Picture Me Gone is bestselling author Meg Rosoff’s sixth book for teenagers. It follows Mila, an emotionally gifted and highly perceptive 12-year-old, on her mission to find her father’s best friend Matthew, who has suddenly disappeared from his family. The story of the special relationship between Mila and her father Gil and the different ways they view the world is a touching tale about the lies adults tell children.
Mila is a very intuitive and smart character and she goes on quite an emotional journey with her father. What was your inspiration for her and Picture Me Gone?
When I had cancer ten years ago we didn’t explain to my daughter properly about it, and I suppose I’ve been thinking all that time about how parents lie to their children – sometimes without meaning to and sometimes with meaning to. I’ve always been a big believer in telling your kids everything, but in this case we just didn’t, and that was percolating in the back of my head.
I completely don’t believe in lying to children almost ever – [but] that doesn’t mean you have to tell them every molecule of the truth: “Daddy and I are getting divorced because we haven’t had sex for ten years and he’s really lousy in bed.” I’m not saying that. Children don’t need every detail but they do need the truth. Kids can take most things. I was waiting for inspiration and during a period when I wasn’t writing I wrote a blog about how you name characters, and mentioned a new book with a character called Mila, mainly to keep my editor happy – because I wasn’t writing and she was asking about the new book. Then one day I went to Hampstead Heath and this dog came up to me and it had a name tag with Mila on it and that was it, it gave me the first line of the book: “The first Mila was a dog. A Bedlington terrier.”
Lots of your books focus on children who are very perceptive but still not completely able to understand the world around them because of their age and innocence. Is that something that you like looking at?
It's an interesting concept to explore, yes. So many adults are like children; they dress like ‘kidults’ till they’re 112, they buy bigger and brighter toys and they don’t ever want to get older. So the idea of a very prescient, precocious child makes sense because their parents are children. There is an element of that in this book: Gil is not a child, but he’s absent minded, and Mila is there to be responsible for him; now she likes that job, but in a way she’s not really suited to it. I liked looking at that. I’m a writer and my husband’s a painter and we have this very sensible child, so some of it comes from my life too.
Picture Me Gone is paced like a thriller; did you enjoy plotting Mila’s journey of discovery?
I’m terrible at plotting, but for me this book was amazingly easy to write. The only other one that was as easy was How I Live Now. I usually really struggle with plot, so the simpler I keep it, the easier it is for me. But I didn’t know for a long time why Matthew disappeared, and I think people in real life twist and turn slowly, so I wanted to reflect that in the book. I love it when people aren’t quite what you expect – Mila’s father isn’t quite what she expected and Mathew isn’t quite what she expected, at the start she sees him as a bit of a villain.
What is it that you love about writing for teenagers?
People often say to me: how do you know so well what teenagers think? And I think it is a ridiculous thing to say, it’s like saying: “how do you know so well what people think?” I know how some people think and I know how some teenagers think. I’m interested in teenagers and I know that there are some that are watchers – they see more than most people and you sometimes recognise them really young; I’m interested in the watchers. But, generally I never actively think about writing for teenagers, I just try and write a book that works.
Your last novel There Is No Dog – about 17-year-old Bob, who gets giving the job of being God – was seen by some as too controversial for teenagers. Did that bother you?
I didn’t mind that at all really, if you get any reaction at all as a writer you’re pleased. It is actually a slightly more faith-affirming book than I ever meant it to be, the good guys take over as God in the end, so I thought: “who are these people banning it? Have they even read it?” But, I think it goes back to the idea of lying to children and trying to ‘protect’ them.
The film adaptation of your debut novel How I Live Now will be out soon – are you excited?
I am excited. It was really nerve-wracking, I wasn’t that involved and I think Kevin [director Kevin Macdonald] was reluctant to have me that involved, in case I started screaming about what he was doing – which is fair enough. I’m a very difficult critic of other people’s work so there was a really good chance I was going to hate this, but I didn’t. It’s quite different from the book in the sense that the book is very internal and in the film Kevin externalises it all; it’s very violent, very edge-of-your-seat stuff. He cast amazing actors and it shows in the film.
The film rights for Picture Me Gone are in contention too, and the film rights for The Bride’s Farewell have been sold as well.
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff is out now, published by Penguin.
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