Interview with Meg Rosoff, 2013 National Book Award Finalist, Young People's Literature
Picture Me Gone
G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group (USA)
Interview by William Alexander
William Alexander: Your protagonist Mila uses both the logic of the detective (especially in a Sherlock Holmes-ish sort of mode, closely observing an alchemical mix of available details) and the logic of translation to navigate and interpret the story she's in. What are some of your own daily acts of translation?
Meg Rosoff: Translation isn't what I'm best at, strangely. I found the world opaque for decades and only arrived at some measure of clarity after a long drawn-out struggle. It was a bit like battling with a state of adolescent perplexity for thirty-something years. Unlike Sherlock, you could probably call me a slow learner.
WA: If Mila's totem is a terrier, what's yours?
MR: I always think of Philip Pullman's daemons—mine is definitely a big red horse, a Suffolk Punch to be exact. They're an old English breed of work horse dating from the early 16th century with beautiful arched necks, shortish legs, broad chests and reddish gold coats. Bred for power, stamina and good temperament, they're also very economical to keep. All good qualities if you're trying to make a living as a writer.
WA: Will we see Mila again? I'm not suggesting that you write a few dozen pulp novels about the repetitive adventures of Detective Mila, but I already miss her voice. I miss the world as she's able to see it, and I want to know if that voice is still in your head. That's not a particularly good question. Let me try again. How did you first come to hear Mila's voice?
MR: I doubt we'll meet Mila again, though I do have a recurring fantasy about mixing up different characters from my novels and bringing them together in an entirely new work.
Her voice came to me in a fantastic way. I hadn't been writing for months and was getting very worried about it. My UK editor was bugging me, emailing to ask how the new book was going, and finally I wrote a blog all about the protagonist in my new novel, and how hard it is to get exactly the right name for a character. I explained how Mila somehow sounded exotic and grounded at once, and that it felt perfect. But there was no Mila and there was no book; I figured it would gain me some time—my editor always read my blog. More unproductive months passed, I was panicked that I'd never write another book. Then one day, I took my dogs to Hampstead Heath, and a little Bedlington terrier ran up to me, all friendly and sweet. As I patted her, I noticed that the name on the tag was Mila. I'm not really into signs and portents, but it did feel like someone up there telling me to get to work. So I went home, sat down at my computer and wrote the first line of my new novel: "I was named after a dog. A Bedlington Terrier." And I was off. The whole book had arrived in my head. Occasionally writing is stunningly magical—most of the time it's hard work and angst.
WA: As an American expat living in London, what do you miss about this side of the pond? What do you not miss?
MR: I don't miss the politics, though I never loved America more than when we elected Obama (I still vote and pay taxes in the U.S.) The Tea Party, the NRA, the opposition to affordable healthcare all make me want to weep—but I do miss the enthusiasm and the entrepreneurial spirit, not to mention the fabulous anarchic intelligence that results in things like iPhones and Breaking Bad.
I also miss bagels. And sushi.
WA: What is the very first bedtime story you can remember?
MR: My mother was a wonderful reader—all our early bedtime stories were courtesy of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. To this day, iambic pentameter makes me incredibly drowsy.
William Alexander won the National Book Award in 2012 for his debut novel, Goblin Secrets, and the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. He studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at the Clarion Workshop. He teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.