Meg Rosoff on The Great Godden
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Meg Rosoff on The Great Godden

'One of the reasons I write about adolescence is that mine lasted from about 11 until a couple of weeks ago'

In light of Independent Bookshop Week, Ed Vaizey and Charlotte Metcalf invited author Meg Rosoff onto Break Out Culture to talk about her new book, The Great Godden.

Meg Rosoff on The Great Godden

Charlotte: How do you feel about The Great Godden being relegated to the children’s section?

I worked in advertising for 15 years, so I have a pretty clear idea of how marketing works. I got put into young adult fiction with my first novel, How I Live Now, but I think of myself more as writing about adolescents, rather than writing for an adolescent. It’s classically a category that is very difficult to pigeonhole. The books that really influenced me when I was a kid were books about young people and about coming of age. There are times when I read books about adolescents that aren’t really considered children’s books, and possibly that’s because they’re darker.

Ed: I have a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, and I immediately thought: this is perfect for my girl. Have I fallen into a terrible gender-stereotype trap by thinking that?

It depends on the young person involved. There are people who will never read anything except chick lit. There are people who’ll never read anything except adventure stories. And although that does transcend gender, it often breaks down somewhat by gender groups, which is always a shame. I’m one of the first-wave feminists and I would like there not to be these categories when it comes to books.

The Great Godden

Ed: Is there a link between advertising and writing?

There are people like me who were born writers, but took a very long time to get there. I was 46 when I published my first novel. There was a lack of confidence that plot was something that I could ever handle. Those people tend to gravitate towards things like publishing and advertising, where writing is very important. I wouldn’t recommend that anybody go into advertising. I think it’s a terrible profession – but, on the other hand, I had lunch yesterday with a woman I met when she was a BBC producer. She told me that she was writing a memoir. And I said, ‘Well, that’s fantastic because you will have that story arc absolutely carved into your brain.’

Ed: Did you feel in your twenties: ‘I want to write, but the time’s not right,’ or did it suddenly come upon you in your forties?

One of the reasons that I write about adolescence, is that mine lasted from about 11 until a couple of weeks ago. I found that transition to adulthood really difficult, so I didn’t have the confidence in my twenties. It was what I would consider a kind of 25-year – or 40-year, really – apprenticeship in writing letters and writing advertising copy, and just honing a voice in a way that suddenly felt like it settled into place when I was in my forties. Unlike ballet, for instance, you’re not over the hill when you’re 23. And, in fact, I always feel a little bit sorry for people who write their first bestseller when they’re 23, because it means they have to keep churning books out for the next 50 years.

You can listen to the full episode here.


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