Thursday, 17 September 2009

Truth and Fiction - Sally Nicholls

When I was a child, I valued truth in my reading matter. I wanted to read about children who behaved like the children I knew. I wanted their maths books to look like our maths books, and their arguments to sound like our arguments. It infuriated me that children who found secret passages and mysterious fairies didn't run immediately to tell everyone they knew (I would have done, and so would all the children I knew. Children love sharing exciting details of their life with adults. The old 'I didn't think anyone would believe me' argument never really washed with me.)

When I wasn't trying to make books work like real life, I was trying to make real life work like books. I wanted secret societies that didn't collapse after half a meeting because no one would listen to the chair and someone's little sister wanted to play 'tag'. Passwords worked really well in the Secret Seven books, but people either forgot them or said disturbingly logical things like "You know it's me, let me in," which made you wonder why the Secret Seven bothered. I could never understand families which only consisted of parents and children - I had hundreds of aunts, uncles, family friends and distant relatives who swooped in in times of crisis. Even at 8 I thought it was lazy writing when no one seemed to have siblings - all my friends had siblings.

As a writer, I'm starting to understand. Why waste words introducing aunts and uncles that serve no purpose other than to make your character more realistic? If your child does show her parents the magic fairy, how does it remain her story? If your children aren't allowed out on their own or are too scared to go out alone at night, how will they do all the things they need to do?

I err more on the side of realism than my stories probably suit, mainly because I'm aware that I'm writing for ten-year-olds like me, and because I want that younger me to recognise herself in the books, rather than throw them down in disgust. I can still remember getting excited aged 11 reading Jacqueline Wilson's 'The Suitcase Kid' because the characters watched Neighbours like my friends kid. If I'm not writing for that little girl, how can I call myself an honest writer?


Anonymous said...

Back in the olden days (the 1960s) I desperately wanted pop songs and pop groups to be mentioned in my 'contemporary' fiction (less necessary in The Three Musketeers). It never was. Except once, and I still remember how ecstatic I was to find The Hep Stars mentioned in a Danish teen book. The rest of the time the books were either just that little bit too old, or the author saw no need for pop music.

Elen Caldecott said...

I've noticed that my characters tend to use bikes a lot more than 'normal' kids do! They can't always be begging lifts off their parents if they're off doing things they shouldn't! (which, of course, they are)

Sally Nicholls said...

I had to fight to keep Green Day in 'Ways to Live Forever' - the publishers were worried it would date. I since met a bloke who told me he'd had to take his son to a Green Day concert after reading the book to him, so it had one positive effect at least.

Nick Green said...

Green Day, what are they, one of the more recent popular beat combos? Afraid I'm still listening to A-Ha.

I think fears about books getting dated are misplaced. Who cares? I'm not put off 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe' just because Susan says, "Never mind, there's lots to do indoors. There's a wireless, and lots of books," instead of, "There's wireless broadband, and look! Professor Kirk has got Guitar Hero on Wii! Let's rock, Pevensies." :-)