Q&As

Over the years I have been asked many questions about my books, my approach to writing, and even about my interest in woodwork. The answer to your question may be right here, so have a browse or search my Q&As.



Questions & Answers

Q

What are the good things and the bad things about being a writer?

A

The good things are that you can dress as you like, do whatever you fancy doing and call it essential research, and so on, and that you have work to do which is more absorbing and fascinating and important and fulfilling and enjoyable and lasting than anything else you can imagine. The bad things: unless you’re lucky, you don’t make much money, and it doesn’t come regularly like a salary, so it’s hard to do things like buy a house or bring up a family. Many very fine writers live on pitifully small amounts of money which arrives at irregular intervals. And if your work goes out of fashion, the money stops altogether.

Asked on 06 March 2009

Q

How far is inspiration a factor in the process of writing?

A

Less than non-writers think. If you’re going to make a living at this business ñ more importantly, if you’re going to write anything that will last ñ you have to realise that a lot of the time, you’re going to be writing without inspiration. The trick is to write just as well without it as with. Of course, you write less readily and fluently without it; but the interesting thing is to look at the private journals and letters of great writers and see how much of the time they just had to do without inspiration. Conrad, for example, groaned at the desperate emptiness of the pages he faced; and yet he managed to cover them. Amateurs think that if they were inspired all the time, they could be professionals. Professional know that if they relied on inspiration, they’d be amateurs.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

In your article for The Writer's Handbook in 2000 you suggested that childreπs fiction was patronised by general publishing. Is this still true?

A

Not so much. The scene has changed more, I suspect, because some children’s books have made large amounts of money than because literary editors have suddenly become aware of quality they were somehow unable to see before.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

What, if any advantages for the author are there in having a young readership?

A

It forces you not to let the story go out of your mind. If you stop telling a story, they stop reading. Story is very important; it’s the events themselves, as Isaac Bashevis Singer says, that contain the wisdom and not what we say about them.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

At what stage in the writing process do you have your plot fully worked out?

A

Just after it’s published, at the point when it’s too late to fix all the problems.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Where do you go to look for your characters? Are they ever based on people you know?

A

I don't look for them. It feels as if they look for me, and they come fully formed. I seldom if ever have to make conscious adjustments. Mind you (see inspiration above) I often have to wait quite a long time.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

You have written several series with recurring characters. Do you set out with that intention and if not, at what stage is it apparent that the characters have the scope to develop over several titles?

A


I become fond of a character and see that there’s another story in them, that’s what usually happens. Besides, if I’ve already made up the background and done the reading and so on, I don’t want to waste that work.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

What were your own favourite books to read as a child?

A

Too many to list. Everything I could get hold of.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Your daily regime of hand-writing three pages every day in the shed at the bottom of your garden is well documented and you have previously stressed the importance of a disciplined approach to writing. Did you manage to stick to a rigorous schedule even before you were able to devote your whole time to writing?

A

It was easier then. The work of being a schoolteacher (for instance) is regular and timetabled, and you can build in your writing to the hour or so after midnight or before breakfast or whenever. But when you work full-time, the demands on your attention come flying from every direction and unpredictably, and it’s harder to find that regularity that is so necessary.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Do you edit and re-write as you go along or do you wait until you have a complete draft?

A

Both.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

You have been quoted as saying writers block is a lot of howling nonsense. But do you have any tricks or tactics to help things along when the words are not coming out as you want them?

A

No tricks. I just sit there groaning.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Do you test out your stories on anyone while you're writing them?

A

Never. My stories are none of the readers business until I have finished them. The idea of asking people what they think is so bizarre as to be inconceivable to me; if these people know how a story should go, why aren’t they writing stories of their own? I am a strong believer in the tyranny, the dictatorship, the absolute authority of the writer. On the other hand, when it comes to reading, the only thing that works is democracy.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

The success of the His Dark Materials trilogy, the Harry Potter books and the renewed interest in JRR Tolkien has seen fantasy dominate the childrenπs market in recent years. Do you think itπs important for aspiring childrenπs writers to keep in mind current trends or should they in fact forget such considerations?

A

What they should do is take no notice whatsoever, and write exactly what they want to write. Back in 1996, how many people did we hear saying ìWe want the first Harry Potter book! We wish someone would write a book about Harry Potter! When is the first Harry Potter book going to come out? We can’t wait!î None, is the answer. It’s silly to ask the public what it wants. The public doesn’t know what it wants until it sees what you can offer. So follow the whole of your nature and write the book that only you can write, and see what happens.

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Did you or your publisher have any inclination of how successful the His Dark Materials trilogy would be when you first came up with the idea?

A

Absolutely none. I thought it would be read by about 500 people at most. But it was a book I wanted to write, and David Fickling wanted to publish. See the question and answer above!

Asked on 05 March 2009

Q

Your books deal with many of life’s big questions? God, the church, good and evil, love? and you are not afraid to challenge your young readers. Is that a conscious aim when you sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper? Do you think children’s writing has a duty to pose difficult questions?

A

No. The only duty it has is best expressed in the words of Dr Johnson: The only aim of writing is to help the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.

Asked on 05 March 2009

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