Bali Rai, Malorie Blackman & Jenny Downham
Last Thursday I was invited to the 2nd Teenage Kicks event arranged by RHCB, the event was aimed at teens and gave them the chance to answer questions and get their books signed by popular authors Malorie Blackman, Bali Rai and Jenny Downham. I loved Noughts & Crosses and Boys Don't Cry by Malorie Blackman and really enjoyed Jenny Downham's You Against Me (click on the titles to read my reviews) so I was very excited about getting the chance to meet them. I've not read anything by Bali Rai but I've heard fantastic things about his books so am looking forward to giving them a try.
I met up with Caroline (Portrait of a Woman) and Jo (Once Upon a Bookcase) outside and we made our way into a very crowded event. RHCB had a fantastic turnout of teens of various ages most of whom seemed to be in school groups (I wish my school had arranged trips like that!). We managed to find seats on the back row but unfortunately it was quite hard to hear what the authors were saying as there weren't any microphones but I did manage to sneak closer to the front to take notes and snap a few pictures.
Caroline & Jo
Where do you write?
All three authors confirmed that they take notebooks with them everywhere for when inspiration strikes. Bali and Malorie also confessed to listening to people's conversations all the time for ideas. I didn't hear all of the answers to this question but Bali did mention that he is planning on converting his garage into an office / boys room and he will do most of his writing there when it's ready.
What do you do to relax?
Bali actually writes to relax, he said it was a hobby before he became a professional writer so he enjoys writing whenever he gets a chance. He does also spend time listening to music and playing computer games too though. Malorie said she loves music and has a drum kit in her attic which she finds great for when people annoy her. She is also a computer addict who loves World of Warcraft and enjoys spending time on the Wii recently playing Just Dance a lot to help her get fit. Jenny writes when her children are at school and enjoys spending time with them in the evenings and at weekends, they watch films and do the usual family things but she has recently started Brain Training and also likes spending time in the garden.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Malorie said she has no problems getting ideas, in fact she has too many of them, she also finds the first draft quite easy. The hardest thing is reworking the first draft which she does 6 or 7 times before she feels ready to send it to her editor. Jenny said that she doesn't plan her stories so sometimes she finds that she has spent ages going down the wrong path. Bali doesn't really find anything about writing particularly hard, he feels lucky to be paid to do something he loves but he does find he starts getting excited about new ideas he has had which can distract him from the book he is supposed to be working on.
Do they take ideas from other authors? (I'm not 100% sure I got this question down correctly but hopefully that is about right!)
Jenny said that she often picks up new writing methods after reading other stories, the example she gave was writing in duel narrative but she said the styles she tries don't always work for her. Bali thinks that to a certain extent all writers pick up ideas when they're reading, it's impossible not to. He said that authors shouldn't be afraid to reinterpret ideas and make them their own. Malorie confirmed that she has been inspired and influenced by books she has read but she tries really hard not to read books in the genre that she is actually writing.
How do you distance yourself emotionally from the topics you write about?
Bali doesn't distance himself at all, it is easier to write about something you are emotionally invested in. He gets really angry when he hears about domestic abuse cases and that anger really helped him when he was writing his newest book Killing Honour (this is a book I've had on my wish list since the RHCB bloggers brunch and isn't being released until June). Bali gets attached to all of his characters, they are like his best friends or he wouldn't want to write about them. Malorie has to be emotionally involved in what she is writing. Noughts and Crosses was inspired by the murder of Stephen Lawrence and she wanted to write about racism in her own way. She thinks it is very important to write about something you care about and she admitted to crying as she wrote the ending of Noughts and Crosses (I cried reading it too!). Jenny said that as she doesn't plan her books she didn't set out to write a book about a dying girl when she started writing Before I Die. She does get emotionally involved with her characters though and described it a bit like being haunted by the book and the characters.
Did you read a lot when you were younger and did anyone encourage you to?
Malorie fell in love with reading during story time at school. She didn't have anyone encourage her to read or write but she started writing poems and short stories when she was about 7 years old. After an embarrassing experience when the teacher asked her to read out something she had written at parents evening she was actually put of writing anything else for a very long time. She used to spend every Saturday at her local library but she never read a book that had a black character in it until she was 23 years old (the first one she read was The Colour Purple). She wanted to be able to read about characters like her and this influenced the characters she wanted to write about. Bali said he did read but it wasn't something that he was encouraged to do. He was inspired by Roald Dahl but spent years thinking you had to be old, posh, rich and white in order to be an author! Jenny grew up in a house with no books (does everyone else find that as shocking as I did?) but she used to spend a lot of time at the library. She loved picking up a book and being transported to somewhere else, one of her favorite books was Z for Zachariah. She had a teacher who encouraged her love of reading and used to give her books to read. Her parents and siblings didn't read but it made her feel special because she did.
How do you give each different character a distinctive voice?
This question was aimed at Malorie and she said she spends a lot of time getting to know each of her characters before she starts writing. She has to get to know what they like and creates biographies and both mental and physical descriptions for them.
Do you ever include true stories in your books?
Malorie's answer was a resounding no - she doesn't want to end up getting sued! She said that sometimes things from her past may influence her but she is very careful to change people's names when she is writing. She used a friend's name in Noughts and Crosses just because she liked the name not because the character was anything like her friend but it taught her a lesson because the friend in question was really upset when she read the story. It caused all sorts of problems and it took a long time for their friendship to recover. Bali was the complete opposite and said he uses real people all the time in his stories. He tends to make his characters a combination of at least 2 real people, using the name of one and the physical description of the other with the personality usually a combination of them both. Jenny said some of her characters are a combination of several people she knows and also include parts of herself. She hears a lot of stories from her teenage son and his friends but she had to remove some of them from the book after her son proof read the for her.
The Noughts and Crosses series was supposed to be a trilogy, what made you write a fourth book?
Obviously this question was aimed at Malorie. She found that the main character Toby was constantly whispering in her ear and telling her his story and in the end she couldn't concentrate on anything else until she'd got his book out of her system. She has no plans to write a 5th book in the series unless another character starts talking to her.
What is your writing schedule?
Jenny does most of her writing between 9am and 3pm when her kids are at school, she does sometimes write after they've gone to bed if she is on a tight deadline. Malorie also writes when her daughter is at school but she always tries to make sure that they have breakfast and dinner together. She tries to do her more creative work in the mornings as that is when it comes more naturally to her. Bali was working in a nightclub when he first started writing so he got used to writing in the middle of the night when he came home. He still does a lot of late night writing now but does try to write during the day sometimes too, especially when on a deadline.
Is it harder to write descriptions or dialogues?
Jenny finds writing dialogues really easy, she has an acting background and used to be part of a group that would make up stories and plays on the spot about topics requested by the audience. She finds descriptions are much harder to write. Malorie also finds dialogues easier to write which is why she got into scriptwriting. Bali started off finding dialogue much easier, in fact one of his early books is 80% dialogue and has very little description. He has found that he enjoys writing description more now and said it is like adding more layers to the story.
What did think of the Noughts and Crosses play and were you involved in creating it?
Malorie said that she initially sold the rights for Noughts and Crosses to someone but it didn't work out and she ended up getting them back. It was a really difficult experience and really put her off so when the Royal Shakespeare Company wanted to buy the rights her immediate reaction was to say no. Eventually she agreed to meet with them and by the end of the meeting she felt more relaxed about it and agreed. Although she knew there would have to be adaptions she wanted someone who would create something that was true to the spirit of the book. The director from RSC was great at keeping her in the loop and she was able to attend castings, rehearsals and read throughs as the play was being created. She felt really lucky and is very glad she let them do it even though it was strange to see the characters she created up on stage. The RSC are currently thinking about bringing the Noughts and Crosses play back next year and they are actually talking about doing Knife Edge and Checkmate too. The suggestion is that they would run all three plays at the same time but alternating one each night (personally I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they do this and that they bring the plays somewhere near enough to me that I can go and watch them all!)
Me, Caroline & Jo
At the end of the Q&A session we had an opportunity to buy more books and were also able to get our books signed. A lot of the teenagers had books with them so the queues were quite long but each of the authors took time to chat to us as we were getting our books signed. It was a great evening and I'd like to thank RHCB for organising the event. Of course I have to say thanks to the authors too, it was really interesting listening to your answers to all of the questions!