Meg Rosoff is the brilliant creator of the hilarious, irreverent, thought-provoking There Is No Dog, which you can begin reading on Figment for a limited time here. There Is No Dog wonders what life would be like if our divine creator were one of the less responsible creatures you can think of: a teenage boy. Worrisome, isn’t it? Below, Meg talks to us about There Is No Dog and her writing life.
Describe There Is No Dog in 5 words.
In the beginning there was Bob. (Sorry, six words.)
Your books have wildly imaginative plots: you’ve written about a boy who rescues his baby brother from a near-death experience and then becomes convinced that Fate is out to get him; about cousins trapped on their farm by a raging war in the not-so-distant-future, and about obsessive friendships. In There Is No Dog, you create a world in which God is a teenage boy. Where do you get your ideas?
I get my ideas from pretty much the same place that all writers (and all people, for that matter) get theirs–from the deep dark recesses of my strange and twisted brain.
So what do you think: is There Is No Dog blasphemous?
The definition of blasphemy is ‘Irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things,’ so I’m afraid I have to agree that it is highly irreverent and therefore blasphemous. Having said that, I believe strongly in being irreverent whenever possible. Reverence stops people from asking difficult questions, and difficult questions are the most important ones to ask.
Your books feature a great pantheon of pets. The imaginary greyhound in Just in Case is wonderful, but there’s a special place in our hearts for little Eck, Bob’s pet in There Is No Dog. How would you describe an Eck to someone who’s never seen one? What purpose do pets serve in your stories?
I love the Eck too. He’s the very last of his species, one of the millions of species Bob created without giving the process quite enough thought. The Eck may or may not have the best tasting meat in 9,000 galaxies, which may or may not be the reason Ecks are nearly extinct. He looks like the love child of a penguin and an anteater, and he’s a sensitive creature, an innocent–rather like a child. He’s got a strong sense of justice but is also (unlike most animals, I think) keenly aware of his own mortality. It’s not giving away too much to say that he is gambled away in a poker game early on in the book, and throughout the story his future is very much in doubt. He worries about being dead, and questions what sort of god would create a creature who is mortal and KNOWS he’s mortal–which strikes him as the ultimate cruelty. So in a way, he’s the voice of humanity as well.
I’ve tried to write books without animals, but they always somehow creep in. I think it’s a bit like the idea of the Demon in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series–the animals serve as a foils and alter-egos to the human characters, sometimes as the conscience of humanity.
You’ve complained in the past about editors coming up with book ideas you’d never want to write. What’s the worst book idea anyone’s ever thrown at you?
To be fair, the only real book idea my editors presented to me was a prequel/sequel to Wuthering Heights. And it’s not that it’s such a bad idea (there’s clearly a story in Heathcliff’s origins on the streets of Liverpool), it’s just that it’s not the way I write books. The idea has to come from something that interests me, from inside my own brain. It’s not true of everyone, though–some people love having editors come up with ideas for them. And I suppose you could argue that a prequel to Wuthering Heights is a much better idea than the story of a 17-year-old girl who gives birth to a moose, which is one of my many weird creations.
Your hobbies include gardening and horseback riding. How do those outdoor activities impact your writing?
I’m not really a gardener. I moved into a house with a big garden about 12 years ago. It looked like a jungle, so for a couple of years I worked to clear and replant it. Now I’ve abandoned it and it’s returning to jungle again.
Horses are my big passion–I share a big Irish Sport Horse and ride as often as I can. It’s completely absorbing, completely physical–the opposite of writing–so it clears my brain. I started learning dressage when I was 50, and it’s amazing to start a really difficult new discipline at that age. It keeps your mind flexible–though I’ve had a few too many falls on my head, which I’m sure doesn’t help. Proper dressage is very very hard to do well, and requires harmony, balance, strength, courage, softness–all qualities that you can find in good writing. There are lots of parallels between riding and writing, and when I teach writing I can bore my students for hours on the subject. When I first started riding, I figured I’d be really good at dressage in about a year. It’s been five years now, and I’m just beginning.
Your Printz-winning debut novel, 2004’s How I Live Now, is becoming a movie. Are you excited? Worried? Do you have any expectations about how the world of your book will translate to the big screen?
The film rights were bought back in 2003 so I’ve tried to keep my excitement in check, knowing that it’s a very long process. But now we’ve got an amazing director (Kevin McDonald, Last King of Scotland) and a really stunning actress playing Daisy (Saoirse Ronan, who was nominated for an Oscar for Atonement) and I’m allowing myself to get just a teensy bit excited. So many things have to go right to make a brilliant movie, that I try not to have too many expectations. But I really trust the team that is making the film, so secretly I think it might turn out to be really amazing. I don’t worry about it–no matter what happens, it’s great to watch it happen, and the book stays the same regardless.
Before you became a full-time writer, you worked in advertising. Has it helped you in your fiction writing?
I hated working in advertising, but it was a very useful learning experience. I learned that no one is sitting around waiting for my books–I have to make people want to read them. You learn from advertising to use as few words as possible and to make people paint pictures in their heads, rather than spelling everything out. I also appreciate every single day that I don’t have to work in an ad agency, so even when I’m wrestling with a particularly diabolical manuscript, I feel incredibly lucky.
You just sent your new book off to your editor. What can you tell us about Picture Me Gone?
Picture Me Gone is about a man who walks out of his house one day, leaving his wife and baby. No one quite knows why he’s left, and his best friend comes over from England with his 12 year old daughter to find him and help solve the mystery.
It’s a book about how adults lie to children, and to themselves, and of course there’s a rather lovely dog in it.