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Meg Rosoff: Advertising executive to award-winning author
Published in Daily News Egypt on 02 - 02 - 2009

Last Saturday's Literary Café discussion at the Cairo International Book Fair featured Rehab Bassam, Egyptian blogger and author of "Rice Pudding for Two, conversing with Meg Rosoff, the award-winning American author best known for the 2004 young adult novel "How I Live Now.
Bassam's shy but articulate questions drove a spirited and often funny discussion of the events that led Rosoff to become a writer, and the experiences that gave life to her books.
Before she took writing professionally, Rosoff was an advertising executive with a self-described bad temper. Rosoff's choice to enter the ad industry was part personal, part practical. A Harvard graduate, Rosoff wanted to defy the expectations of family and society by entering a career unsuitable to her education - a late rebellion for a perennially well-behaved child. At the same time, her husband's career as a painter left her as the main breadwinner, and advertising paid the bills nicely.
It took the death of her youngest sister and a battle with cancer to finally make her realize her true calling. "After my sister died, I realized that if I met the same fate, my funeral would be the saddest funeral in the world, because I didn't accomplish the things I wanted to do, and instead spent the best years of my life in an unsuitable career selling horrible breakfast cereals and instant pudding, she recalled.
So, Rosoff set out to accomplish a feat she's always been skeptical about whether she had it in her or not: writing. Her first move was to write a test novel, to assess her ability to write a full-length book. The author's major worry was that her lack of natural story-telling ability would hinder her desire to write fiction. The test novel allayed these fears, reassuring Rosoff that her talent for shaping characters and exploring unique themes more than compensated for her less-than-fresh storylines.
Fittingly, the theme for Rosoff's first novel came to her during the family battle with cancer, inspiring her to finally take the plunge into a writing career. At the time, Rosoff and her two sisters were all diagnosed with cancer.
"When we all got sick, my normally unsuperstitious, intellectual family suddenly became superstitious - it was like we all needed something to help us grasp the link between illness, fate, depression and a sense of predestination - this influenced me a lot in my writing, she said.
Though personal experience influences her writing, Rosoff believes that including a "message deliberately in her works is "unfashionable.
"I don't want to preach, but at the same time I have a strong personal message that comes through in my books. I believe that people are responsible for each other, that money is the root of all evil, and that love and friendship are more important than anything else - these ideas definitely come through in my writing.
Rosoff's first novel, "How I Live Now (2004), won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and was short-listed for the Whitbread Children's Book Award. Her second novel, "Just in Case (2006), received the Carnegie Medal, and her third novel, "What I Was (2007) was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal as well as the Costa Children's Book Award.
Not bad for a writer who had serious doubts about her abilities.
Yet, when asked about her "secret to writing, Rosoff insists that her success as an author is simply the result of practice.
"They say that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become really good at something; I love this idea, because even though I waited so long to become a writer I think I was practicing and accumulating those 10,000 hours even while I was in advertising.


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