Of course K is for kids. I’m writing a book for children.
Did I intend to specifically write for children when I began? No. Not at all. I never much intended to ‘be’ a writer at all! I simply had an idea for a story and found myself one day writing it. The story itself was heavily influenced by children’s books I’d read as a child and so it naturally followed it would be for children. When the idea for ‘Prophecy of Innocence’ first surfaced I began with a seed of an idea that I wanted the reader to believe that there could actually be little tiny beings of some sort living underneath our feet, so to speak. One of the things I personally look for in fiction is some basis in truth. I like the idea of an author writing about something entirely fictitious but making the reader believe that there is a slight possibility that there is something which makes the reader say: “I wonder if this is true…”
I have read Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo to many eleven year old children in school. Although I find quite a lot of the story slow paced and as a result not very exciting, I remember the first time I read it, even as an adult, questioning whether or not it was a true story. For those of you who don’t know it is written in the first person about a boy called Michael whose parents decide to go on a sailing trip around the world. A storm sends Michael overboard and he is washed up on a pacific island where he meets its only human inhabitant Kensuke. Kensuke is a survivor of the Hiroshima bombings at the end of WW2. Anyway, it is a perfectly plausible(ish) story but it is the postscript, so cleverly executed, which really makes you believe it could be real. And every child who I’ve ever read it to always asks: “Is this a true story?” It is specifically written to ensure this question is asked though and I love the book for that alone.
I have mentioned elsewhere in another blog post how when I read Roald Dahl’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” I wondered if it was a true story. Looking back now I don’t think I’d wonder if I’d read it as adult, nevertheless as a young teen I did think it was in the realms of possibility and this made me read the story over and over again.
Happily, a few children I teach who have read early drafts of Prophecy have asked “Is it true? Do elflings really live under the ground?” Which is just brilliant to hear them say and makes me have a warm glow on a couple of levels.
On the other hand I have had some say: “There aren’t little elves living under the ground: That couldn’t happen miss!”
Amusing how the same age children can have such opposing takes. Some retaining their innocent, enquiring, trusting souls; others already cynical and mistrustful.
Would I recommend writing for children?
Well I don’t consider myself to be a writer for children in the same way as many other authors who seem to naturally have the gift for getting into the brain of a two year old or a four year old or, harder still, an eight year old. The book I’ve written I believe will suit the (roughly) 9-12 age bracket but that’s not to say younger children couldn’t enjoy it being read to them.
It isn’t easy writing for children though. Put it that way. Despite my job, I find children generally baffling little things and trying to get into their mind set sometimes can be tough. What do kids these days enjoy other than sitting on games consoles all day?
But to be clear I do not necessarily write thinking about children and the appeal to children specifically. I’m just writing a story which is in me. It happens to be on which I believe a certain age group would appreciate more than another. I don’t however follow the ‘rules’ of writing for children. My main protagonist is not a child. He’s a twenty-one year old (for the main part of the book) elfling. (So why not make this YA? Uuuurghhh. teenagers. I REALLY wouldn’t know where to start writing for them!) I also don’t shy away from issues of death and in fact include one. There is a marriage and some romance, though hopefully not overdone and is more of a means to an end than a major plot point. A book or children? Really? Yes really!
However, and this is important when writing for children: I don’t hold back on the use of more complex words as children can glean the meaning of more difficult words from the sentence and context around it. I don’t believe in dumbing down vocabulary for children. How else will they enrich their own? Luckily I don’t know too many truly fancy, flouncy words so I don’t naturally use them, but I can write at a high enough level for a ten year old. I guess teaching this age range also puts me in my comfort zone of what they can deal with.
Ultimately what I hope to create with Prophecy is a story which children can just enjoy for the sense of adventure it will bring. It is the kind of story I would have liked as a child. Perhaps it will never be commercially viable in this day and age of short, quick texts set in modern times but I’m not writing it for it to become the next ‘big thing’. (Though the children in my classes automatically assume I will become famous, attain bags of money and give them some of it (this was actually said to me!) This is the world we live in. The world of unrealistic ambition and the clamour for fame and money. These of course been the only measure of success.)
However I digress. I just want to write a story. This is the story I had. I cannot force something else out. It may be old-fashioned, have a historical element and try to convince children there are elflings under the ground on which they walk but at least it’s unique. The first comment I had from a child was “I’ve not read anything else like it.” This apparently was a good thing.
I was certainly very pleased with that.