Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Graham Marks

Graham MarksGraham Marks had his first book of poetry published while he was at art school, studying graphic design. After a successful career as an art director he decided it was time for a change and now works as a journalist and author. He has written everything from comic strips and film tie-ins to advertising copy and novels, and he has most recently been highly acclaimed for his Young Adult books.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Anywhere. It always comes as a complete surprise when an idea pops up out of the blue, sticks around and won't go away.

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

Usually it's the situation, closely followed by the characters, then the question: 'What next?', which is where the plot comes in.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do about it?

Simple answer: No. Writing is my job, and I will find a way to do it...of course, sometimes I'm more inspired than others.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

There's really only two things you can do: Read a lot (as widely as possible) and write a lot.

Do you have favourite authors or books yourself? Who are they?

I love William Gibson for his enormous imagination and exciting use of language, Elmore Leonard, who taught me all I know about dialogue, and Carl Hiaasen for unforgettable characters, and humour.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

The Prisoner of Zenda

How much does your editor change what you write? What relationship do you have with your editor?

That does depend on the editor, but apart from my love of the semi-colon, usually they pull me up over plot inconsistencies. Which, as I'm a fan of complex plots, isn't something that's likely to change.

Do you feel a tension between writing what you know will sell and writing what you would like to write?

I might do, if I had any idea what will sell.

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?

Straight after I've made a few rough notes and have convinced myself that I've got something worth spending some time on. After that it's just me and the keyboard.

What control do you have over your book cover (and your illustrations)?

I have an opinion, which is sometimes listened to, and which is sometimes right. But generally, you have to allow the designers and marketeers to do their job, as I wouldn't want them trying to tell me how to do mine.

Do you write with a particular age group in mind? How does the target age group affect your writing?

Yes, I do. The choice affects how I write because of (a) language level, (b) the voice of the characters and (c) the kind of plot that's suitable for the age range.

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?

I have no idea. I used to want to be a Private Eye when I was a kid, so maybe I'd try that.

At what stage did you know you wanted to become an author?

It kind of crept up on me, becoming clearer when I realised I was fed up with being a Graphic Designer/Creative Director.

The English Association is running a competition about Dickens for primary age children throughout 2011. If you had any memories of Dickens from your childhood or if Dickens is special to you in any way, feel free to add any comments about him.

I got landed with Little Dorrit for my 'A' Level (which is, in my opinion, not Dickens's finest hour - basically an Oliver Twist redux, with a girl in the Oliver role) and it put me off him for life...


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