The rejection and re-writing process for those first three books was a slow one. Imperceptibly the children in my life were growing up and the adult influences on my work were becoming more dominant. By the time the books were finally published I was haunted by the fear that no children would read them at all. The handful of children of friends who were cajoled into service in the final weeks of the ultimate edit were rare and blessed creatures. I knew that they weren't 'representative': I was secretly afraid that they were just 'being kind'.
In some ways it didn't matter – ultimately I was writing the books for me and I was able to take courage from Arthur Ransome (my Ghost in the Cabin) who stoutly asserted that he wrote for his own enjoyment and if children 'overheard' his stories and enjoyed them – well, that was a bonus. There's much more that could be said about the delicate balances between writing for oneself and writing for the reader, writing to communicate and to make a living and writing because a story inexplicably demands to be written. It has also felt like a gigantic compliment when adult readers have said that the stories reminded them of adventures in their own childhood or that they conveyed something about childhood today.
Be that as it may a children's story must please children – or, at least some children. This year, when story number four demanded to be written, I had no children in my everyday life who were anywhere near the right age. I didn't need them as domestic critics, I simply needed to be able to think of them. Had I grown too old myself? This has in many ways been an unusually quiet year, subtly blighted by ill-health (not mine) and anxiety. So the first job was to take courage and write the story. Then, miraculously, at the very moment when the first draft was done and I needed to stand back and get ready to revise, a spate of invitations arrived to work with year 5 & 6 children (ten and eleven year olds) in primary schools.
I wrote last year about the affirmative friendship of the children and teachers at Kessingland Primary School near Lowestoft and this year again we've had time to play and work together. I've also been hired by the Essex Book Festival to help children in some Essex primary schools to experience the fun of writing their own adventure stories. It felt as if they did have fun. They certainly took an interest in my work, as I did in theirs and I'm indebted to them for their willingness to discuss one or two aspects of the new story and volunteer suggestions for its title.
|Strong Winds Vol 4|
What those children gave me, all of them, readers and non-readers, was the sound of their voices (invaluable for the final revision), the warmth of their interest (never mind the literacy levels) and the freedom of their imaginations (zombies, vampires, ponies and princesses). Thank you.
There's been so much more. I've met Nikki Gamble of Just Imagine and Sarah Gallagher of the Story Shack. I'm looking forward to the arrival of Writing Children's Fiction edited by Linda Newbery and Yvonne Coppard. I'm sure all these expert adults will agree with my basic premise that if you need creative inspiration, liberation and fun – JUST ADD CHILDREN.