Last night the MA students and others enjoyed a visit by the children's writer, Marcus Sedgwick (I have raved about his books in the past). I took notes in case he said anything relevant or interesting to my own writing. Eight pages and writer's cramp later I can say I learned loads. He was a warm and engaging speaker, which helped, but his talk about his writing process, and a very candid and informed insight into the publishing business were incredibly helpful. He also read from his latest manuscript, an engaging story which has episodes going back in time.
I also, so I would be prepared, read one of his 'Raven Mysteries' series, and laughed all the way through. I had never thought of writing for younger children (I only considered writing adult books six months ago!) but I have always loved books by Philip Ardagh, for example, very tongue in cheek stories that are fun to read aloud. The protagonist, Edgar, is a magical raven whose point of view flies us all over the castle and the eccentric occupants. I loved it. I also got the connection between the illustrations and the words in a way I hadn't considered before.
Marcus has a wealth of experience of the publishing industry and shared his knowledge and ideas freely. The impact of electronic distribution of books in digital format remains an unknown factor, but he sounded positive. He was less positive about the parlous state of bookselling in this country - with Waterstones, W H Smith and Amazon holding almost all of the market, and independent chains already squeezed out, there is little competition. Supermarkets demand massive discounts, writers are earning less and less from their writing. Public speaking events, school visits etc. take up so much of his time he hardly has time to write.
He did pose a question that I found painful to answer. Talking about marketing, he suggested if you have a personal connection to your book that might be an angle for the publishers to promote it. So why do I write the books I write? The truth is Borrowed Time is about second chances and sidestepping death. It's also about living with a disability, living with death dogging your footsteps. My eldest daughter Léonie lived with death, and beat it back for eight years with such joie de vivre, such enthusiasm for life, that it was hard to believe when she finally died. The topic came up on the poetry workshop the other day, the final minutes of Léonie's life as she slowed down and stopped. Sadie is a grown up version of Léonie, making the best of a bad job and eventually flying with the few feathers she has left. Does that make me Jack? There's an element of a younger me there, maybe. Do we write ourselves and our loved ones into all our stories? It's hardly an angle I am going to exploit as a marketing ploy. A part of me will always be sitting in a hot room, listening to Léonie breathing. The rest of me may have grown up (and grown old) and moved on into a new life, but it's always there, in the back of my writing.