An Evening with Michael Grant at Waterstone’s Piccadilly

So, how was everyone’s evening? Good, jolly good, mega awesome spectacular? Dandy…. oh mine? Well it was ok, but last week I had a really awesome one when I went to an evening with Michael Grant, writer of the hugely popular bestselling series Gone and currently over here in the UK to promote the last and latest book in the series, Light.

You know, nothing special :p

Anyway, all joking aside, the evening of 26th April was thoroughly entertaining, listening to the man himself being interviewed by journalist Lucy Mangan at the principal branch of Waterstone’s in Piccadilly. Props first of all to Waterstone’s for hosting such an event and doing such a good job of it (whatever they paid for those clip-on microphones was worth it, no straining to hear for me!) and to Mangan, for being considerate enough to check how many of the audience had read Light (the last and latest book in the Gone series) so as to know just how spoiler-riffic both she and Grant could be.

It was also lovely to see how many teens and tweens had turned up for the talk, not just adults like me and publishing folk. A lot of them were really getting into it as the talk went on and quite a few were ready and waiting with questions at the end. At the risk of sounding naive or patronizing, it was just awesome to see people being fans of a book or an author at such an age where, let’s face it, it’s not always cool to be that into books. The queue for signing at the end was pretty impressive too!

Anyway, I’m trying to find a recording of the whole thing but in the meantime, I’ll just mention a couple of the bits I particularly liked.

After a (fashionably) late start, the opening question from Mangan was along the lines of just how on Earth Grant manages to write so fast. I mean, the man brought out 6 3000-odd page books in 5 years. The answer? Coffee, lots and lots of it. That and he apparently doesn’t write to any outline at all, he just starts. I’ve heard some authors will plan things meticulously, right down to the last Tolkein-esque detail, but nope, not Grant. In the talk, he explained that he takes his ideas for each book from a basic concept (eg. fear for Fear, illness for Plague etc) and goes from there, often rewriting the opening sequence several times after until he thinks it’s going to go a way he feels is right. He also made sure to mention that he pays tribute to a number of inspirational writers or stories in his books, such as the name Perdido being the Spanish for the tv show ‘Lost’, which has obvious links to the series, or the character Drake’s name from fellow author Stephen King’s novel The Stand. Oddly though, despite a lot of people thinking that he wrote Gone with William Golding’s Lord ofthe Flies in mind, he really didn’t, but as Grant puts it, if you’re going to plagiarize something, at least mention that you did so! Hence why there’s a Golding street in the books too, as a nod to Lord of the Flies. Me personally, I love finding out little bits like this if only because if I find out what an author likes to read it gives me a new book to add to my own ‘To Read’ list.

I got the impression that Grant is a writer who writes for his audience. When asked whether he felt he’d gone too far with some of the more…err… inventive deaths in his books he laughed and said no. What he likes to do, he explained, is play a game with the reader, try and stay one step ahead of them and surprise them into needing to take a breather for a sec and let him as the writer get ahead once again. Now I know some writers write just for the sake of writing and to them it’s an art, but I’ve got to say I warmed to Grant immediately with that. Towards the end of the talk, Grant said that Light was probably the book he’s proudest of at the moment, purely because he didn’t feel like he’d let his fans down after they’d invested so much in a series as epic and long as Gone. You’ve got to love a writer that thinks for his readers like that, I know certainly he’s gone way up in my eyes from his already fairly lofty position, I just have to admire that sentiment.

Another interesting point he brought up was just how he came to be a writer. I only connected the dots recently and realised that the series Animorphs that I loved so much as a teenager was actually wirtten by the same people who wrote Eve and Adam but did you know that Grant’s actually written under 13 different names?! He’s clocked up over 150 books, both as a single and co-writer, and it was fascinating to find out how that came about. Did you know he helped write part of the hugely popular Sweet Valley Twins series? I remember reading a few of those books when I was younger and I never really thought that a series like that would have had multiple authors, all writing stories based around loose plots given to them by the editors. I also didn’t know how much of a part the editor has to play in the process of writing, whether the editor’s word is law or whether you can stretch it a bit, so that was all pretty cool to hear about (especially the bit where after the fourth or so Animorphs book, the rest of the series didn’t get read through so much and the authors could go with what they wanted – makes me feel like the later books were purely the work of the authors, which I love).

Grant’s approach to characters was huge fun to hear too – they’re his employees, and when he gets fed up with them boom! Off the cliff they go! Perhaps unsurprisingly, Grant did say something along the lines of the bad guys being great fun to write; they can be characters you’re proud of, even if you don’t like them (or perversely, if your readers don’t like them, as is the case with Astrid!). It was fascinating to hear how he goes about creating a character too, from filling positions (1st position= hero, hero needs someone to talk to= 2nd position, hero needs a bad guy = 3rd position, bad guy needs someone to work with=4th position etc) to getting an image in his head of that character by browsing Google images. I must admt I was intrigued when someone asked the question of whether he planned for certain characters to be gay etc, and he said that he just knew by looking at the Google image whether they would be or not.

It was a throughly enjoyable evening with a hugely personable author, and he even spilled the beans that yes, he is writing a new series already, this one called Messenger of Fear and will (apparently) be a grim reaper story. Think Seventh Seal only with ‘fewer swedes and more teens’. I know I’ll definately be keeping my eyes out for it.

So props to Waterstone’s Piccadilly for hosting the event, to Lucy Mangan for interviewing (and checking for spoilers!), and most of all to Michael Grant for a thoroughly entertaining talk. It was a great evening!

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