Sunday, June 29, 2008

People of Influence # 2

Saw Markus Zusak, the author of ‘The Book Thief’ at Gleebooks this afternoon, as part of the monthly ‘Book Club’ author events. Not only was he very good looking, he was also a warm and open personality.

A few inspiring comments:

Of sharing his work-in-progress with friends and family he says he doesn’t really get into that – not because he is an ‘artiste’ who won’t share his work before it is ready, but because he figures ‘I got myself into this mess and I’m the only one who can help me find the way out.’

He accidentally talks of ‘Liesels sister’ when talking of the central character’s brother dying on a train in the beginning of the book. The assembled crowd murmured ‘brother’ – a collective exhalation and momentary horrified chuckling that the author himself would make a faux pas about his own book. It was clear where the crowd’s loyalty was, even when faced between choosing between the creator and his work. An author releasing his work to the public is also about surrender and giving it a chance to create its own life and become part of other people too.

He wrote the prologue to make sure that the wrong people didn’t read the book. The first 15 pages aren’t the easiest to read and a few people admitted they put the book down and walked away. It’s the sort of book that requires the passionate endorsement of those who have read it – to encourage others to ‘get past’ the introduction.

Zusak chose Death to be the narrator and inevitable comparisons to Terry Pratchett's ‘Death takes a Holiday’ emerge. Certainly other books about Nazi Germany have been written. An audience member asks about how that could influence his writing. But Zusak points out that ‘you find your own way’.

Another question relates to research and Zusak talks of other historical fiction writers who he speaks to at writer’s festivals – who claim they could research forever. But he says ‘Doing the work is the best research’ and that if a reader wants to know more about certain facts they can go and look it up. He wants the research to be secondary to the story.

He also wrote an actual message in my signed copy, not just a squiggle.

From the Random House microsite: It took seven years to get published and there were countless daily failures, but I’m glad those failures and rejections happened. They made me realise that what I was writing just wasn’t good enough – so I made myself improve.

I am momentarily smitten and will search out his other 4 books. They’re all categorized as ‘young adult fiction’.

People of Influence # 1

Andrew Denton has a new show on ABC TV – ‘Elders’. The program introduction talks of how we are a society obsessed with youth. The 6 part series is made up of interviews with elders of our society and their views. Two weeks ago the subject was 82 year old David Attenborough.

Three comments in particular resonated:
Q: What is the secret of a successful marriage?
A: Tolerance. A person who questions whether the decision they have made, or are yet to make, is the right one is not going to be happy. But once the person has made a commitment to the notion of being part of a family they can work towards a successful marriage.

Attenborough’s father was a teacher by profession and a great teacher by nature – because he encouraged a young Attenborough to ask questions and find the answers himself. Attenborough loved perusing the rock cliffs near his home. When he would find a fossil he would take it to his father who would say ‘How interesting. A sea fossil found in the middle of Britain. How do you think it got there?’ and a young Attenborough would go to the library and find the answers and the story of the fossil.

Attenborough also pointed out that ‘Early humans lived with enough space around them that if they are confronted with people they didn’t like – they had the space to find people they did agree with. The over-populated planet means that humans don’t have the space to find their own way. But wherever there is 1) female emancipation and education and 2) the choice of when to reproduce then the birth rate can begin to decline and the human balance needed can be readdressed.’

This rang true in an Attenborough documentary I saw recently about pandas – the same theory applied. That pandas were faced with more confrontation as their natural environment was being depleted.