
And I found out a few things about myself as a writer.
Firstly, I found out that I’d be useless on a real quest (I said I’d take a pen and paper with me in case I had an idea for another book. So apparently I’d treat a real quest as a way of getting ideas to write a pretend quest. That would be quite annoying for everyone else on the quest…)
I also discovered that I am naturally polite to landscapes. I felt I had to say that my favourite location was Traquair just in case the maze was offended while I talking about it. It is a really good location, and perfect for the start of that book, but I’ve set books in caves and on cliffs, and those are pretty exciting to research and write about. But I didn’t like to mention that in the interview, in case the maze went in the huff.
I did look a little embarrassed about conning academics with questions about fish and seals when really I was researching mermaids and selkies. (Warning, professors – watch out for sneaky authors!
And you can tell that I really care about the characters. I talk about Yann, Helen, Sylvie, Lavender and even the Master as if they were real people. Which of course they are, in my head.
And probably the greatest truth about writing that I utter in the entire interview is one which I must remember when I’m auditioning those ideas for the next novel: “You can’t have a story until you have a baddie!”
But you can tell how relaxed I was at answering questions from someone I like and trust, because if you watch the whole interview you’ll catch me admitting to not getting it quite right in the first novel (though notice I try to blame my heroine rather than myself…)
I enjoy answering questions about writing because I sometimes discover new things about my own writing process (and occasionally I even remember afterwards!) But most importantly, when readers ask questions, I find out what you like in stories, so that’s what I go home to write! (I wonder if I can tell what my publishers would like me to write next, from the questions in this interview? Maybe I should watch it again…)
Anyway, have a look at the interview, and let me know if I said anything really daft! Perhaps you could consider what questions you would ask yourself about your own writing, and what you think you’d find out?
And has anyone else ever felt the need to be polite to a hedge?