Before Easter, we did a fantastic school event with YA author Virginia Bergin, author of 'The Rain' and it's newly-published sequel 'The Storm'. Fantastic because Virginia was born and brought up in Abingdon...and we got to take her back to her old school, Fitzharrys.
The Rain tells the story of Ruby Morris, and what happens when something seeds the rainclouds and wipes out large numbers of the world's population. What really sets this dystopian novel for young adults apart - and why we love it - is it's British setting, and the central character of Ruby - who already had plenty of problems before the world started to end...
As you might guess, having always been a writer, Virginia was never the most likely pupil to be up on stage when at school, so the opportunity to stand up and talk to pupils was both exciting and terrifying.
After an (understandable) wobble at the start, Virginia got into her stride, and if there is one thing Virginia can do brilliantly it's to pick a great piece from her book, and read it to great effect. The pupils were stunned, and responded brilliantly...
Virginia signed copies for students, and gave them advice on everything to do with writing their own books.
Given her Abingdon heritage, we were particularly interested to learn as much about her writing life as possible - particularly with 'The Rain' coming out as H2O in the US (with an extremely cool cover with the effect of drops of rain burning through the book jacket!). Here's what she said...
Five Questions with...Virginia Bergin's Writing Life
1. What are you working on at the moment?
Being a multi-tasking octopus! Having just got back from The Rain/The Storm UK schools tour, I’ve got tons of news posts to do for my website, blogs to write, photos to post, emails to respond to and people to thank (including you, Mr Mostly Books!), plus Rain has just come out in Germany and I need to work on the American version of The Storm. Writing-wise, it’s pretty quiet – which is no bad thing as last year was non-stop crazy – but I’ve got a couple of new story ideas I’m thinking about. I can’t say more than that because they’re top secret at the moment!
2. What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Hmmm . . . I’ve been writing seriously for about 20 years, so I’ve taken part in a lot of workshops and courses and writers’ groups and picked up a lot of tips . . . but I think you learn more by doing, so I’m going to tell you my favourite writing exercise instead! It works best when you don’t know why you’re doing the first part, but . . .
Pick a subject – any subject – and give yourself 5 minutes to write down as many words as you can think of that you’d associate with it. Your subject could be ‘rain’, for example, so you’d write down things like ‘pouring’, ‘wet’, ‘drip’, ‘drop’, ‘torrential’, ‘cloud’, ‘storm’, etc. Be thorough. Be imaginative. Test your vocabulary.
Now . . . give yourself 10-15 minutes to write a seriously chunky paragraph all about rain WITHOUT USING ANY OF THOSE WORDS.
(You can even do this with a friend; just swap your lists of banned words and challenge your friend to write about your subject.)
It is fiendishly difficult – but it will really push your writing!
3. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
OK, I'm going to change this question to 'Writing for Young Adults', OK? OK. The best thing? Up until the Rain/Storm schools tour, I would have said the best thing was the freedom it gives you. I like to have quite big/serious themes and ideas in my writing, but I also like to tell a cracking good story – and when I write for young adults I feel free to do that. It’s really liberating! But . . . maybe now I would say it’s getting to meet young people. It was brilliant!
The worst thing? Not having enough time to chat to those young people! Students usually have to rush off to their next lesson, I need to make sure I sign everyone’s book, so we’re all under time pressure. It’s still great to meet everyone, though!
4. Do you have a writer’s survival kit, e.g. a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
No . . . but I think I work best in my little writing room in my flat. I’ve tried writing in other locations, but I find it too distracting. I’m so used to working in this tiny room I don’t even see the walls, I just see whatever it is I’m working on. Then I step out of it and realise my kitchen is in a mess and I’ve forgotten to go shopping.
5. What was your biggest breakthrough?
Both in terms of my own writing and in terms of success in the outside world, it has to be The Rain. When I was writing the first draft, there was a time when I wanted to stop. Apart from the usual worry about whether what I was writing would be any good, I was afraid it was too horrific a story to write . . . but I found I couldn’t abandon Ruby Morris, my main character, so I kept going.
I did it! I finished a novel! And then Macmillan wanted to buy it!