Friday, September 26, 2008

Can one write for children?

The Guardian has a piece by Michael Rosen about writing for children. It's good, but I don't know that I necessarily, fully, absolutely agree these days. So much advice about writing for children keeps 'the child' front and centre. Yet, there isn't really a child, just as there really isn't an adult. Furthermore, as Rosen indicates, it's not the actual children who will decide whether or not your children's book is published. That'll be up to the adults in their proverbial suits. They have boxes to tick that have more to do with what's selling well now rather than what will sell well tomorrow (hence the battle to find the next J.K. Rowling, which oddly led, rather, to the discovery of teen angst in the form of sparkly vampires, a short-lived, perhaps, but interesting movement in itself).

C.S. Lewis indicated that it was more about a genre, which means, in effect, that the possessive - children's - is more distracting than helpful. Then again, do we really want everyone to stop paying attention to that possessive? If they did, they'd realise just how messy, subversive, merry and outrageous the genre actually is.

I think - at this point in time - that the trick to writing for children is to, as Lewis and Rowling and others indicate, write for oneself. It simply requires you to have a particular sort of mind. Not childish. I resist references to 'kidadults' and such. It's just a certain mindset that has been largely associated with children's literature and has for a while flown under the radar of 'serious literature' (sorry about the metaphors - it's early as I write!). Think about it. Fairy tale was the great genre of the storyteller - a place to sort out the battle of the sexes, ambition, greed, lust and all kinds of other virtues and vices. It has spent quite a long time in the nursery, but those of us reading fairy tales know they aren't really 'children's' fare... exclusively, at least.

If you get a chance, also check out Neil Gaiman's blog entry 'typing clunky'. As he says of his absence from the list of this year's most banned books, "I suspect that I'm not trying hard enough." Meg Cabot will be disappointed too.

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