Friday, 10 July 2009

Birthday Post 4 by Amanda Craig

“So, when are you going to write your children’s book?”

As an adult novelist who loves and reviews children’s fiction, I get asked this surprisingly often, and when I say that I think children’s novels are much, much harder to write than adult ones, audiences think I’m joking. But surely, they say, they’re so much easier?

You can certainly write something that is just the product of intelligence and craft in a short space of time. Of the 100 or so books I get delivered to my door each week, there are probably a good 80+ which fall into this category.

But I don’t want to write stuff like that. For one thing, I have too much respect for children as readers, and for another I have too much respect for children’s fiction as a unique form. It presents many challenges, not least in needing a constantly evolving plot, sympathetic characters and above all a moral universe in which good triumphs over evil. Actually, I write this kind of (unfashionable) novel for adults, too, as in my just-published Hearts and Minds. Yet a classic children’s novel exists in a pre-lapsarian age. Basically, because your characters don’t have sex they can do anything – whether it’s flying, becoming invisible, travelling to another world or talking to their own soul.

The best children’s novels – the kind I’d want to write – are by people who have never left Eden. I have. I love re-visiting it; but my imagination feeds fruit that’s bitter, not sweet.

Amanda Craig is a novelist and children’s critic for The Times. Her website is


Stroppy Author said...

And those of us who write for children are always asked 'had you thought of writing a book for adults?' (but with the same assumption that it's harder).

We wouldn't want you to take the children's books part of your brain away from reviewing, Amanda :-)

Nick Green said...

> Basically, because your characters don’t have sex they can do anything...

A fascinating suggestion. (It makes me think of the Paul Auster novel 'Mr Vertigo', in which a boy learns to walk on thin air, but loses the power when he reaches puberty.) Maybe it's a case of all that procreative energy lying unused in children that enables children's fiction to conjure new worlds so effortlessly? I don't know, but you have such a good way of putting it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I haven't read the Paul Auster novel, but will.

In Love in Idleness, I have the character, Polly, who reappears in Hearts and Minds wondering whether sex is worth what you give up when you pass out of childhood. This more to do with her unhappy marriage, but in the back of my mind I was very much thinking about children's fiction. Natasha Walter wrote a good piece about this and Philip Pullman's HDM ages ago in (I think) The Guardian.