On Not Writing a “Grown-Up” Book
As I child I grew up in an area where money was generally in short supply and books were luxuries that most could not afford. Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones; my parents considered books to be essentials, and as a result I grew up in a house that was full of reading material. On top of this, the local library was one of our most frequent destinations on trips out, and the school library became my playground – I much preferred being there to being outside.
My school library was a gateway to a world beyond the grey walls of my cold and shabby school. It allowed me to step into worlds of fantasy and wonder. I was never drawn to books based in the real world, and had no desire to sink into stories of high-school drama or teen romance. Instead, I craved a world of mystery and the macabre. I worked my way through everything that my poorly funded school library offered in the way of children’s books, and then started on works of classic gothic fiction. The librarian would not let me borrow these (she considered me too young) and so I had to return to the library day after day to read through them.
Jumping forward a few years (OK, decades), I finally have a library of my own to run and, needless to say, I run it a little differently from the freezing mausoleum that I used to frequent. My school library is warm and welcoming, with comfy corners in which to settle with a story. However, that is not the biggest change. I am lucky to be both a writer and a children’s librarian in a new golden age of fiction for our younger readers. In the twenty-five years that I have worked with children’s books I have watched with glee the rise in the quality of books for younger readers.
The shelves are no longer are full of stories that adults consider ’worthy‘. I don’t have to stock them with books that are designed only to teach. Now more than ever, children’s and young adult books are written for enjoyment and pleasure. These books allow younger readers to indulge their own tastes for fiction without the sole purpose being the vehicle of a concealed moral message.
Adults will perhaps tolerate a book heavy on description and slower moving, they might even put up with a few plot holes, but children will not. If a book is too long-winded on description, or too scene-led, a child will generally not finish it, or skip large chunks to get to the action. For a children’s book to be successful it has to be a roller-coaster of events that tightly link to a satisfying conclusion. Children’s books need to be able cut to the quick in a way that brings each scene to life with tight yet detailed descriptions – a hugely challenging task.
Thankfully we are lucky enough to have writers of outstanding calibre seizing that challenge and publishing superb books that create addicted readers. These books will set in place a pattern of reading that will last readers their whole lives, and give them endless pleasure. We have writers like Marcus Sedgwick, Chris Priestley, Jon Mayhew, Malorie Blackman, Jonathan Stroud, Cliff McNish, Cornelia Funke, David Almond, Patrick Ness . . . and the list is increasing all the time! I would be honoured to join their ranks, but I’ve some big shoes to fill. We have writers who deliver work that is scalpel sharp and diamond bright, and which renders the reader breathless and hungry for more.
For a librarian this is a joy, and for a writer it is inspiration.