For this week’s Words on Wednesday, we’ve got a real treat. Linda Newbery, author of many children’s books (for many different kinds of children), is here to talk about writing for a range of ages. I’m reading her latest book, The Treasure House, at the moment and it’s a gorgeous adventure with a truly classic feel (full review – and a giveaway of a copy – coming up on Monday). Without further ado, over to Linda…
One of the things I love about writing for young people is that there’s such freedom, or can be if you choose to take it. My first novels were for teenagers, but soon, wanting to diversify, I wrote a few first readers, short, illustrated books for children of about five or six, before moving into the core 9-12ish age group. My first book for Orion, At the Firefly Gate, was followed by five more, most recently The Treasure House; meanwhile I continued to write young adult fiction for David Fickling Books, along with Lob, for about 7+ (though I prefer to think of it as a book for everyone except teenagers) and have just completed an adult novel, to be published later this year. Oh yes, and there’s one picture-book, Posy, illustrated by the wonderful Catherine Rayner. So now I have books in every age-slot apart from board books for babies.
There are drawbacks to this from the marketing point of view. My books aren’t all shelved in one place; they come from different publishers and don’t share a “look”, so I’m not particularly known for any one thing. But I wouldn’t want to limit myself to one age-group or genre. After finishing a long and challenging older novel, it’s refreshing to turn to something shorter and lighter, such as a rhyming picture-book text or a little story about a dog and a narrowboat. And it gives a lovely variety to my school and library visits: I might be reading to five-year-olds one week, talking to year nine or sixth-form the next.
People sometimes ask about the practicalities of writing for different age-groups. Is it difficult? Confusing? Does it require a major switch of focus, or a preparatory period of immersion in picture-books or adult fiction? I’m not really aware of any great difference in approach. Writing is writing, and once I have an idea, it’s the story itself and the characters whose heads I’m inhabiting that determine how the story will develop, the pace, the language, the length. What I can’t do, though, is have two or three projects on the go at the same time. It’s essential to feel that I’m living in whatever story it is, so that my mind works away at it while I’m doing other things, like swimming or gardening, or even sleeping..
What next? Well, I do have something in mind – something I haven’t tried before … which brings me to another question I’ve often been asked. “Does it get easier now that you’ve written so many books?” No. It doesn’t and shouldn’t. Each book presents it own challenges, and if I ever start thinking it’s easy I’ll have to be very strict with myself and find a way of making it harder.
Someone Else’s Life, Katie Dale’s fabulous YA debut, came out this month. I loved this emotional read encompassing family secrets and the trauma of living under the shadow of Huntington’s Disease. Naturally I was thrilled that Katie agreed to visit the Hearthfire as part of her blog tour. So, it’s over to Katie:
Wow, thanks Katie – so many great memories and recommendations there. Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your Top Ten with us. Caroline B Cooney is new to me. What about you?
Today, the #darkdaysofjanuary blog tour stops here at the Hearthfire. This tour is to celebrate the publication of Sara Grant’s gripping dystopian debut Dark Parties, published by Indigo at the start of this month. In this final stop on her tour, Sara discusses risk and commitment – a topic she explores fully in the novel. For more information about Dark Parties: my review and its Goodreads page.
For Words on Wednesday this week, we have a real treat. Maudie Smith, author of the fabulous Opal Moonbaby (see my review) is stopping off on her blog tour to talk about genre.
Fantasy Writer? Moi?
If you’d asked me a couple of years ago whether I liked fantasy writing I’d probably have said no immediately. There would have been no need for soul-searching. As an adult I don’t tend to pick up fantasy literature. I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett for example (don’t know what I’m missing?) and the term ‘sci-fi’ has always been something of a turn off. Sci-fi’s not for me, I’d say. It’s more of a boy thing.
So when I started writing OPAL MOONBABY and it turned out to be about an alien from another planet, that was something of a surprise, even to me. I’ve always thought I liked my literature to be set firmly in the real world. But I now realise that I only have to scratch the surface of my childhood reading to see that this never used to be the case.
We’re all plunged into fantasy as soon as we start listening to stories. Fairy tales, myths and legends are full of fantastic worlds and amazing creatures the like of which we will never see on Earth. These strange environments and weird and wonderful creatures fire our imaginations and make us laugh but they do more than that too.
When we are children the adult world seems a mad and complicated place. Fairy tales help us make some sense of it but our need to do so doesn’t just end when we grow out of Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and The Pied Piper. We’re always having to try and make sense of the world we inhabit. I think that’s why I loved books where real world characters bumped into fantasy ones, each having to figure out the logic behind the other’s world.
It’s that moment where fantasy and reality collide that gets me going. The moment when Mary Poppins flutters down to London with a roomful of belongings in her carpet bag. The moment when Tommy and Annika discover their new neighbour, Pippi Longstocking, has superhuman strength and can lift her horse with one hand. It’s the wardrobe moment when Lucy pushes her way past all the coats and finds herself in Narnia and comes face to face with Mr Tumnus.
I loved THE HOBBIT but I wasn’t such a fantasy addict that I wanted to tackle THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I liked books where there was more of my world involved, where I could identify with the main characters and their problems. Narnia was enthralling but I was always keen to hang around quite near the entrance to the wardrobe.
In my book Opal is the title character and she’s the catalyst for the story but the real hero is Martha. I wanted my human hero to be as rooted as possible in the everyday world and it was her story I wanted to write. Martha has everyday problems with friendships and family, of the type we can all identify with, and she has to solve them herself. Sometimes Opal is helpful and sometimes she makes things more difficult than ever but I hope she always adds spice and sparkle, and some humour, to any adventure.
Opal isn’t the only fantasy character I’m working on just now. Reluctant witches, elusive mermaids and jealous cloud creatures are all milling around up there in my brain cogs. So I suppose I must be a fantasy writer after all.
Maybe I’d better sample some more adult fantasy then. Stephen King, here I come….?
Today, Thoughts from the Hearthfire is visited by the lovely Sally Gardner. She’s here as part of her Double Shadows blog tour to promote the marvellous and myseterious-sounding The Double Shadow, released today. The hardcover looks gorgeous (with a lovely matte dust jacket – I’m such a book-stroker…) and I’m looking forward to reading this (it’s somehow jumped to the top of my TBR pile *whistles innocently*).
Anyway, over to Sally and her take on the idea of Political Correctness in writing historical fiction for children.
The past is a foreign country, and we did do things differently there. There is a tendency to whitewash it in fiction – especially for younger readers. This robs them of the knowledge of the journey we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned. You can’t pat-a-cake the past pretty, you have to be true.
The Double Shadow is set between the wars and in the 1930s they smoked a lot, anti-Semitism was prevalent in Britain as well as Europe, there was the use of drugs and alcohol, the facts of life were not taught and young girls were often in trouble. Things were swept under the carpet and not talked about, but in the writing of them you bring them out from under the carpet.
Then, if you upset a man’s moral machinery by being dressed in a sparkling skirt you would expect little sympathy for what happened to you. The two world wars can’t be made to look all right, they were a huge black cloud over Europe and they changed the fabric of our society. Not to talk about it is a terrible mistake.
Humans on the whole are very slow learners as history has proved. The wheel always goes back a little before it goes forward. Writers have a duty to be true to what history has given them, even when writing fiction and especially when writing for a young audience. There is an issue with patronising today’s youth. The dumbing down of history should not be condoned.