Beginning Writing for Children

When my Girl was still living at home and ‘age-appropriate’ for reading the same books as me (so perhaps 13 onwards), we started swapping our latest reads with each other.  This little routine not only brought us closer and gave us fabulously entertaining discussions following the reads, but it also cultivated in me an affection for Young Adult fiction – a genre I hadn’t dipped into since being a Young Adult myself.

I remember reading the trilogy of Kate Cann’s ‘Moving’ series and being almost unable to wait for my Girl to finish the next one so I could throw ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ at her and get stuck in.  In fact reading so many Young Adult books gave me an itch to write one of my own.  Which I did during the school summer holidays one year.  And which I loved writing so much it nearly… oh so painfully nearly…. got snapped up by two literary agents. I still love it.  And now that the bruises of rejection have almost healed I may even revisit it and see if I can’t give it a thoroughly good edit then ease it gently out of my writing nest and into the scary world again. Who knows.

During the first few weeks of Writing for Children’ I’ve re-read ‘Stig of the Dump’ by Clive King, which was first read to me and the rest of my class in Primary school (aged about 8 I think) and which transported me to the dumping ground we had in our own village and which was across the road from our back garden, and behind some houses there.  This land also backed onto the end of my Nan and Grandad’s bungalow and boys from school would play in there amongst the mattresses and washing machines, burnt tyres and skeletons of different birds and wild rodents.  I was always scared to go too near the end of my Nan and Grandad’s back garden for fear of some boy or other catapulting me or noticing me and calling me names (which happened a lot during school hours and wasn’t something I particularly wanted to invite during my own time).

So I could picture 10 year old Barney and I could picture his ‘friend’ (he becomes his friend very quickly I noticed, speaking with 40 years’ experience since the last read) Stig in my head almost immediately and in my childish mind, whenever the teacher picked up the book for the next chapter, I knew precisely where everything was.

Reading it for a second time, with analytical eyes, I did find the language a little straightlaced, but then it had been originally published in 1963 (when I was one) and although Barney and his sister Lou had been placed in the safe custody of their grandmother, she didn’t seem to think it at all odd that her grandson was coming back home after having been out 8 or so hours and returning with stories of a having met a half naked man who didn’t speak English but who was now – absolutely – his ‘friend’.  It’s strange what a few decades can do to perceptions.  If Barney had met Stig today, the boy would be straight on his phone, taking pictures of this peculiar (perhaps even ‘paedo’) and his image would be round the world in a matter of seconds.  Poor old Stig would then end up in custody completely unaware of what it is he was supposed to have done.  Maybe there should be a ‘Stig for the 21st Century’ – but it might be a very short read.

I read Sophie McKenzie’s ‘Blood Ties’ – I’m not sure my daughter read this back in the day, and I was so worried I wouldn’t ‘get it’ or that it would be too teenager-ey and I’d hate the language and the way teens think but my goodness I wasn’t prepared to enjoy it the way I did.  It was a proper rollercoaster read and I consumed the whole 400 pages in 3 days… I couldn’t get back to it quick enough.  No wonder the coursework material suggests it as a recommended read.  Short, sharp chapters.  Not too deep with emotions.  A great hook at the end of every chapter (85 in all) and a lovely way to leave the ending because I absolutely wanted more (I believe there’s a sequel).  I was inside both the female protagonist and the male’s head and I was cheering them both on from the get-go.  An excellent start to the course.

Now I’m preparing for my first assignment, which calls for an evaluation of a book you enjoyed reading as a child, cross-examined with a more contemporary one which is written in the same genre and follows the same kind of storyline.  I’m thrilled that I read David Almonds’ amazing ‘Skellig’ just before Christmas (in preparation for the start of the course) and delighted that Stig of the Dump has perfect parallels with Skellig which I can draw on and use for this task.

I’ve already made comprehensive notes on Stig and I’m now about to re-read Skellig and make margin notes in that book as well.  I’m sure I’m not the only one to have thought that these two books work well as comparables, in fact David Almond even referenced Stig of the Dump in an interview I read online, so even he thought of it.  I think I’m getting back into the swing of studying again; I was so worried I was too far out of the look after the New Puppy Blues and the whole Christmas nonsense, but I hope I’m wrong.

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