steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Geraldine McCaughrean, and Writing About What You (Don't) Believe In

Yesterday evening I went to see Geraldine McCaughrean, Gillian Cross, Sally Prue and Tim Bowler promote their latest books at Bristol Central Library - the last leg of a British-Isle-wide OUP tour. I got the time wrong and turned up early, which was no big deal except that it meant I also had to leave early, before the wine and chit-chat, so I really only got to hear the authors talk about their books, and not to interact with them.

I admire more than one of these writers (no names, no packdrill) but it strikes me as odd that McCaughrean in particular - such an interesting, original, versatile author - has received so little academic attention. If I hadn't already got involved in two of the Palgrave New Casebooks, I think I'd propose one on her. Maybe someone else will?

It may well be, of course, that her very versatility has worked against her in this respect. You never know what you're going to get when you open a new McCaughrean novel, and while for some of us this is a dazzling strength, perhaps it makes her hard to write about.

Last night she was talking about The Positively Last Performance, a book she was commissioned to write in order to celebrate the town of Margate, and particularly its Theatre Royal - which she imagines as being populated by ghosts of various eras. This sounds a little too like The Graveyard Book for comfort, I thought, and in retrospect it still does, but I forgot that for the time she was reading from it. She's a wonderful stylist, and makes Gaiman seem workmanlike by comparison (albeit a very competent workman). Also, my family-historian sense started tingling: I have relatives in Margate from the second half of the eighteenth century, just when the theatre was in its early days.

There was one thing she said, though, which both intrigued and puzzled me. She confessed that she hesitated to write about ghosts because she didn't believe in them and indeed had theological objections to belief in them. (McCaughrean is a Christian.) On one level, this seems rather odd. Surely you don't have to believe in everything you write about? Isn't that why it's called fiction? Did H. P. Lovecraft believe in Chthulhu?

Another part of me responds, of course you must believe in everything you write! If it wasn't true before, it certainly will be once you've conjured it. This is magical thinking, I know - but isn't the point that all thinking is magical, if you do it right? One of the main rules for doing it right, in my view, is that you shouldn't write against the grain of your nature. So I think McCaughrean was actually correct - although I doubt she would welcome this defence.
Tags: books, bristol, real life
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