Wednesday, 4 March 2015

My Favourite Thing About Writing For Kids

When someone asks me my favourite thing about writing middle-grade, I'm just...

Because WHAT, I'm supposed to pick just one?? Unpossible. I could tell you it's the perfect age, because family is still crucial, but friends are more important than ever; because middle grade kids are full of wonder and excitement, but also starting to understand the world around them, and how it can be unfair and complicated; because kids that age don't just read books, they fall into them, devouring every word, living in the worlds they find between the lines. I could say that middle-grade kids love dragons and pirates and violence and slapstick and jokes and hope. I could say I write for that age because my inner eleven-year-old is perhaps louder than it should be in someone of my advanced years.

I would always, always say I love writing for kids because the best books we read as children teach us so much about the world, inform our very identities, and stay with us for the rest of our lives. Not to mention that middle grade literature, in my opinion, is where we most often find the perfect confluence of prose, character, setting, and plot.

So, yes, ask me my favourite thing about writing for kids and I'd talk your ear off. But because I'm evil, I tortured seventeen brilliant UK MG authors with that exact question. And they came up with some pretty wonderful replies. Here's what they had to say...

Rachel Hamilton (The Case of the Exploding Brains): My favourite thing about writing for kids is that, ironically, it’s writing for me. My favourite books are all either kids’ books (Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and everything Diana Wynne Jones ever wrote) or big kids’ books (William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Iain M Banks’s The Player of Games and everything Neil Gaiman ever wrote). So, as a children's author, I get to write and plot the kinds of stories that make me laugh out loud and light up the metaphorical lightbulbs above my head.

Katherine Rundell (Rooftoppers): Kids are brilliant readers; they carry their favourite books close to their hearts, and they invest the world you've written with details of their own - a lovely kid once told me her favourite scene was when Sophie and Matteo waltz on the rooftops; which doesn't actually happen. And the books I loved when I was about 10-12 shaped my vision of what bravery and kindness might look like.

Nikki Sheehan (Who Framed Klaris Cliff): Being paid for thinking up strange things. Anyone looking through my google history would be hard pushed to believe it, but this is actual real work!

Elen Caldecott (The Great Ice Cream Heist): Short books! (joke!) (not a joke). I like the range of possibilities. If you want to write more than one genre, you can, by writing for different age groups. You're not tied to one thing. Also, your audience is always changing (as kids grow up!) so you have to stay on your toes. I like the challenge of writing for an audience whose culture isn't my own.

Allan Boroughs (Bloodstone): It’s an audience that doesn’t impose any limits. Nothing is out of bounds, too silly or too far-fetched to be given serious consideration by young readers.  At the same time they are the most demanding audience in terms of technical excellence – kids never miss inconsistencies of plot, characterisation or story world and they never forgive sloppy writing. It drives me mad when people denigrate children’s writing as less serious than adult literature – it’s both patronising and wrong and I’m pretty sure that no one who holds this point of view has ever really tried it.

Julia Lee (The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard): I get asked questions I can actually answer, like ‘What was your best pet ever?’ and ‘Do you know Jacqueline Wilson, ‘cos we really like her books?’ Answers: 1. My cat before last was the Best Pet in the World, no contest, and 2. No. 

Clementine Beauvais (Sesame Seade): Meeting the kids. I've really grown to value these moments enormously: they're completely unique experiences. Meeting the young readers, asking them about what they liked in the books, asking them about what they didn't like, and generally telling them stories and hearing theirs. It's not only fun, it's mind-boggling: those kids know things that were swirling around in my head only two years ago! I like it when adults read my books, too, but the main aim remains talking to children.

Joe Craig (Jimmy Coates): I’m stumped. I got nothing. I like spending most of my life in my dressing gown, but I think I could probably do that if I wrote for adults, couldn’t I? I wouldn’t have to put a suit on just to write for older, uglier people. I get no satisfaction at all from the beaming smiles on children’s shiny, silly faces when they read my books and it means nothing to me when parents and teachers get in touch to say thank you for finally getting a child to enjoy reading. Oh wait, yes it does. I’M SO CONFUSED. I do like those things. Are they my favourite things? Tricky. I do really like my dressing gown.

Susie Day (Pea's Book of Holidays): My favourite thing about writing for kids is that the books are short and not about tax returns and where to buy a nice fridge. (I’m pretty sure that’s what adulthood is about, so probably their fiction is too. Yawn.) Also, kids write me the most lovely letters with drawings in and I bet Martin Amis gets NONE.

Aoife Walsh (Look After Me): I think books are more important to kids. I also think kids have truer responses and get more involved with stories. I love the idea of building a world for a child to live in for a while.

Stephanie Burgis (The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson)I love getting to tap into that sense of wonder that isn't hampered by too much cynicism, and I LOVE getting to meet my readers. Every time I do an event for kids, I come out feeling SO charged up and swearing that I'll never stop writing for kids, ever, ever!

Emma Carroll (The Girl Who Walked On Air): ‘Thing’? You mean I’m only allowed one? Ok, then I’d say it’s meeting people who’ve read and enjoyed my books, or any books, come to think of it. Being around that buzz for reading is completely awesome.

Paula Harrison (Red Moon Rising): Nothing is too crazy. Nothing is too unusual. You can let loose your ideas.

Jason Rohan (The Sword of Kuromori): When writing for adults, I feel more compelled to do detailed scene setting - you know, add concrete details to make the action as believable as possible. With children's writing, I can cut to the chase and leave the reader to fill in blanks. For example, you don't have to describe a dragon to a child, whereas an adult will ask, "What kind of dragon is it?" without a trace of irony.

Nigel McDowell (The Black North): They are the best audience, simple as that. Honest, critical, passionate, sharp. And I feel very lucky to be read and criticized and (hopefully!) enjoyed by such a special readership.

Abi Elphinstone (The Dreamsnatcher): I love letting my imagination go. I had a string of ‘sensible’ jobs before I committed to writing, blogging, and teaching, and I had to button my imagination in tight. Now it runs wild. Even I find it hard to keep up. I also love the writing process – when I’m typing away and I’m completely oblivious to what’s going on around me. I’m right there with my characters – in another world, another place, another story. That’s cool.

Sarah Crossan (Apple & Rain): I was a school teacher, so I think I know young people pretty well. All they want is for someone to say, “You’re ok.” So that’s what I do. I like doing that.

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