At the Auckland Writers Festival last week he sat down with Kiwi young adult author Jane Higgins to discuss his books, how he comes up with his ideas, and his approach to writing. He spoke with a good deal of humour, to an audience that was a little younger than most at the festival, and had an easy, affable manner (and dimples, which I am rather fond of on a person).
His latest book, Front Lines, the first in a trilogy, is set during WWII but with one key fact changed – a US Supreme Court decision means that women may be drafted to fight in the war.
In some ways a war setting is one that suits Grant well as he was raised in a military family with a dad who was a “lifer”. Despite this background, he has no love of guns, having misfired one in his youth, which left him having to explain to the downstairs neighbour why there was suddenly a hole in his ceiling. He’s sworn off having a gun in the house ever since. These days his only interaction with firearms are for research – viewing WWII training films on YouTube, for instance.
Research for books also forms the foundation of his holiday plans – his upcoming trip to Europe might not be what the younger members of the family were hoping for when he announced – “Kids, we’re going to Buchenwald*!”
He has a strong interest in history which he described as “the backstory of the human race” and he compared trying to view current events without this as akin to watching the most recent Marvel movie and not understanding why Iron Man and Captain America are fighting. You need the backstory of these characters to understand their motivations.
Grant admits to being a horrible workaholic, typically writing two books a year, and he becomes agitated and irritated when he’s not working – to the extent that he felt a little out of sorts taking a few days off to be part of a literary festival.
This compulsion probably explains his attitude towards the notion of “writers’ block” –
Writers’ block is self-pitying nonsense for lazy writers… If you just keep going, you tend, in the end, to get somewhere.
When the discussion turned towards the Gone series, a young man in the row in front of me did a double fist pump, which gives you an idea of how popular those books have been.
When asked about his inspirations for the series which features a world suddenly without adults and which the survivors live under a dome, Grant is keen to point out that he wrote the first book before Stephen King’s “Under the dome” came out (so no, he wasn’t copying that idea). Rather the inspiration for the books came from the TV show Lost, and Robinson Crusoe, both of which he believes to be riffs on the biblical tale of the expulsion of humanity from the Garden of Eden.
Fans of the Gone series may be interested to know that he is planning, not a sequel exactly, but another novel set four years down the track in the same universe, in which some old characters may appear.
As a writer of fiction for young adults, he does his best to keep the language clean, but not for the reasons you might think. He doesn’t have a problem with swearing, and doesn’t think young people doing it is something to be concerned about, rather the lack of bad language in his books is for the benefit of… librarians.
Grant likes librarians (in a former life he was a law librarian), and doesn’t want them to get “wrath of God” grief (presumably from parents and school boards?) for stocking his books in their libraries.
Find out more
- Titles by Michael Grant in our catalogue
- Find out more about the Auckland Writers Festival 2016
- Browse all our Auckland Writers Festival posts
- Read Masha, Moata and Roberta’s Auckland Writers Festival 2016 recommended booklist
- See photos from the Festival
*Buchenwald was the site of a concentration camp in Germany.