Meg Rosoff: interview
Carnegie winner Meg Rosoff tells Time Out why London kids grow up cooler than their suburban peers
‘This is going to be the shortest interview in the history of the world,’ says Meg Rosoff apologetically. Blowing on a milky coffee in her north London home where I’ve come to talk about teenagers in London, she adds: ‘I don’t think I know very much about teenagers.’
Which might come as a surprise to readers of her three children’s novels. Each features a teenaged protagonist so believable that they almost exist in your memory as a real person: fifteen-year-old Daisy in Rosoff’s award-winning debut, ‘How I Live Now’; hunted 16-year-old Justin in ‘Just In Case’ – for which she has just been awarded the Carnegie prize – and, out in August, her latest, set in a fictional, grim East Anglian boys’ boarding school in 1962. ‘I don’t think that I could write about a 35-year-old,’ she admits.
‘People talk about writing convincing teenagers like it’s a really clever thing to do,’ says Rosoff, ‘but it comes incredibly naturally to me. Which, of course, is slightly a worry. Writing about teenagers is partly because of terminal immaturity on my part, and partly because I take a lot of mid-life crises and put them in 16-year-olds. What looks psychotic in a 45-year-old can look almost perfectly natural in a 16-year-old.
Teenagers are very dark, I think. That’s all the goth and emo stuff. They’re experiencing a lot of stuff that adults experience, but in a much more raw way. It’s that extremity that I’m interested in, to be able to go down so far and come up so quickly. Also, it’s a period of time before the shutters go down. Grown-ups don’t wake up each morning thinking about eternal nothingness and death, whereas kids haven’t figured out how to black that all out yet.’
While Rosoff hasn’t any teenagers of her own (yet – her daughter Gloria is ten years old), she admits to a regular stream of teenage visitors. Getting the entertainment right can be tricky, she says.
‘I remember taking my 12-year-old nephew to Archway pool and saying “it’s really cool, you’ll love it”. He just wasn’t remotely interested, of course. Teenagers want all the really “city” stuff, things they can’t get out in the suburbs.’
And as to whether the city or the suburbs are the best place for children, Rosoff has no doubt: ‘There is nothing worse than the suburbs. The suburbs are like the ninth circle of hell. There’s an overwhelming sense of paranoia in the suburbs. People there seem so much more paranoid to me than people in the city about their kids being kidnapped or their parties being raided or their drinks being spiked. There’s a kind of hysteria about that. People in London get on the tube every day despite bomb threats, and by the time the kids are 11 years old, they go to school by themselves. In the suburbs, kids are still absolutely reliant on their parents because there’s no way to get anywhere except by being taken there.’
‘When I was at university, there was such a strong delineation between city kids and those who had grown up the suburbs. City kids were so at home in the world, in a way that suburban kids take years to catch up, if indeed they ever can. I’ve noticed that city kids dress better, they’re not frightened of strangers, they’re not frightened of new places. They’re met every sort of person. All life is here in London, it’s an amazing education just going out your front door. The city is the best place for them. I see what happens with kids who grow up in the suburbs. They have absolutely no experience of anyone else except other suburban kids, and I think that’s awful.’
Meg Rosoff is the CILIP Carnegie Medal winner 2007. ‘Just In Case’ is published by Penguin and out now.
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