Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Five Children's Books I Wish I'd Written - Karen Ball

Spot any familiar books?

To celebrate ABBA's second birthday, each contributor to this blog has volunteered to use the month of July to add to a 'Top Five' list. I chose to write about the five children's books I wish I'd written. Oh dear. This is a bit like choosing a selection of songs for Desert Island Discs. (Being a no mark, I have never been invited onto Desert Island Discs, but am regularly interviewed by Kirsty Young in my fantasies.)

So. The books... What do I wish I had the talent to write?

I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
Oh Dodie, how you captured my heart. I was in my thirties the first time I read this novel, but it spoke volumes to me. Topaz ironing her silk tea gown, the faded chintz curtains, drinking creme-de-menthe when the sisters go to the pub with two young American men, Neil and Simon. (Characters in a children's novel going to a pub! Radical!) 'We have been poor for five years now.' This is the tale of a family coping after the mother dies. I remember being quite thrilled as a child when my poor mother went into hospital for appendicitis. How would the family cope? As eldest daughter, I was determined to step up to the mark, and take Mum's place in the running of the household. I quietly told Dad of my plans one evening as I sat on the side of my bed. He smiled and thanked me and informed me he'd be taking time off work, there was no need to worry. I was gutted! Is this what appeals to me in 'I Capture The Castle'? The adventure of a family cast to sea without the looming shadow of a matriarchal figure? Oh my goodness me, I could spend a fortune on a therapist's couch, unpicking that one.

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison
I love humour and I respect humour, but I don't understand humour. Is this why people can be such snobs about it? There aren't any rules to grapple with. We're cast at sea, even the experts. No one can point at a page and say with utter confidence, 'This is what makes it funny and I can tell you how it works.' Humour isn't like anything else on the page. You can learn the craft, memorise the beats, think up punch lines and jokes... But will all of that effort and energy make someone laugh? Not necessarily. Humour is deeply mysterious and that is why I love it so.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
'The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.' If I am a very good girl for the rest of my life, I might one day be able to compose a sentence half as beautiful and sinister as that. If. Might.

Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls
The jury is out on whether or not this is a children's book, but as a child I adored everything ever written by this woman. The books were read over and over again, until the spines turned brittle and the pages fell out. Our entire family was in love with these books. Why? I wanted Laura's life. I wanted the heroic father, the home-made ring doughnuts flipping over in the oil, the egg nog (I had no idea what egg nog was), the dolls made by her parents, the bed in the loft, the poverty. Yes, I wanted the poverty! What is it about hardship on the page? What makes it so romantic, even to a child? Is it because the domestic sphere is so important to a young reader, and a difficult home life is the first imaginable challenge life can throw at us? I don't know. I just wanted to twist handfuls of hay into tight sticks to burn on a fire when we'd run out of logs in the winter.

Who Knows What, Karen Ball
I'm sure I'm not the only writer whose best novel will always be the next one. The final book I nominate is the one I'm waiting to write. I don't know what it will be about at this stage, but it will be soooo brilliant, lots of fun, utterly lacking in pain and heartache and make my agent fall over in shock at its wondrosity. All I need to do now is come up with an idea...

I hope this list has inspired memories and thoughts of your own. Is there a book on your shelf that you wish had your name on the spine?

Please visit my website at www.karen-ball.com


hilary said...

That is a very good list, I agree with it all except for Laura Ingalls Wilder. The slaughter of the wildlife in those books appalled me as a child- Pa's eat-everything-and-move-West philosophy! Ma had a few choice lines too...

Here is mine:

T H White's The Sword in the Stone has everything- the most lovable characters, humour, pathos, and a world so real you can feel the rain on the grass.

Joan Aiken- Black Hearts in Battersea. Just plain brilliant.

Harry Potter because I need the cash to buy the beautiful green field down the road from me which is currently earmarked for very posh housing.

Where the Wild Things Are- for best last line ever.

The Hollow Land- Jane Gardam. Ones of those books that feels like real.

catdownunder said...

Oh, do they still do Desert Island Discs? (I suppose The Archers is still running too?)
I will have to think about my five - almost impossible!

Gillian Philip said...

Oh, The Graveyard Book, totally! For the very first line, too: 'There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.'

And I'm just reading 'I Am The Great Horse' by Katherine Roberts, and I am smitten by Bucephalas and his fierce proud voice, and that's another one I wish I'd written.

It's hard to think of books I wish I'd written, though, as opposed to ones I just love as written by their authors. I agree wholeheartedly with your last choice, too, Karen - I wish I'd already written the next one in my head!

Stroppy Author said...

oooh, what a challenge. Fin Family Moomintroll; The White Horse; The Weirdstone of Brisingamen; Coram Boy; Le Toucan Jaloux

But tomorrow it would be a different five!

Sue Purkiss said...

Hum. In the same spirit as your last choice - the one I'm writing at the moment. I wish it was done and wonderful. Such a clever idea, that, Karen! Definitely The Graveyard Book - loved it. And I Capture The Castle, which i only discovered a few years ago - I loved it, and I've given it to all sorts of people and they've all loved it too. Finally,The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper, and Keeper, by Mal Peet.