Sunday, 19 April 2015

Doors to Writing, Keys to the Imagination - Lucy Coats

As an author, I'm often asked to come up with creative writing exercises for children. Sometimes I use Greek myths and we imagine how this tale or that might translate to the modern world. But most often, I use a familiar thing, an ordinary setting, and get the kids to imagine something extraordinary happening there. Unlocking the power of the imagination is a kind of magic - and it only needs the right key. One thing I often use is a plain old simple door. We don't really think of doors in our everyday lives, except as functional things to go in and out of. We open them. We close them. Sometimes we might use them as an indicator of emotion and slam them. But a door is just a door, isn't it?

Well, it is until you start asking questions...what is behind the door? Where might it lead? Who might lurk behind it? Another world? Another time? A faun with an umbrella? A robin? A garden full of wonders? A different century? Doors have a wonderful literary heritage in children's books. My grandmother bequeathed me her very own childhood copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, complete with onionskin covered, hand-coloured plates, and slightly foxed sepia endpapers with elegant, curving swirls drawn upon them. A valuable second edition? I didn't care about that, only for the words inside, which blossomed into pictures inside my head.

As an only child, with much older parents, I could relate to the lonely Mary Lennox, and her grumpy moods, and her 'might I have a bit of earth?'. The scene where that bit of ivy swings back, and the robin shows her the door to the garden is, for me, one of the great moments of heart thrilling literary suspense. And what I love almost as much is that what is behind the door is not a disappointment, but a wonderful adventure composed not of another world (though it might almost be so), but of brown earth and the magic of growing things. I too, after I had read about Mary Lennox, asked for my bit of earth, in which I grew lettuces and chinese lanterns and nasturtiums.
The wardrobe door leading to Narnia is possibly the most famous door of all--and which of us can say that they have not looked longingly at the back of a cupboard (though probably not one hung with furs) and wished for it to dissolve into nothingness with snow and a lamp post beyond? Most recently, Sally Gardner has been asking questions about doors, in her latest book The Door That Led To Where, which I've just read and enjoyed. Her door is an escape from the twenty-first century into the nineteenth, and people go through it for all sorts of reasons, but mostly to escape some problem in their current lives. That's another question you can ask kids to consider for a door exercise. What would you want to escape from - and what might you find on the other side of your door? Would it be simple safety, a room nobody else could find? Or a whole new universe of exciting adventures, where you could play the hero? Teri Terry's excellent Mind Games (also just published) has a door of another kind - a trapdoor to a secret place where only certain people can go, a place where you can change the virtual worlds in people's heads, and create new worlds of your own.

When is a door not just a door? When it's a key to unlocking the imagination. Why not open your own door, and see what's on the other side? 

Lucy's UKYA novel, CLEO, will be published on 7th May by Orchard Books. You can find out more about Lucy's writing on her website and also chat to her on Twitter


Susan Price said...

Lovely post, Lucy - thanks.

Joan Lennon said...

It's true - a door is a rich image, full of possibilities - thanks for posting!

Richard said...

I love doors. Here's another one:
Through the Door by Jodi McIsaac.

Emma Barnes said...

That's fascinating, and what I love about it as a creative writing exercise is that it allows each child the freedom to take off in their own direction from the same initial idea.

Lucy Coats said...

Thanks, Joan and Susan. I hadn't heard of that one before, Richard - but it sounds interesting, but obviously for adults not kids. Emma, absolutely, thats what always amazes me - the different stuff which emerges from each session. The power of the imagination is endless, it seems.

Nick Green said...

A door is compelling because it is an obstacle that can be removed. A mere archway does not have the same effect. We are drawn towards things that impede us but which we might yet get beyond.

Nicola Morgan said...

Lovely, Lucy.