Teri Terry is one of those writing friends I met online, and have been lucky enough to have a peek at some of her works in progress which are very, very good.
She currently divides her time between writing, stalking agents and publishers, and working in a library in Bucks. She is contemplating a research Masters degree at Bedfordshire on limits in YA literature. Teri won second prize in Writing for Children 12-plus at the 2009 Winchester Writers Conference, and first prize in ages 8-11 the previous year. She has written seven novels to date. She is currently stalking agents and publishers with a YA fantasy, Life's a Beach, Katie Moon, in which Katie sells her soul to surf, and also an adult crime series, Ready Steady Die: shades of Janet Evanovich, but as it is set in England, more polite and with fewer guns. Work in progress includes a YA horror story, Claustrophobia, and a dystopian fantasy, Slated.
That Teri is still an author-in-waiting is, I believe, a temporary situation. It's only a matter of time, Teri.
I have a confession to make.
I suffer from Rosoff-envy. I can’t help it. I can’t read any of her stuff without turning a deep shade of lime green and reaching for chocolate.
Teri Terry writing while wrapped in sleeping bag;
Teri (right) in a deep shade of lime green
Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet speak at the Oxford Literary Festival.
The blurb had it that they were going to tackle what it means to write for Young Adults, and it was even capitalized. They were going to chip away at the limits of teenage fiction; avoid its comfort zones; discuss edginess, and risks. And Meg’s blog also promised it would be ‘chaotic, messy, and horribly indiscreet’.
Soldiering on despite sneezing and sniffling and general germy-ness, I caught the bus to Oxford, prepared to be shocked.
As promised, there was no moderator to rein them in. They were free to interrupt each other at will, and they did.
Meg began by introducing Mal, winner of the 2009 Guardian Children’s Fiction Award for Exposure. She then read a lyrical passage from Penalty, despite claiming to know and care about as much for football as I do.
Meg posed the question: what makes a YA writer?
Mal said he does not write for a particular reader, but has a Myna bird on his shoulder when he writes, saying ‘crap, crap, crap’. Football issues aside, I instantly warmed to Mal: I thought that was just me! He went on to say that he tries to present books that are ‘complex, testing and challenging’, and that he expects his readers to be good enough to read his books. If he writes for anyone, it is what he would have read himself at 15 or 16.
Meg asked Mal about the embarrassment of being a YA writer: she finds herself making excuses for writing for children, not adults.
Well. Try admitting to being an unpublished children’s writer. Few confessions can clear a room with more speed.
Mal usually says he is a plumber, as they are more in demand than children’s writers, and make more money.
Mal attempted to take over, and introduced Carnegie-medal winner Meg. He also read a wonderfully evocative passage from Meg’s What I Was.
He asked Meg about her books ending in a sort of ‘triumphant melancholy’. She responded that is what life is kind of about, and she has to watch that they don’t end with a character cradling a Puppy of Hope. Her husband has the job of killing off said puppies with a red pencil. We all die at the end: the way to make sense of it not lasting forever is to feel we made the best of things we can.
Mal asked if she feels any responsibility to not be bleak: she doesn’t feel her books are bleak. She writes about what is in her brain: various permutations of love, and how it doesn’t always follow the path it is supposed to follow. As a writer, your subjects should choose you. It is not about having a contest to see who can be the most shocking. Mal added that books should not be categorized by what they are about, but how well they are done.
Regarding endings, Mal felt the truth about writing novels is that you never finish one, and he never feels a wonderful sense of closure, but is an obsessive fiddler. He hastened to add, with his books. Meg, on the other hand, is usually happy with books in the end, but in all cases, they are not the book she set out to write.
In response to a question on the title of What I Was, Meg noted that until the last second it was, instead, The Dark Ages. It was renamed at haste when the original title was rejected.
My quote of the day: Meg admires Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer ‘in the abstract’. Hmmm…
Overall, what did I learn on my trip to Oxford?
- It is OK to publicly admit to imaginary friends on one’s shoulder.
- Consider plumbing as a career option.
- It is all right to still be tackling the big questions of life that I was probably supposed to work out when I was 16.
- It is wise to have alternative titles in reserve
- Keep a copy of your manuscript with you at all times, since you never know when Catherine Clarke may hold the door open for you, again
- Bus 280 may or may not choose to stop at the temporary bus stop during road works and only comes once an hour on Sundays
- Watch out for the Puppy of Hope. (I’ll keep my Bunny of Hope – you know, the one sitting on my shoulder, who is convinced my publishing deal is around the corner and we’ll be scoffing cocktails on a cruise ship, soon, and that a few squares of extra dark organic will help in the meantime.)
Teri's Bunny of Hope. With cocktail. On cruise ship.
In addition to sniffling and sneezing, I am now also suffering from boot-prints on my butt: from my own boot.
At the end of the event there was a long queue to Meg and Mal for signings, and I was thinking to myself: should I or shouldn’t I say hello to Meg.
Would she remember we spoke at the SCBWI conference in November, or that I say hello now and then on Facebook?
I left. Didn’t want to stand in front of her, drooling (and sniffling, and sneezing), saying ‘like, um, I really love your books, er, um, do you remember me?’ and risk her having a ‘who the hell are you?’ look on her face.
But I’d put a message on Facebook the day before that I was going, and then last night Meg posted, where were you Teri?
I wailed to my tolerant other half that it was like he had a chance to meet Bruce Springsteen and didn’t, and then Bruce texted him out of the blue and said, where were you, mate?
Another time, Bruce.
ADD: And here's Meg's own post about the Oxford Literary Festival (strangely mostly about stalking Hilary Mantel. Ah, the literary food chain goes round and round)