Monday, 10 February 2014

Are you going to write a real book?

When talking to children and adults about writing, many familiar questions raise their arms:
"Where do you get your ideas?"
"Are you rich?"
"I've got a cat!"
And of course, from adults in the audience, those questions that fall into that all too familiar category of "are you going to write a real book?", "a proper book?", "an adult book?"
"An Adult Book!!!" I say, (raised eyebrows here)...
"Oh you mean something like 50 Shades of Amber Brown?"
Even though these latter questions have a feeling of "are you going to get a proper job?" about them, I know what it is they are getting at. Not only are they interested in why I write, but they are also interested (perhaps even concerned) about why I write for children. Especially being, as I am, a man.

Perhaps I should feel somewhat affronted that the question is even asked, but I'm not. Honest I'm not. Though it does make me wonder whether writers of 'proper books' get asked why they write, and it has made me ask myself just why it is that I write for children - or write at all for that matter.

I may tell children that it's because I wanted to be rich and famous. But am I rich and famous? Sadly not... though I'm working on it. Would I write if I didn't get paid for it? I, as with most other writers, find that they often do write without getting paid - though that isn't the plan when we start out. I'm sure I would write something if I wasn't getting paid for it, however, I doubt very much that I would be writing books and stories, and I'm sure I'm not alone here. After all Dr Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying "Only a fool writes for anything other than money."

Was it because I loved writing when I was at school? Again, sadly not. I was definitely a late starter as far as that goes. I loved books and stories but I really wasn't much good at writing them. I didn't know how to get started and how to carry it on - never mind how to finish it all. I had to read and write lots before I worked all this out.
But I have always loved books, comics and stories and have read anything I could get my hands on that interested me (and that's the secret isn't it - reading what you enjoy). I enjoyed Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Mrs Pepperpot and the Magic Wood, Professor Brainstorm, and I couldn't wait for the Beano to arrive each week - and later, 2000AD with it's tales of Judge Dread and Rogue Trooper. Later I read fantasy and science fiction, I even read all of my Dad's old western novels that lined the bookshelf at home. I still enjoy reading some children's books now but I read books for grown-ups too. I enjoy reading lots of genres of fiction but I don't have a great interest in writing books for adults. Perhaps if a story idea comes along that fits the bill then I might, but until then I will carry on writing for children.

But that still hasn't answered the question of why I write for children. Robert Bloch, writer of horror fiction and most well know as the author of Psycho, when asked why or how he could write such things (and still seem like a normal person), mischievously explained that " Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk."

While I'm not confessing to having the heart or brain of a child secreted about my desk, I do feel that I am still in touch with what I loved to read when I was younger. I think it's perhaps partly because of this, and because I really do want to share my love of stories with younger children, that I write for the age group that I do. Hearing how reluctant young children can be at reading, and knowing how much I loved it, makes me determined to show them just how much fun it can be. While I realise that I might be able to do this by putting great books by other authors into the hands of these reluctant readers (something that I frequently do by the way) I can't help feeling that I'd be much happier to find they were excited at reading something I'd written. And with any luck this will also mean that I won't have to get a proper job.

Why do you write for children?


Nick Green said...

I like the genre-less nature of children's fiction. Because it is (mistakenly) seen as a genre in its own right, children's fiction is lumped all together in the bookshop, not subdivided according to realism, fantasy, romance etc. I appreciate that cosmopolitan setup - the idea that you can have gritty kitchen-sink realism next to a story about wizards or dragons. It gives writers so much more freedom (or at least it should do).

John Dougherty said...

Great question, Damian, and there are so many possible answers!

I write for children because I can. Lots of people think they can write for children, but I - like you - actually can, and I'm proud of that.

Damian Harvey said...

Good points there gentlemen... I love the freedom that writing for children offers too. Where else can you write about such a diverse range of matters.

And John, you are so right about the ability to write for children. I had contemplated a post about authors of "books for grown-ups" that think thy can write for a younger audience but can't etc but decided against it. There are some writers that can cross over, but there are some that really shouldn't have stayed where they were.

Emma Barnes said...

Another point about children's books is that you might be writing a story that will be read over and over again, and that will introduce the child reader to a whole of world of books. Very few adult books are read over and over, or have the same long-term impact on a reader.

catdownunder said...

I must be a complete fool then. I don't get paid for it. My readership is small, very small. I still feel compelled to write though because there are those few people out there who are apparently waiting impatiently for "the next one". I suppose that's what makes me do it - the thought that someone else apparently wants to read it. I must be mad. You are obviously all much more sensible and competent than I am!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, I get that careful,",Are you going to write a book for adults?" too. I always say "Never!" I do it because I can. I might write the occasional short story for adults, but it's genre fiction. And that's the thing, isn't it? As you say, children's books are considered a genre in their own right, for some reason. I do it because I can, yes, and because children's books are almost the last refuge of story, as opposed to "beautiful writing" that has no real story. I wish I could recall precisely that quote about adult books being about important things such as divorce and children's books about trivial things such as the battle between good and evil.