Tuesday, March 03, 2009

EAILF Rachel Billington and Anne Fine


Before today's post I just want to say again that these are my notes and they are far from perfect. I have obviously focused on the writing aspect of the sessions. So many things that were discussed had resonance with me that I tried and failed to capture it all. Here are some links to some of the press coverage from here:

Becoming an Open Book
Dubai Should Host More Events says author
First Literature Festival
Festival Has to Exert Own Right

Rachel Billington and Anne Fine with Liz Thomson

Liz Thomson opened the session by highlighting the differences and the similarities between the two writers. Anne Fine, the second children’s laureate, began writing with children’s literature and has added adult fiction and Rachel Billington began with adult fiction and added children’s. Rachel is from a privileged background and Anne is not. Both write about families and relationships.

Rachel had written 18 adult novels and 4 children’s. She comes from a family of politicians and writers. She is one of eight children and this she feels is how she came to writing. She could be heard this way. She feels fiction is the most exciting occupation for both reader and writer. She said if you want to write then read to find your voice.

Her comments on being writer were:

- humiliation is part of it
- you have to learn to be immodest and pump up your ego
- you have a complicated balancing act; you want to be part of the world but when you are writing you are alone and become a god like figure creating worlds
- a writer is a bit psycho – making up things and being in different heads: being in the real world and the one in your head

When Rachel began writing she started with characters but as she progressed she enjoys the plots more. She has become bolder with them. She read many thrillers in order to achieve this. She usually has her theme first and she likes working with many characters. She is interested in the challenge of the form. In her latest release she has seven characters all written from the close third person pov. It is a ‘filmatic’ way of writing – the switching of pov but it should be invisible to the reader.

She was asked how she felt about writing degrees – and she prefers self taught writers. She can spot those who have been through programmes as they write well but many times are missing the ‘soul’. The writing may have a mechanical feel or feel if it has been written by committee.


Anne struggled to be seen as anything but a children’s author initially. On her return from living in California she was compelled to write adult fiction. The topics seized her but in the UK it is hard to move from kids to adult but the other way is easier as people think – isn’t it good the quality writers are going to write for children.

In her adult work she has focused around Passion, Marriage and Families. She never signs a contract until the book is finished which gives her freedom.

The discussion then moved to the difference in writing for children as opposed to adults. Children are much more discerning that adults. If you don’t grab them immediately then they dump you. It is brilliant training. Children want to laugh and to be scared. The process of writing is exactly the same but with children you start with the reader having no assumed knowledge and cut at a different angle but never underestimate the child.

Both women were asked if the shared their work with anyone. Anne does not. Her agent is her first reader and her agent has more input than her editor. Rachel’s first reader is her sister.

They were asked about adults reading children’s’ book – the crossover book. The said what do you want to be first? A children’s novel or and adult. Anne could think of only one true cross over novel – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. She said don’t confuse books with toys.

There was a comment that there seemed to have been a push in film and in books to reach the lowest common denominator. This was a dangerous concept. One quoted P. Roth who said for every one reader born you have 70 dying off. It can take some effort to get in to a novel and now readers don’t. Rachel added that they are not taught to read the whole book any more.

They were asked how much of themselves is in their novels. One quote M. Sparks – write a novel as if no one you know will read it.

Anne admitted there is loads of herself in her books. She always asks what if? How far would she go? Anne said she sails very close to the wind

Rachel said writers are like actors – they enter a different form.

Their final comments by Anne were on publishing in general. She said that marketing had taken over from editorial judgement. She quoted T. Thomson who said …publishing is too marketing led.


Tomorrow's post will be on the session discussion Arab Women Writers.

10 comments:

Jan Jones said...

Fab, Liz. Some real nuggets in there. Your poor head must be spinning!

DOT said...

Excellent report, liz. I am looking forward to the next on Arab women writers.

Ahsan Ali said...

Hi Liz,

Great stuff ! Are you in the EAIFL Facebook group ? http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=16597512809

As an admin, I'll post links to your posts there.

KAREN said...

I've loved all Anne Fine's adult books, but have never read any of Rachel Billington's. Must add her to the pile :o)

liz fenwick said...

My head is spinning Jan but hopefully some quality writing will fall out!

DOT- the session on Arab women writers was great - but it raised many more questions in my head than it answered - what this space because I think I will raise at the bottom of tomorrow's post.

Ahsan - I have joined the group and thank you for the link. It was a brilliant festival :-)

Karen - I hadn't read either women boefore but I definately will now.

ChrisH said...

Thanks Liz, I'm really enjoying your coverage of this event.

Pat Posner said...

I'm enjyoing these reports, Liz, thanks for sharing.

Debs said...

Thanks Liz, that was great.

Therese said...

Liz, your reporting of the events is wonderful--and clearly you are getting spot-on advice and insights.

Liz Harris said...

Superb feedback on the two writers, Liz. I felt as if I was actually in the hall, listening to their responses.