Alison Smith caught up with Rob in advance of his upcoming London Masterclass: Fantasy Writing for Young Readers on 17th May 2014.
How do you define fantasy?
I’m not a person who says anything fictional is a fantasy, but my definition is quite broad. Beneath this (enormous) umbrella I include everything from the high fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkein to the magic realism of Meg Rosoff and David Almond. I also include works of speculative fiction, historical fantasy, space fantasy, and even science fiction, as all these include otherworldly elements that require discrete skills on the part of the writer, and a thoughtful awareness of how best to present them.
What is the hardest part of writing in another world?
That’s easy—making the reader believe in it. It’s a delicate balancing act between information, imagination, and storytelling. The biggest challenge is that one or all of these are often in conflict. Finding a balance that suits your story is crucial. I hope this masterclass will help writers find this, or at least leave them with food for thought on how to approach it later.
Where do your ideas come from?
No one knows. Ideas are mercurial and mysterious and best left to their own devices. However, I have noticed that nearly all of my new ideas occur to me while reading. I think it is the combination of quiet contemplation while taking in interesting information. It could be any sort of writing, a novel, a work of non-fiction, journalism, or even ad copy on a billboard. It will send the back of my mind off on some tangent and—presto—something clicks.
What is your favourite part about writing children’s literature?
The freedom to explore. A friend of mine defines a writer as someone who is “interested in everything” and I’ve always liked that definition. In my experience, children’s literature allows the writer to weave fluidly between themes, styles and subject matter from book to book or series to series in a way that might not be available to certain writers of adult fiction. For instance, once you write literary fiction, adult readers don’t expect high fantasy the next time around. Of course, even in children’s literature, it’s risky to swerve too wildly, but I do have a sense that the possibility is there.
What do you hope the session will have achieved by the end?
Writers will have created or expanded upon an imaginary world. They will learn techniques of style, structure and characterisation specific to writing in another world (or one very close to ours, with a tweak or two). They will also learn about the business of publishing, finding an agent and how to properly react to/ignore trends.
Fantasy Writing for Young Readers
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
When: Saturday 17 May 2014 – 12 noon – 4pm
Where: The Theodore Bullfrog Pub, First floor meeting room, 26-30 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6HL
Cost: £30 per class for SCBWI members, £37 for non members, £108 special SCBWI member discount when you book for four
classes. (All prices include a pre-ordered light lunch and a beverage.)
More information: email@example.com
** Please bring an example of a fantasy novel (preferably, but not necessarily, for youth) that you admire, along with one to three typed, double-spaced pages of a manuscript or outline. **