Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Power of What If - Lucy Coats


I am both blessed and cursed with a 'satiable curtiosity much like that of Kipling's Elephant's Child. This is, perhaps, the main reason I am a writer. My brain is wired to ask the sorts of questions which drive a parent mad in a five year-old. "I wonder why" is one of my default modes, and I am apt to catch myself wondering about such things as the shape of catkins (and why they are like lambs tails at the same time as the lambs frisk in the fields, and whether Nature has a sense of humour about this). The other thing I am prone to is a serious case of the 'What ifs'. I will be reading an old fairy story, forinstance, and I will find myself asking a question such as 'What if the Sleeping Beauty's bad fairy godmother merely had a terrible case of magically induced indigestion from going to too many other parties, and subsequently regretted her curse?' or 'What if Prince Charming turned out to be a wife-beater? What if Cinderella didn't live happily ever after?' among other (you would think) unnecessary and unanswerable queries. Only the thing is, I don't find them unnecessary and I can answer them in any way I want to. Which is the whole point for me of being a children's author in the first place.

There is huge power contained in 'What if', and I harness it unashamedly when I visit schools. For a London school, forinstance, the question 'What if a giant dived into the Thames?' can provoke a session full of imagination and creativity. Would there be a tidal wave? Why did he do it? Was he a nice giant or a horrid one? How would you talk to him (if you wanted to)? Would you need a hero or heroine to do this, or could it be someone unexpected like the shyest person in the class or the postman or a dog? I just love the way that a sense of huge excitement rolls over the room when this kind of communal creativity takes place. And the advice I always give them at the end of a session is this. 'All you really need to tell a good story is those two little words rioting around in your brain, and the courage to follow where they lead you.' The Power of What If is my own personal wizard's wand--much more magical for me than any old abracadabra.

6 comments:

Mary Hoffman said...

ngepot, get off this blog! It is for people interested in creative writing and children's books, not people trying to sell something!

Lucy, I totally agree, the two most powerful words in the English language.

Lucy Coats said...

Have got rid of ngepot, may he never return.

Glad you agree, Mary! On both counts....

AnneR said...

Me too! And I agree about lambs' tails and catkins - is it some kind of cosmic joke?

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Like the giant in the Thames story! Yes... you've put your finger precisely on it Lucy. We're still 5 year olds and able to'wonder'. Drives my family crazy!

bookchildworld said...

This is so true, Lucy. I think a story is made up of 'What if?' and also 'What is?' - i.e. what are things really like? Adding these two questions together is really all you need.

Ms. Yingling said...

Hmmm. Aren't most fiction books books of "What if"? Thanks for something to keep my mind busy while I'm deaccessioning science books from the 1970s today!