Monday, 30 September 2013

Who Writes Your Books? Lari Don

Who writes your books? If you’re a children’s writer, does the child inside you write, or at least inspire, your books?

I always thought so. My first children’s books were adventures for 8–12 year olds, set in the Scottish landscape, inspired by myths and folklore. And I definitely write those novels for the child I was in the 70s and 80s, living a rural life surrounded by lots of books. A girl who climbed trees and perched on roofs, always with a book to read high up in the sun. I write the adventures I wished I’d gone on, I write about how I might have reacted if I’d found a centaur bleeding on my doorstep. So my novels are inspired by my childhood, and written by the bit of me that has never grown up and still hopes for adventure.

But that girl is not the person who inspires my picture books. I’ve realised recently that most of my picture books are inspired by my life as a parent. That doesn’t mean I write for adults rather than children. My picture book stories are definitely aimed at kids (though I always bear in mind the adults who may have to read a book 6 times in a row every night for weeks…) I write the stories for the kids, but the initial ideas come from me as a parent.

The Big Bottom Hunt was inspired by a day on the beach with my family. How To Make A Heron Happy was inspired by visits to our local park. Orange Juice Peas was a story I made up to tell my own kids, about chaotic teatimes. 

 And my most recent picture book, The Magic Word, is about the difficulty of persuading kids to write birthday thank you letters and one little girl’s magical attempts to speed the process up…

Beaches, parks, meal times and thank you letters are all familiar parts of the jigsaw of parenting, so these stories have bounced off my life as a parent. Though I’m certainly not claiming these books have anything profound to say about parenting (what a horrendous thought!) I just want to tell dramatic, surprising, funny stories.

And I’m not saying that I write these books as a parent – I’m sure I return to the joys of my small-child-hood for the details of the stories, like repeating rude words – “Is this your bottom?” - and making a mess of the kitchen, which happens regularly in my books. But I don’t remember enough about being a very small child for the full stories themselves to come from there. The ‘what if’s, the ‘I wonder’s, the questions which prompt the stories, those definitely come from my experience as a parent now.

I think I could and would have written most of my other books without being a parent, but I couldn’t have written these picture books if I wasn’t a mum.

Are other writers aware that different parts of their lives, past and present, inspire different elements of their writing?

Lari Don is the award-winning author of almost 20 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. Some of her books contain the word “bottom” 
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Rachel said...

Interesting blog. Thank you. I have tried to write for all sorts of ages, with dubious success, but as soon as I started writing for 9-12s something just clicked. I wish I could say it's because I'm writing for the child I was, but I fear the real reason is because I never really matured beyond that point :)

Lari Don said...

I think you do have to be able to access the child inside to write for kids, but I think every adult is still partly a child inside. (I hope so, anyway!) And best of luck with writing for 9 - 12s, Rachel (I clicked when I first wrote for kids - having found writing for adults much less fun... )