As we were poking around doing research, however, we were somewhat surprised to find that Marcus actually does NOT write in a grim, dark cave with a single burning candle and he actually does NOT roam the English countryside wrapped up in long black cloaks. (I know, our jaws dropped, too.) Read on for a delightful conversation with one of the most fascinating guests we've ever had at The Midnight Garden.
That's funny. :-) Yes I'm a happy person and have a good life and yet I do find that people expect me to be a total gloom-monger because of what I write! Ultimately, writing is no more than fiction, and I can't stand people who get too pretentious about it. That's not to say that I don't take my work very seriously, but you don't have to live the way your characters do. And you know it might sound weird to say but it's actually a lot of fun sometimes when you're dishing out the dark stuff. In a novel, I mean.
Did you imagine any particular place/time for Blessed Island and its wretched inhabitants?
Blessed Island is based VERY closely, in appearance at least, on the Swedish island of Brännö in the Gothenburg Archipelago. I was living there at the time I wrote the book and it was a big influence on the novel.
Who would play your Eric and Merle in a film adaptation?
I think a film adaption of this book is impossible, since Erik and Merle are a total of seven different people each. That sort of thing can work in written form but it would ask a lot of a cinema audience to follow the changes in the protagonists through seven incarnations. My film agent and others think it would be possible but I remain to be convinced!
What kind of research did you do for Midwinterblood?
This was a book with much less research than others I have written. There was some stuff about orchids, and some stuff about the etymology of names and words. A little bit about the painting (see below) and a wee bit about fighter planes. But overall much much less than a book like Revolver, which, although a very short book, took a very long time to research.
From the author's note, we're told that the painting "Midvinterblot" referenced in the book is a real work of art. What drew you to it, and how did this spark your idea for this story?
I came across the painting by accident some years ago, and immediately knew I wanted to write a book 'based' on it. But I also immediately knew that I didn't just want to tell the story of what imagined was happening in the painting. It took four or five years, until I saw the painting again to come up with the idea of seven stories all about love and sacrifice and make the scene in the painting the final one of those. Once I had that idea, the rest of the book came very quickly and after a frantic bit of research I was away and writing quickly. Which is always a nice feeling for an author.
The book is so intricately plotted, with so many connective threads that are both physical and emotional. My immediate reaction after I finished the novel was "I must go back and reread this again!" How did you approach mapping something like this out? Did you start out with the idea of writing a generational story?
I've answered some of that above: the idea of seven generations was the missing piece of the puzzle, and when I got that, it quickly led to the rest of the book appearing. As for the plotting, it seems quite complicated, that's true, but I did what I always do with my books; namely I made a large map on big sheet of paper, mapping out each story and how they all interconnect.
Here's a page from my notebook, and that map: (click to enlarge)
The idea of soul mates meeting again and again over time is certainly a romantic one, and I especially love that your star-crossed pair appear in different contexts with one another. Do you believe in the idea of reincarnation yourself?
No. I don't think so. Although I find it wisest and easiest never to be too sure about anything. ;-) Slightly more seriously: for me the idea was not so much about reincarnation, but more about the other potential lives we might have lived; who else we might have been.
How does Norse mythology figure in/influence Midwinterblood?
It's there but not in a massive way. The scene in the original painting "Midvinterblot" depicts the sacrifice of King Domaldr from pre-Christian Sweden: something that may or may not have happened, but which informed the theme of the book, or one of them at least: sacrifice in all its forms.
The ending is just brutal. I read this several weeks ago, and it still haunts me. Have you ever encountered resistance to your work?
SPOILER WARNING: Skip over this answer if you haven't read the book yet. I'm surprised I don't get more feedback of that sort: I think you're right, it is brutal. But it kind of had to be like that. I actually wrote three endings for the book and my editor and I decided that they had to die: it's the message of the book, and yet one that I hope is ultimately uplifting, that although they die they are reunited in death. There’s also an implication that the whole cycle will start again, on and on, through time, forever.
Has your editor ever asked you to tone anything down?
I occasionally have conversations with my editor about toning something down, but not that often. I don't like to write out and out gore, but sometimes you do need a punch or two to make your point..
Why do you think readers, and perhaps children in particular, are drawn to horror?
That's a BIG question, one that it would take a book to answer properly. In fact I read a book on that subject once, which suggested it's because the centres for fear and pleasure are next to each other in the brain... Who knows if that's right, but it's the name reason that most of us like to be scared witless on a roller coaster. It's a safe kind of danger. None of us want to be scared for real, but we like it when it's pretend: a horror film, a scary novel. It's a fascinating issue.
What's the most memorable/touching/funny/weird encounter you've had with a fan?
That's a great question. There are a few lovely things that have happened; one was a boy who wrote to me about a younger series of books I write (The Raven Mysteries: UK only :-( but available online) who had written and drawn his own version of one of my books. After a few emails I met him at a festival event and I decided to put the character he'd come up with into the final book in the series. He was really happy and so was I.
Do you ever make it to the States for tours or speaking engagements?
Yes, from time to time. Though not enough! I'm hoping to come out later this year if we can work the timings to make sense. It's a big trip but my girlfriend is from New York so we try and get back to see her mom from time to time.
Ah, we'd love to see more of you here! I understand you worked in publishing in the UK before you became an author. I'm curious how children's publishing differs from the American market, and if you'd care to share your thoughts on publishing trends in both countries. We definitely see certain genres experiencing ebbs and flows in popularity here in the U.S., and I wonder sometimes if other markets are perhaps less influenced by commercial demand.
I'd love to tell you that that's true, but I don't think so. We seem to be just as driven by trends and fashions as the US market is, but I think it's also true that in both markets there are the occasional brave publishers who find a book that's a bit different and have the courage to publish it. That's true of my UK publisher, Orion, and I think it's true of my US one, Roaring Brook. It's reassuring that someone's still keen to find something new and different or we'd all get bored very quickly... That's what gets missed by the the pressure to follow the trends: the fact that we need an injection of something new from time to time to keep us all moving along, and finding new things to fall in love with.
We certainly don't see too many stories like Midwinterblood written on this side of the pond for young adults; there's a depth, complexity, and sophistication in it that is wonderful. We're big fans of Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press as well, they've delivered some of the most unusual, daring YA novels in recent memory.
Are there specific contemporary writers whose work you admire or would recommend, particularly for young adult readers?
I'm a big fan of David Almond, Annabel Pitcher, Margo Lanagan and well too many more to mention.
What future projects we can expect to see from you?
I've just delivered a new YA novel. It's called She Is Not Invisible. I'll say no more about it at the moment. I also VERY happy to say I'm about to sign a new contract with First Second for a graphic novel. I'm working with Thomas Taylor, an illustrator friend of mine, and we're both very excited about getting that underway. But that won't be out for ages...
We're looking forward to hearing more about your future projects. Thanks so much for chatting with us, Marcus! It's been a pleasure having you here.
You're welcome, some really cool questions, so thanks to you too!
About the Author
Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in East Kent in the South-east of England. He now divides his time between a small village near Cambridge and the French Alps.
Alongside a 16 year career in publishing he established himself as a widely-admired writer of YA fiction; he is the winner of many prizes, most notably the Branford-Boase Award for a debut novel (Floodland), and the Booktrust Teenage Prize (My Swordhand is Singing). His books have been shortlisted for over thirty other awards, including the Carnegie Medal (four times), the Edgar Allan Poe Award (twice) and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (four times). He is the recipient of a Printz Honor, for Revolver.
Find Marcus online on his website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook.
Check out the rest of the Midwinterblood Blog Tour stops, too!
Win a copy of Midwinterblood!
Thanks to our friends at Roaring Brook Press, we have a beautiful finished copy of Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick to offer one of our lucky readers. All you need to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form (complete rules through the link) and leave a thoughtful comment below. Open to U.S. and Canadian residents aged 18 and over, or 13 and older with parental permission. Good luck!
Midwinterblood is available in stores and online at Amazon and The Book Depository. Read our rave review published last week! Photographs courtesy of the author.
a Rafflecopter giveaway