I met a reader, who might be the reader I’ve been writing for all this time.
I don’t just want ONE reader, obviously. The more, the merrier.
But I suspect most writers have a particular reader in mind when they’re writing, someone they hope will be excited at that bit, upset at that bit, and desperate to read on when you stop the chapter... just... there...
I’m probably my own ideal reader, to some extent: as I write, I try to recreate the joy I found in books when I was 10. I write for my own kids too. Even though they’re teenagers now, the weekend or holiday when I read an early draft of a novel to them, to get their first reactions, is still when the story comes to life. I write for all the classes I meet, and their gasps and silences when I read (if it goes well!) And I write for all the kids who send me detailed questions about character names and sequels.
But I met a reader last week, who is so exactly the person I have in mind when I write, especially when I write retellings of old myths and fairy-tales, that meeting her became the highlight of my whole Book Week Scotland...
Serpents & Werewolves, my most recent myth collection, and are about to start reading the first of my Fabled Beast novels.
As I got to the end of the legend, in which a female knight saves a young man who’d been kidnapped by an enchanter, then they fly off into the future on the back of a hippogriff, the teacher asked one of the girls sitting cross-legged on the carpet, “Was that ending too slushy for you?”
The girl thought for a moment, then shook her head. The teacher explained to me: “Julianne is not a fan of romance. She doesn’t like soppy endings.”
It turned out that Julianne (which is not her real name. Her full name is so fantastic that it sounds like a pen-name of a writer trying a new genre, or the heroine of a really successful YA trilogy...) Julianne had read that collection, Girls Goddesses & Giants, and had thoroughly approved of its lack of slushy happy endings.
Julianne also mentioned that she never leaves the house without a book. She takes them on buses and out shopping, in case she gets a moment to read. (This probably makes her quite a few writers’ ideal reader!)
So I decided then and there, that Julianne would become my slushometer. That when I was writing, I would imagine her sitting in front of me, with her high expectations of stories about more than whether two characters will get together, and I would imagine her disappointment if I let my own standards slip.
I asked her if it was ok for her to be my imaginary slushometer, and she agreed. Then I read out the ending of another story I was working on, because I had wondered if it was skating a bit close to the edge of my own no-slush principles. But Julianne smiled, and nodded. She approved. The ending passed the slushometer test!
Of course, Julianne will grow up. She won’t be a P5 forever, and who knows what she’ll be looking for in the endings of stories in a few years’ time. But in my head, she’ll still be my slushometer - I’ll still be writing for her sitting cross-legged on that carpet in that Edinburgh primary school, still hoping to satisfy her desire for endings that give girls (and boys) more to aim for in their lives than royal weddings. It’s nice to know who I’m writing for.
So, now that I know, I’d better get on and write for her, and for anyone else who wants a non-slushy adventure...
Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.