Monday, 27 September 2010

In Praise of A Good Book - Elen Caldecott

It is early on Sunday evening. I know I have to write this post, but this afternoon I bought a copy of Charlie Higson's The Dead and I just can't stop reading. I am over halfway through and I know I will finish it tonight. I am sure you all know exactly what it is like; I've been telling myself 'just one more chapter' for at least an hour. The book has sucked me in and everything else - eating, walking the dog, blog posts - is an annoying duty.

This is because I love to read. But more especially, I love to read children's books. I had thought that this was normal. However, recently I met a successful children's author who told me that she practically never reads children's books. I was pretty astonished, but the conversation was cut short and I wasn't able to thrust books into her hands while imploring 'read this, and this, and you have to read this.'

Aspiring children's writers are often told that they must read widely in the genre. The purpose of this is to give them an understanding of the marketplace. It's great advice, but it isn't why I read children's books. I read them for three main reasons: entertainment, support and inspiration.

Children's books are entertaining because their authors can go on elaborate flights of fancy (yesterday I read Mortal Engines) but they have to do so within a tight word count. This means that each word has to be chosen with the kind of precision that would make a haiku writer look sloppy. It is this breadth of vision coupled with the constraints of form that makes children's literature so vibrant, in my opinion.

I also read children's books because they are written by my colleagues: people I meet online, at events, at conferences and festivals. Like any other professional who takes their work seriously, I want to know who's doing what in my field. Not because they are competition, but because I love my work.

Finally, other children's writers are an inspiration to me. When I read their work and see what's possible, I feel a real burst of enthusiasm. Of course, there are also the moments of doubt where I think 'I can never write anything as good as this', but it gives me the impetus to at least try. To me, reading a Carnegie Medal winner is like a painter going to the BP Portrait Awards, or a musician listening to Mercury Prizewinners. It sets the benchmark and encourages them to aim higher with their own work.

This is, of course, a roundabout way for me to say that I can't write a blog post, I've got a brilliant book to get back to.
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Ms. Yingling said...

Oh, no! Yet another British book that is not available in the US. I'm starting to wonder if E Readers might be the way to go for those of us who get started on a series only to find we can't get all the books!

Savita Kalhan said...

Completely agree, Elen. Children's literature is utterly absorbing, and I read it even when I know I should be doing other things. There's too much good stuff, and long may that last!

Keren David said...

@Miss Yingling - you want . It does free shipping worldwide!

John Dougherty said...

Absolutely with you, Elen. I once cornered Keith Gray at a party and demanded he return the several hours sleep he'd cost me by writing a book (Malarkey) so compulsive I literally could not get to sleep until I'd finished it.

I had tried putting it down and turning the light out at about 1.15am, a little over the half-way point, but I just lay awake for several minutes, heart pounding, brain racing, and eyes refusing to shut, until I gave in, turned the light back on, and carried on reading.

Gillian Philip said...

Funny you should say that, John. Keith Gray nearly made me miss my train stop once - but that was with Ostrich Boys. He's a public menace...

Great post and SO true, Elen!

catdownunder said...

I have Vanessa Robertson and Nicola Morgan to thank for finding ABBA - and this post alone is reason to be thankful. Yes, I find out about books I might not otherwise read but it is the enthusiasm for those books that constantly reminds me of why I love to read - from picture books up!

Meg Harper said...

I am horrified at the idea of a children's writer who doesn't read children's books! Yikes! I don't get enough time for reading but one reason I run a children's book group is to keep me up to speed with what's happening out there - and, of course, for all the reasons above stated, so that I get to enjoy some fantastic children's books. Am currently reading the 3rd in The Hunger Games trilogy - not as good as the first two but I'm still thrilled to be reading it and being challenged by it both intellectually and creatively. Not keeping up with what's going on in this field of my work seems as culpable as any other type of ducking out of professional development - and the great thing about this sort is it's fun!!!