Back at the end of March I was invited to attend a live panel event at the Puffin offices with authors Anna Perera, Ruta Sepetys and Morris Gleitzman. A few bloggers had been invited to arrive early so Carly, Dwayne, Jenny, Rhys, Ann (see links to their blogs below) & I got to have a chat with the authors before the official event started.
It was fascinating listening to them all talking about their different writing processes. Morris writes a massive 2,000-3,000 word outline that he revises up to 10 times but doing this means he usually only writes about 3 drafts of the book before he finishes. Having worked as a screenwriter in the past he tries to get into a scene as quickly as possible, leave it as late as possible and make it as visual as possible. Most of his books are aimed at 9-11 year olds but he writes his story for the main character not the audience, he wants to do a good job of telling their story. Anna finds writing is quite a spiritual experience and she feels that some of her ideas come from outside of herself. She plans a little before writing the first draft but not as much as Morris, the first draft is then printed and she will read through and edit it. I think Ruta was as interested in hearing advice from the others as we were. Between Shades of Gray is her debut novel and she described writing it as a form of projectile vomiting - the words just flew out of her and she worried about revising them later.
Here are some of the pictures I took while we were talking:
After our chat with the authors we were shown up to the 10th floor for the panel event staring all three authors and hosted by Claire Armitstead (a literary editor from the Guardian). There was quite a crowd and we had time for a drink and a bit of mingling before the panel were introduced.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
When asked about where they got the ideas for their latest books Ruta explained that her family originally come from Lithuania and it was listening to family stories that inspired Between Shades of Gray. Her grandfather and father were on Stalin's death list and her father spent 9 years living in refugee camps trying to escape the Soviets. When she visited family in Lithuania Ruta asked if they had any pictures of her grandparents and parents and was shocked when they told her that they'd had to destroy them - it was too dangerous to let anyone know that they were related. Even then 16 of her family members were sent to Siberia and her cousin actually had his leg cut off as a form of punishment. Ruta felt that she needed to let people know about what happened during Stalin's regime as it's a topic that doesn't really seem to be talked about much.
For research Ruta said she read every book she could find about Stalin and went to Lithuania twice to talk to family members and survivors. Some of them were in their 80s and were still shaking and physically ill when talking about their experiences. They had a very real fear of the repercussions of talking about what had happened to them and most were too scared to let her use their names. Ruta also went on a prison immersion experience held in one of the old prisons and as the guards weren't allowed to starve or sleep deprive them they were beaten instead. In fact Ruta suffered with a ruptured disk when one of the guards stepped on her back while she was trying to do push ups! She was shocked to be beaten and couldn't believe how hard it was to care about what anyone else was going through around her while she was suffering. It made her see the acts of kindness amongst the prisoners that the survivors had mentioned in a different light.
Between Shades of Gray is a book that I would recommend to everyone, the fact that it is based on true stories is heartbreaking and I find it horrific that I knew practically nothing about this subject before reading Ruta's book. You can read my review here if you'd like to know more and I would highly recommend watching the book trailer below too (but make sure you have tissues to hand because it's bound to bring tears to your eyes!)
Ruta Sepetys discusses her upcoming novel, Between Shades of Gray from Penguin Young Readers Group on Vimeo.
Grace by Morris Gleitzman
Morris' book Grace is about a young girl growing up in an extreme religious community. Morris said he was thinking about how children always question everything and wondered what would happen if they weren't allowed to do this. He saw an Australian press release about a separatist church group and how they split up families and wouldn't let parents see their own children if the parents left the group. After talking to one of the fathers who had been shunned he got the idea for Grace's story.
While researching the story he read quite a lot of journalistic literature from both Australia (where the story is set) and from the US. He found that nobody who is in an extreme religious group would talk to him about their beliefs. He was able to speak to ex members but they are naturally biased against the groups. He has strong views about the church sect so he had to try very hard not to show that in the story. The adults in these groups believe that they are doing the right thing for their children even if we don't agree with how they go about it. He told the story in first person through Grace's eyes so he could talk about the beliefs of the church elders.
I have read Grace and my review can be found here, the story is aimed at a younger audience than most books I usually read but I found the story fascinating and would recommend giving it a try.
The Glass Collector by Anna Perera
Anna said she has always been interested in topical subjects. Her first book Guantanamo Boy challenged the myth that torture can ever be justified. With her latest book The Glass Collector she wanted to challenge the belief that people who live in a different way to us are nothing like us. People often seem to think that the more we own the better our life is but she doesn't believe that is true. She read an article about people living on dump sites and that sparked the idea.
To research the story Anna went to Cairo to talk to people who actually live on dump sites with the help of a very good translator. She wanted to concentrate on the dignity of the people who she met and the beauty that could be found where you would least expect to see it. She did mention that the story came more from her imagination than from the research she did though.
I haven't read The Glass Collector yet but it sounds really good and came highly recommended by others. I have a copy and will be reading it soon so I'll get my review posted as soon as I can.
Here are some of the pictures I took during the discussions and while we were getting our books signed afterwards:
After the panel discussion was finished there was time to get our books signed and a delicious looking buffet had been laid on (I had a hard time avoiding it and sticking to my diet lol). We had more time to mingle and I got to have a quick chat to YA author Candy Gourlay. If I'd known she would be there I would have brought my copy of her book Tall Story with me to get it signed!
We were up on the 10th floor and I couldn't resist going out on the balcony to have a look at the amazing view of the Thames, the London Eye and Big Ben. I took quite a few pictures but they really don't do it justice. The panorama below was created by stitching 5 photos together and hopefully if you click on it you should be able to see a larger version of the picture. The slide show underneath it shows some of the individual pictures I took.
What a fantastic view!
I'd like to say a massive thank you to Jayde and all at Puffin for hosting such a fantastic event and also to Ruta, Morris and Anna for being so friendly and taking the time to chat with us all. It was a fantastic evening and I'm really grateful that I got to attend.
Who was there: