What makes a book great in your eyes?
Shine! So many books don’t have it, but my favourite authors do. Shine is difficult to define, but it has to do with originality, writing style and character. Not every book by a shiny author will have it. In some cases, quite flawed first books have shine, which is often lost in the authors’ more technically-proficient later books. Originality, to me, is inbuilt in an author. Some people come up with ideas that are unmistakably their own.
It is impossible for me to imagine Deep Secret or Black Maria being written by anyone other than the brilliant Diana Wynne Jones. Her characters are equally brilliant—rounded people with real faults and virtues. For anyone wanting to learn style, I’d say get hold of Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover or read the passage at the beginning of the Blossoming Stones chapter in Monica Edwards’ Hidden in a Dream. I am probably biased, but I think the best of my own books have shine…at least, for me. That’s probably because I wrote them to my own taste. Under the Waterfall is one of the books I wanted to write, and I think it shows.
What is the biggest piece of your advice you can give a beginning writer?
Learn to write proper grammar and get your structure and characterisation right before you send anything to a publisher. Then decide if you’re going to write purely for yourself or for the market. Some lucky people get to do both, but most don’t. Therefore, you should decide what is most important to you and write accordingly.
Name one thing readers don’t know about you.
That I know the obsolete plural of toe!
Who is your favorite all-time author?
I have three—Diana Wynne Jones, Elizabeth Marie Pope and Margaret Mahy. I love about 1/3 of the output of two of them. EMP is a bit different—she wrote only two novels. One is good. The other is brilliant.
How do you deal with the dreaded writer’s block?
I don’t get it. To me, it’s like saying a teacher gets teacher’s block or a farmer gets farmer’s block. Just imagine if a dairy farmer got up one morning and claimed he couldn’t bring himself to milk the cows! You’d give him a sharp kick in the pants and say get on with it. He might not do the most stylish milking of his life, but milk there would be.
If you had the opportunity to say one thing to your readers, what would that be?
Buy lots of copies of my books. You know you want to!
To find out more about me and my books—the books are more exciting—check out my website at www.sallyodgers.com