Thinking ahead to our Writing for Children and Young Adults salon with Sara Grant, I had a chat this morning with my eighteen year old daughter. She’s child number three, the baby of the family - still in the nest but only just. Knee deep in revision for A2 exams later this summer, she was only too glad to take a break and talk about the books she loved at various stages of her life and why. One of her favourite reads is, Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. She made friends with the book a couple of summers back. She loved the relatable characters and the author’s skill at voicing the mental patterns of her protagonists. It’s no mean feat for an author to create an authentic teenage mental space! While the characters had problems, my daughter felt the story wasn't too dark compared to a slew of other YA fiction. Something plausible operated in the story, a truthfulness, that appealed and stayed with her. It was a book she was ready to read, coming into her hands at just the right time.
We talked about the stories that frightened and confused her, including Neil Gaiman’s, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. We wondered if he writes for his inner child rather than children. I thrust this particular book upon her in a moment of summer holiday ennui, when she was probably too young to read it. On the other hand, she remembered the joy, in her early teens, of discovering Louise Rennison’s books and ploughing through them like ice-cream. Nothing like a reading up for your age, especially when you're on the cusp of growing up and it seems not much is happening in your own life.
Then there’s the blanket-warm comfort of returning to favourite books; revisiting the world of a beloved story, being reminded of the magic of the language and images. I reminded my daughter of how, long passed 'the age' for picture books, she loved to curl up with her old favourites, especially when tired or under the weather, seeking them out at bedtime, as if they were old friends.
All my children are readers but came to it reluctantly. Dyslexia is prevalent in our family but somehow the children all found their way into story. All it takes is one good yarn to trigger the lifelong itch. (Actually I'm playing it down. It also takes a LOT of persistence, encouragement and trips to the library too). By hook or by crook, or audio book. Once they find the 'right' story for them - they're away. I think of all the fabulous characters - too many to name check - that have trotted through our household from Judith Kerr’s, Tiger Who Came To Tea, all the way through to Phillip Pullman's beautiful trilogy, His Dark Materials and beyond.
I wonder if, as writers, aspiring or published, we spend too much time thinking about the process and not enough time thinking about our readers? Maybe that’s the way it has to be in order to get the story written? How do you find the voice and story that will appeal to young readers? I’m guessing it’s like all writing; write what you love. But what do you think? It’s time for a chat!
If you're interested in writing for children and young adults, please do join Emma Darwin and me for our next salon, in conversation with Sara Grant. Sara has so much practical experience in all facets of the industry, and is equipped with tons of practical advice about process as well as the market place. Hope to see you on Monday 24th April at the Teahouse Theatre Cafe in Vauxhall Gardens, at 7.30pm for tea, cake or a glass of wine as well as lots of friendly folk ready to talk all things kid lit & YA.
Links: Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell, The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman, The Tiger Who Came To Tea - Judith Kerr, His Dark Materials trilogy - Philip Pullman, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators - British Isles @SCBWI_BI, a wonderful organisation for networking, masterclasses & conferences.