Monday 21 February 2022

Belief in your genre Anne Booth

I really enjoyed this documentary about Marian Keyes and was very struck by how the quality of her writing is only just being recognised by some mainstream critics, who dismissed it for years as 'Chick-Lit'. I recently bought and read 'Rachel's Holiday', and was bowled over by her description of addiction - the book was so funny and the unreliable narrator was so lovable, but it was also so moving, and explored the subjects of addiction and recovery, and issues of love and  forgiveness and trust and being yourself so well. I am now reading 'Rachel, Again,' and I find it hard to put it down. I am in awe of anyone who can write about difficult subjects with such warmth and humour - and someone who also gives the reader Hope at the end. It takes such skill and compassion and it's just so hard to write something that brutally honest and yet so deeply kind.

I think one thing we can be proud of as Children's writers is that we too try to give our readers Hope. I also think that another thing Children's writers have in common with Marian Keyes and writers of other books marketed 'for women' is that our genre is so often underestimated. It is as if women and children themselves are undervalued, and so those who are seen to write about them, and, the market believes, for them, are also tainted with that undervaluing. Sometimes I think Children's writers get some recognition because people think we earn as much as famous celebrity authors, but in general I think children's writing is undervalued, and I think it is undervalued because people think it must be easy to do, and also because children themselves are undervalued. We should not have a nation where so many children go to bed hungry, or live in bad housing, or who struggle as child carers, or who have untreated mental health issues, or have to be educated in buildings which are not fit for purpose, and who are not being properly protected in a pandemic, but in the UK, in 2022, that, to our shame, is what we have. I don't think that it is a coincidence that the most passionate supporters of Children's books tend to be teachers or school librarians - because they are in jobs which presuppose that they too value children and think writing for them is important, and they appreciate that it takes skill.

Within an underestimated genre, funny books for children can be undervalued too. Maybe Marian Keyes was not valued properly for years because her books make her readers laugh as well as cry, and yet that is a tremendously skilful thing for a writer to be able to do. I haven't yet written any funny books for children myself,  but I really admire and respect those who do. Funny books were so important for me growing up. I remember laughing until I cried at the Paddington books, and I thought Just William and Jennings were hilarious. As an adult, I often read PG Wodehouse just to cheer me up. I always try to watch or read something funny before I go to sleep.

I listened to an interview Graham Norton did on Virgin Radio today. He asked Marian Keyes about how she felt about her writing being valued now, but not really rated by critics for years, and she said that she thought she had just been around for so long that they had finally realised she was good. I was glad that she did not say anything self-deprecatory about her own writing. The problem was that the critics didn't believe in it - not that she didn't.

It is so tempting to lose heart in our industry, and lack of money and critical recognition can be so disheartening, and wears us all down - but I just want to say to myself and to any children's writer reading this - don't lose heart.  If you know that you are doing your best to produce something beautiful that inspires hope and cheers up your readers, that is something to be proud of. Writing books which bring hope to adults or children is more needed than ever. I hope you watch the documentary I have linked to and feel inspired to carry on writing, or even if you need to take a break and stop working as a writer (and most of us feel like that and, sadly, often have to do it) , feel proud of and properly value whatever you have done already.


Nick Garlick said...

That's it: hope!
Lovely post. Thank you.

Nick Green said...

Being sniffy about children's fiction is immature behaviour in an adult. It's a hangover from when that person was moving into young adulthood, and embarrassed to be seen reading kids' books. People who are secure in their adulthood have no hang-ups about enjoying a book that children also can enjoy.

Case in point: at one time, no adult would have dreamed of owning up to playing video games. Now austere businessmen play Angry Birds on their phones in full view of the other passengers.

Anne Booth said...

Thank you both.

Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely post, Anne.