'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 14 October 2010

Guest Post: Author Martin Chatterton on Designing Bionic Tomatoes

When KBR asked me to write a guest blog they suggested I write something about literature. They specifically asked me not to write about designing bionic tomatoes, which was an incredible coincidence as I am currently not designing bionic tomatoes. What are the chances, eh? So it’s literature I’ll write about.

Except that I haven’t the foggiest idea what literature is.

I know what books are. I know what stories are. It’s just that I can never tell when ‘writing’ becomes ‘literature’. I think it might be when enough educated people say something is literature.

And it helps if the book is about something very gloomy.

Or if it’s about people who live in foreign countries and are very gloomy.

Now I come to think of it, gloom seems to be the thing, the main ingredient in transforming books into literature. Which might be why I can’t think of any comedies that people think are literature.

Which is quite a problem for me as I tend to write stuff that isn’t gloomy. I even wrote a book once in which the main character is killed in the opening line and even that wasn’t very gloomy. I need to up my gloom quota significantly to be classed as literature.

Another handy way I identify literature is by reading. If I read something and I’m unable to finish it, or I fall asleep straight away or I just don’t understand a word, then what I’m reading is probably either an instruction manual for a DVD player or it’s a piece of genuine literature. On the other hand, if what I’m reading has a story I can follow, characters I like spending time with, has some laughs or action or thrills then it almost certainly isn’t literature.

Some great works of literature didn’t start out as literature. Most of Charles Dickens’ output was commercial, written in serial form for magazines, or with the idea of entertainment being important. And Shakespeare did not have his reputation in mind when he scribbled out play after play after play. He was doing it out of commercial necessity.

He wrote (as far as we know) to tight deadlines, often writing additions to the script during the run. He wrote plenty of action, some laughs, used plot devices that would make a Hollywood screenwriter blush and, in short, did everything he could to keep the audiences watching. It’s only because he happened to be a genius that we regard it as ‘literature’.

I got the idea for the ‘Waggledagger’ series after a visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace. Standing in the young Shakespeare’s bedroom, I was struck by the thought that for him, at that time, when he was aged ten or eleven, he’d have had no idea at all that four hundred years later, complete strangers would be standing looking at his bedroom in awe.

And that started me thinking about how his journey from a small rural town to his present-day status as undisputed World’s Greatest Writer might have begun. I also wanted to make the character and setting feel as ‘contemporary’ as possible so that present day readers would not be put off by the thick layers of dullness which have settled on Shakespeare over the centuries. I wanted the readers to feel like I did standing in Shakespeare’s bedroom; that this was a living breathing person.

Now where are those bionic tomatoes?

Read KBR's review of the absolutely sensational Willy Waggledagger: A Belt Around My Bum. Now!

About Martin Chatterton
Author/illustrator/designer/public speaker and championship standard prevaricator, Martin Chatterton, was born in The People’s Republic of Liverpool but, for the past six years, has lived in Australia. He has written more than twenty books, and forgotten how many he’s illustrated. Quite a lot, anyway.

His recent work includes the award-winning ‘Brain’ books as well as the current ‘Willy Waggledagger’ series. Martin lives on the Far North Coast of NSW with wife (Annie) son (Danny), an occasional daughter (Sophie) and dog (Coffee). Martin spends most days doing voluntary work at The Byron Bay Super-model Drop-in Centre, and trawling the internet for tips on writing.

Read more about Martin's bionic escapades here - worldofchatterton.com.