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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Michael Lawrence Interview

Michael Lawrence and I go way back.  Like 5 or 6 years back.  I read his book A CRACK IN THE LINE, the first of the Withern Rise trilogy while doing book reviews for www.myshelf.com  I was so impressed with the book that I decided to interview him for Myshelf's author of the month feature.  I contacted him via email, unknowingly starting a regular correspondence that would last approx. 18 months.  At that time, I became a mom and dropped off the face of the earth for awhile.  But let me back up a bit.  
     Michael's book combined with my subconscious, which had been simmering a story idea for 2 years.  It hit me like the cliche ton of bricks.  My book had to be a paranormal YA novel!  Well, over the years, that book became DREAM GIRL which I know you are all anxious for me to finish revising and get published.  
     After A CRACK IN THE LINE, I waited impatiently for book 2 to come along, SMALL ETERNITIES.  It was every bit as amazing as the first, and, luckily, it came out in the UK shortly after I read A CRACK IN THE LINE.  The final book, THE UNDERWOOD SEE made me wait longer, as he was writing it while we were corresponding.  As a result of the correspondence, Michael included a small homage to yours truly in that last book.  Those of you who've known me since before 2005 must drop everything right now, buy all three books and tell me when you've discovered what it is in THE UNDERWOOD SEE that I'm referring to.  For those of you who didn't know me, buy the books, read them and I'll tell you what it is.  Go ahead, the links are right here.  The interview will still be here when you get back....
Ok, now we can get on with things.  
    A CRACK IN THE LINE was up for a Printz award.  Let me tell you, I was thoroughly disappointed that it didn't win.  It should have.  It should have won a great many awards.  If I had anything to do with it, it would have.  
    Michael is such a talented fellow that he writes books for all age levels.  He's done an adorable series for babies, Baby Loves.  He's written the Jiggy McCue books for elementary school kids. He wrote his own memoir for adults which I really enjoyed, MILKING THE NOVELTY, which is only available through Michael.  And those are just the ones I've read.  There are more.  Buy them.
     So I'd like to introduce you to Michael Lawrence, someone I admire greatly as a brilliant author and a really great person who tolerates numerous emails from an American wannabe author.  
On location doing research for his book, JUBY'S ROOK

RW (Restless Writer).  It seems that the YA genre is full of trilogies and series these days.  How did you approach editors with Withern Rise?  Did you know it would be a trilogy when you started writing it?

ML. A Crack in the Line, volume one of the Withern Rise trilogy, was a slightly expanded rewrite of my first published book for children, When the Snow Falls, published in England (but nowhere else) in 1995. Some time after publication of Snow Falls I began to get an itch to further explore the premise of life alternatives thrown up by chance and circumstance, but for older readers. I only approached two editors with the proposition, and the second of them accepted it, probably because she had already published other books of mine. Although I intended The Aldous Lexicon (my English title) to be a trilogy I had no idea what would go into the second and third volumes until I came to write them, but I dropped little things in the first volume (and the second when I came to it) that seemed to have no business there, which meant that I had to find a reason for their presence in the next volume or volumes in due course. The story was thus a sort of unfolding puzzle for me, but I liked that process. It meant that I couldn’t write on automatic.

RW.  You write for very young children through adult.  Do you prefer writing for one age group more than the rest?

ML. I’ve always liked variety, though writing for children can be both limiting and frustrating as there are times when I want to use language and plot devices that would be beyond the young reader. 

RW.  The first time I interviewed you, I asked if you thought you'd tire of writing.  You said "I seem to change interests and professions every ten years or so. 2005 is my tenth year as a published writer, so I’m a bit restless at the moment, wondering what I can do to spice things up a bit."  So, 2010 marks year 15 as a published writer.  Have you found a way to 'spice things up' or are you searching for a new direction?

ML. Five years ago I put up a shelf that fell down. So I’m still writing. But the restlessness has not gone away. Far from it. Ever feel that you’ve strayed into the wrong reality? If so, you might be in mine.

RW.  Since you've been publishing for 15 years, how do you continue to generate ideas for your books?  What moves you along when the muse isn't smiling on you?

ML. I’ve never needed a muse, smiling or scowling. I’m one of those unfortunate individuals who has too many ideas to sleep through more than three nights a week. There are times when I long for writer’s block. What peace!

RW.  You've written many great books with memorable and quirky characters.  Is there any character that has remained with you or do they 'go away' when you've finished their book(s)?

ML. When I finish a book I’m out of it immediately and working on the next one. My characters are creations, that’s all, and disposable. Plenty more where they came from. I recently lost a close friend from childhood. He was real. He stays with me.

RW.  BABY CHRISTMAS has become a holiday classic in my house.  Did you find any major difference in selling a seasonal book?  Would you want to do more seasonal books?

ML. It took about a decade to find a publisher for Baby Christmas. Publisher after publisher turned it down, but after it came out I was asked to write a sequel. This I did – setting it on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. It was turned down on the assumption that buyers of Christmas books wouldn’t be interested in an after-Christmas book. Pity. It was a fun idea.

RW.  I think many people are drawn to writing and publishing because they want their words to live on and touch other people.  Which of your books are you most proud of? 

ML. Proud of? Tricky. I get absolutely no buzz out of seeing my books in shops, libraries or anywhere else. I might think fondly back on something I’ve written, but that’s about as close to ‘proud’ as I get. The book I think most highly of is the one that will be in my head next week, or the week after.

RW.  Where is your favorite place to refresh and rejuvenate your mind?

ML. I have a wooden lodge on the coast of North Cornwall, about an hour and a half’s drive from where I live. I go there for a week or so at a time, to work. It’s very quiet there. There’s no telephone and I receive no mail there. My view is of a field of grazing cows, hills dotted with walkers, and a small rocky bay. At night the sky, when not heavy with cloud, is filled with stars. It suits me very well.

RW.  What is the worst advice you've ever been given, about anything.

ML. ‘Don’t do it.’

RW.  What is the best thing that's happened to you because of your writing?

ML. Being able to give up sleeping on park benches under newspaper. For a while anyway...

RW.  I confess that I often procrastinate when I could be writing.  Facebook is a fabulous procrastination tool for me.  Do you procrastinate when you should be writing?  What is your diversion of choice?

ML. Facebook holds no allure for me. My preferred diversion? I write music of various kinds, including songs. No one hears these things. They’re for me alone, but hugely satisfying to produce and record. 

RW.  The publishing world is in an uproar over the future of publishing and digital rights.  Has any of this affected you and the work you're currently doing? 

ML. Book sales are way down at present for most authors, including me, though I doubt the reason is entirely the digital market. Ebooks could be the thing of the future, however, and accordingly I have just signed a contract for sixteen of my books to be made available in that format over the next year. These include the three Withern Rise books (the English version, as The Aldous Lexicon).

RW.  Do you have a favorite book that you find yourself coming back to?

ML. Nope. Tons of music, though.

RW.  You used to work as a photographer, do you think the artistic process of photography has influenced the way you write?  Do you still do photography for fun?

ML. These days I have no interest in taking pictures other than to record things or places I wish to remember or as an aid to my writing. When about to start work on a novel that requires a vivid setting I go to some lengths to find a real location for my characters to inhabit. I’ve just finished a comic novel about a murder weekend that goes wrong. Before starting it I searched quite widely for a house to set it in, and eventually found a likely prospect and wangled a guided tour by the owners. It was a huge dark place, with ivy over much of it, and a bell tower, and battlements, rambling grounds, and so on. I took a stack of pictures, which I spread over my desk in order to feel in touch with the place while moving my characters around its various rooms and parts. I did something similar during the three years in which I wrote The Aldous Lexicon. Withern Rise, the house in the trilogy, is the house I was born in, which overlooked a quiet stretch of English river. During the writing I revisited it often, photographed it and made notes through all the seasons, to ensure that every description was as precise as I could make it.

RW.  Are you ever in the States?  If so, how could I wrangle you to Michigan for a pint?

ML. The Big Invite has yet to arrive, and I doubt that it will. You need to hit the best-seller lists for that kind of interest, and I’ve only sold a couple of million books or so. Peanuts.


  1. Okay - so you piqued my interest and I got the books from the library. Read them all in two days last weekend - definitely enjoyed them! It's been awhile since I've read a young adult book. Something about these books - writing style, voice reminded me a lot of a series called "The Dark is Rising" that I really enjoyed as a kid.

    Anyways - I read them because of your hint about you and of course, I got it right away. Before I got to that book though, I was imagining other things - primarily (and this will make you laugh) that one of the characters would propose to the other by singing to them - it made sense in my brain. Pre-2005, what would be unique about you and there are definitely couples in this book - made me laugh when I saw how simple it was :)

  2. Ha ha! Glad I managed to make someone curious. I just read them in a couple days waiting for Michael to respond to the interview questions. Even though I knew what would ultimately happen, it was still interesting. I love the exploration of reality. That's always fun to ponder.
    So who out there is next? Read the books! Find the clue! Jen got it, how about you! (I totally didn't mean to make that rhyme.)