Saturday, 18 June 2011

Writing Novels and Things #2.5: Young Adult: An Appreciation (also: Phillip Pullman Was My Teacher)

Hare and the TortoiseThis isn't a retraction...

BUT, I think I forgot to mention some things the other day, which may have given the post a slightly meaner, sneerier tone than I'd have wanted. I have learned a valuable life lesson, and it is this: don't rush to publish.

Anyway, the things that I completely forgot to talk about were these things:
  1. I really, really like YA fiction, I think it's my favourite
  2. My favourite YA writer, Phillip Pullman, has taught me writing, imparting some incredible perls of writing wisdom... TWO TIMES!
  3. I have photographic evidence of number 2.
So yes, while I do mock Twilight, and sometimes Harry Potter, the reason I decided that my first novel was going to be a YA fantasy was because I love that genre. When I was young, say eight or nine, and decided I wanted to be a writer, it was not because I wanted to write the definitive literary coming of age novel, like I kind of maybe want to now. And it wasn't because I wanted to win the Booker Prize, because I definitely didn't know what that was. And it wasn't because I wanted to be the next Ian McEwan, obviously. Basically, none of the reasons that I have used to justify my desire to write as an adult.

The reason I wanted to be a writer when I was young is because I wanted to create new worlds, where cool stuff happened! What's the point in writing, I thought, if there aren't at least loads of wizards and stuff? Well, I do now understand why someone would want to write literary fiction (one of the most important things I learned during my masters, eventually, is that what I love to write most is characters, often at the expense of plot, description, action, and other essential aspects of good writing), and I think I do that pretty well too. But writing wizards and stuff? That's still awesome.

Which is why I chose to write my YA fantasy book, starring a talking salmon. It doesn't actually featurte any wizards but... well it does a little bit, actually...So yeah, I really admire a lot of YA writers and desperately want to follow in their footsteps, basically. If I can come anywhere near the talent and skill of writers like Phillip Pullman, Ian Serraillier and Michael Morpurgo, I would be super duper pleased with myself, and almost impossible to live with.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.I do realise, of course, that one can write, for want of a better name, Literary Young Adult fiction, but I think Judy Blume may have ruined this for me. Because she already did it and she won. Seriously, are there books better than Forever or Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?, because I don't think I've read them (but please do comment if there are others I should be reading). I have An Abundance of Katherines on my To Read list so, you know, I'm still looking.

OK, so back to Phillip Pullman. He is the best, isn't he? The His Dark Materials Trilogy is without question my favourite trilogy ever. I could go on about all the good things in those books but mostly I just want it known that I was a big Phillip Pullman fan when I applied to do a Creative Writing masters at Oxford Brookes. Which is a course on which Phillip Pullman is a fellow.

In my two years on that course, he appeared before me two times.

The first, was this event:

And as you can see, we quite quickly became the best of friends. I did not, in truth, actually speak to him. But I did listen as he was interviewed on stage, telling us all about his career. I'd have been fascinated no matter what, but his voice made it all sound so... wisdomous! If I say he sounds like a posh Bill Oddie, you kid of get the picture, right?

And then he came and did an intimate lesson for us, which was brilliant. The one piece of advice he gave us that really stands out (though there were lots of others thaat I now wish I'd written down), was this: don't listen to music when you write.

Before that, I had stopped listening to music with singing in when I was writing, because I kept finding myself inserting song lyrics into stories, but PP (publishing pun!) said no to all music. It's about rhythm, you see; writing is all about rhythm. If a sentence is jarring, it's because the rhythm is wrong, mostly. When you're writing you have to be in silence, so you can 'hear' the words you're putting down.

I discovered recently, while listenig to a Writing Excuses podcast, that readers actually hear, rather than see words. So when we read, we are saying the words out loud in our head, not just looking at the words and understanding their meaning. The medium of writing is a means of putting our own voices inside the heads of others. Did you hear that? I'm a psychic and I'm in your mind!

So that makes rhythm super important to writing, and you can't be sure your rhythm is correct if you have other rhythms going on around you, is more or less what PP said. Only he said it all smart, like. And I've written in silence ever since, all thanks to my new best friend Phillip Pullman.

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