Thursday, 23 April 2009

All the fun of the fair

The London Book Fair wasn't entirely what I'd been expecting. Most of the exhibition space seemed to be full of people having meetings; the books themselves made up an attractive backdrop. Were they agents brokering deals? Authors pitching to publishers? It felt as though we'd wandered into a members only club; at any moment, someone might come along and kindly ask us to leave.

But the seminar sessions were what we'd really come from. With this year's focus on children's/teen writing, I was hoping I'd pick up a few tips from people at the heart of the industry.

Highlights of the Fair included meeting Patrick Ness and Meg Rosoff, two of my favourite writers of teenage fiction. I managed to get hold of a signed pre-release copy of Ness's much anticipated follow up to The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer. The temptation to find a quiet corner where I could curl up and start reading was difficult.

Interestingly, Ness said he never intended to write for teens - that was just how it turned out. He believes that you have to listen to the story and write the story 'as it's being told,' rather than setting out to write something for a specific market. Once he found the voice, he found the story, and to his surprise, it turned out to be a novel for teenagers.

We've spent a lot of time looking at plot and structure of the novel as part of the MA course. While the theory is fascinating - you can pinpoint why something works, or doesn't - almost all the authors we've met so far have said you just need to write what you want to write.

Meg Rosoff described the process of writing a novel as 'A voyage of discovery for the writer.' She doesn't plan her novels, but starts off with an idea and writes a 'sketchy' first draft, during which her ideas develop.

On one hand, this is appealing. It feels creative, authentic just to write whatever you feel compelled to write. But does this mean the work will suffer as a result?

To plot, or not to plot, that is the question...

Perhaps it's just that the most sucessful writers simply have an instinctive sense of structure. They may not consciously or specifically plan out their novels, but nevertheless, the structure is there.

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