Meeting my literary heroes at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival

When the programme for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival was announced I got quite excited.  There were not one, but two of my favourite authors and literary heroes coming to Auckland – Patrick Ness and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I was barely able to control my excitement when I went to their sessions, but I sat in the audience captivated by them and learnt a lot about their writing and their books.  Like all author groupies I was one of the first in line afterwards to get my books signed and thank them profusely for coming all the way to New Zealand.

For those who are interested here’s a taster of what Patrick and Carlos discussed in their sessions.

An Hour with Patrick Ness

Patrick started with a reading from his latest adult book, The Crane Wife (I loved this book and highly recommend it if you’re looking for a magical and eerie adult book).  When it comes to stories, Patrick says that ‘ideas attract other ideas,’ and The Crane Wife came from several ideas.  It’s partly a retelling of the Japanese myth, there are some autobiographical details, and there is a big theme of stories and storytelling.  The main character in The Crane Wife, George, is a ‘kind’ man, and Patrick also wanted to look at what happens to the kind man when he’s lonely.  He wanted to write a compelling ‘good’ character, so he had to figure out what would make George greedy.  Apparently Amanda, George’s daughter in the book, is the closest character to Patrick.  She has a habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong time and is terrible in social situations, which Patrick says he can certainly relate to.

Patrick often has theme songs to his books.  One of his favourite bands, The Decemberists, wrote a song called The Crane Wife 1 and 2, which Patrick feels captures the mood of his book perfectly.  Here are some of his other theme songs:

  • Early One Morning by Jim Moray and Map of the Problematique by Muse – The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel – A Monster Calls
  • More Than This by Peter Gabriel – More Than This (his new YA novel coming in September)

I had to listen to these as soon as I got home and I can really see how these fit with the tone and mood of Patrick’s stories.

Patrick said that he is ‘never afraid to leave the reader wanting more’ and that is one of the things I love about his books, especially the Chaos Walking Trilogy.

I didn’t think I could like Patrick even more than I already did, but one of his answers to an audience question proved me wrong – ‘Books don’t need to do anything. They just need to tell stories.’  I know I don’t go looking for a particular meaning in the books I read, I just read them because they’re good stories.

An Hour with Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I never thought I would get the chance to hear Carlos Ruiz Zafon speak and meet him in person so this session was a highlight of my life.

Carlos always wanted to tell the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle in four books.  He wanted to create a labyrinth that could be entered through any door, and your perception would be different depending on which story you started with.  You could then read the cycle years later and re-enter the labyrinth again in a different direction.  When Carlos said that the labyrinth will twist in the fourth book I got this overwhelming sense of excitement and had this huge grin on my face.  If I loved the first three books so much I have no idea how amazing the fourth and final one will be!

When Carlos told the audience about his writing process there was a collective gasp.  Many authors have sticky notes and flow charts but anything that Carlos can’t hold in his head is dropped.  If this happens it’s usually not a good idea anyway.  He never saves drafts or materials after he’s finished a story.  He believes that it’s his homework and people shouldn’t read it.  There is no paper or digital trail of his work after he has finished a story.

Carlos doesn’t believe that it is his job as a writer to tell people what they should think.  He uses his skills in setting the stage, writing lines, applying makeup and putting on the costumes, and he takes the reader ‘into the theatre of their mind.’ He also uses dramatic devices to incorporate his research and morals into his stories and he believes the reader will decode these subconsciously.

All of Carlos’ stories are set in the past and he explained that this is because it ‘allows the storyteller to objectify elements.’  He can remove noise (cellphones, the internet) by setting a story in the past.  Carlos has always had a personal fascination with the time period after the industrial revolution, as ‘human beings had been in the dark for so long and they finally had a chance to get things right.’

I’m a huge fan of Carlos’ Young Adult novels and I was glad that he talked about these.  He said that these books (Prince of Mist, The Midnight Palace, The Watcher in the Shadows, and the soon to be published Marina) were an experiment.  Carlos didn’t feel that he had much to offer the YA genre, that he was just entertaining the teenagers, but he hoped that through writing these stories he was communicating the pleasure of reading to them.  He obviously had something right as they have sold millions of copies, both in Spain and the rest of the world.

Carlos finished by saying that his Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle is ultimately about ‘language, books and storytelling,’ and that he ‘writes for people who love to read.’  I certainly hope that he continues to write for many, many years.

Me and Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Me and Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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