Last night, I was lucky enough to secure tickets to see Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman in conversation at the Cambridge Theatre in Soho, London (normally the home of Matilda – the musical – a fitting place for two children’s authors to be talking if ever there was one!).
Unfortunately though, earlier on that day Philip was taken to hospital, and you could sense the whole theatre sending good vibes and well wishes his way. Luckily Neil had managed to round up some “Pullman impersonators” in the form of Meg Rosoff and Audrey Niffenegger! If we couldn’t have Pullman, then we couldn’t get much better as far as replacements go. Audrey kicked the evening off by reading one of the fairy tales from Pullman’s Grimm Tales, “The Three Snake-Leaves”, which gave the audience a perfect taster of fairy tale-style justice.
For any aspiring writers out there, there were some great tips from Neil and Meg. Meg’s major advice was to “not be in such a rush”. I think this is a pretty important point, and later on they brought up the old adage that you have to write a million words before you write a good one. Neil’s advice was simple, and effective: if you want to be a writer, just write. Wise words!
The Lucky 13s might find it interesting to know that they talked about superstitions too! Neil Gaiman’s superstition had to do with having to use a different colour ink for each writing day, while Meg turned out to be inclined towards all sorts of superstitions – especially new ones she hadn’t heard of yet! (One new one for the night: don’t bring lilac into the house… I wonder why, lilac is really pretty!)
Neil then ended the show with a reading of his new scary short story ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’. It’s not easy to terrify a huge audience in a theatre decorated with scrabble tiles, but somehow he managed it! And if you’re curious, just in time for Hallowe’en, you can download your very own copy of Neil’s recording of ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’ for FREE from Audible.co.uk for only 36 hours more, so go go go now (or Audible.com for anyone outside UK). Even better, for every free download, Audible will donate 50p to Booktrust, which is just amazing.
Afterwards I was extraordinarily privileged to hang out with some amazing writers, late into the night. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me… I’d just delivered my line edits to my editor and was feeling, quite frankly, like crap. The line edits themselves were not at all the problem – they were spot on, and a piece of cake after the structural edit! – but as I was reading through the manuscript for the umpteenth time, I couldn’t shake this creeping, pervasive feeling that the book was just plain bad – I couldn’t stand the sight of those words, I couldn’t tell if they made any sense any more, whether the book had any sort of structure or pace or characterization… Thankfully, as I said, I was among those who knew exactly how I felt. In fact, as I shared my anxieties with the other writers, and as I could see them recognize exactly what I was going through, it made me feel a lot better. I was well assured that these feelings were normal, even necessary, and maybe even a good sign. And thank god for that, because I thought I was going crazy.
It just goes to prove what I think is the most valuable writing advice: don’t do it alone. Find other writers, whether its in person or online, and share this crazy journey together. And meet your heroes. Because luckily in this business, they tend to be really friggin awesome.