An interview with Marcus Sedgwick

Questions by Lower-sixth Literary Events group: Katie, Olivia, Elisabeth and Rhiannon.
Answers by Marcus Sedgwick.

What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t write every day, far from it. Maybe across the year, it’s one day in twenty or thirty. But then, when I’m writing a book, there will be a burst of activity, in which I try to get to my desk by half eight or so. I work till lunchtime with a tiny pause for tea and if it’s going well, I will work on into the afternoon, sometimes even till six or so. That’s a long time to write in a day but if the book is going well and I have prepared well enough (which is what I’m doing in the 19 or 29 days when I’m not writing) then I can write 5,6,7 or even 8,000 words a day.

 A lot of your books incorporate traditional myths and legends. Is this something that has always interested you, and what made you want to write your own take on them?

I love old stories: they have power. I think there is a natural selection that applies to stories – the good ones live and weak ones fade away. Therefore if a story is still being told thousands (in some cases) of years after it was first told, it must be powerful in some way or other. Old stories are often strange, but I enjoy taking bits of them and working them into what I’m doing now: it makes me feel like I’m part of a long tradition of story telling.

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 Did you mean to make the transition from teen to adult fiction, and is there much difference in the writing process for each of them?

There is very little difference at all, for me. I set out to write my first adult book just as I would any of my recent ‘teen’ novels. I hate all these categories – all we do as readers is read good books (or try to, anyway) – and it’s not the way I work. The only reason my adult book is for adults is that it’s published by an adult publisher. Yes, it has themes that I think an older person might more readily associate with, but that doesn’t mean a younger person couldn’t read it. And vice versa with my YA novels…

How much are your characters based on aspects of yourself?

Quite a lot. This is true of all writers I think. You have to do this in order to make people authentic – take something about yourself and use it as the lens through which to view your character. Of course, characters in fiction tend to be great exaggerations of real life.

You write a lot about isolated teenagers and children. Is this a particular voice that appeals to you?

Isolation is a simple device that increases the jeopardy for your characters. It can create empathy in the reader and fear too. It is also, to be honest, probably derived from my view that we are all born alone and we all go to death alone – life therefore is about trying to make relationships that engender love and kindnesss.

How do you decide on settings for your books?

They decide on me, I think. By which I mean that I often get captivated by a place I’ve visited and – almost whether I want to or not – I start to feel the pull of that place, trying to urge me to turn it into a story. I don’t seem to have much control over that, but I don’t mind, place is very important to me in the creation of books.

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Can you think of anything in particular that inspires you creatively?

Everything! Anything and everything can be inspiring. It depends on how you look at things. Every book has more or less started in a different way, but as I said above, I think place is one of the most frequent starting points for me. Usually, once an idea has been bubbling around, without anywhere to grow, it is stumbling across a place that provides the ground in which that seed can develop. I really enjoy that process: it takes your initial idea in directions you hadn’t imagined when you started.

What made you want to become Writer in Residence at Bath Spa and get involved with young aspiring authors?

It’s very interesting to work with writers at the start of their career (hopefully) – it is useful in reminding me why I started in the first place, and to remember what problems you find most critical when you begin. I enjoy helping people fix those problems, if I can.

What’s the current state of your writing shed?

Rather tidy! Too tidy, probably. I need to mess it up a bit to really get into the next book I’m going to write. I need to start in the new year and it’s going to be a long book so I really need to get on with it …

Is there anything planned for the future that we can look forward to?

Well, yes, a few things – the next adult book, a spin-off novella from The Ghosts of Heaven, I’m working on a film and a TV series, and maybe down the line some more so-called YA books …