Saturday, 15 November 2014

Only for kids? I never can tell

I really enjoy writing stories for children.

It's great to write stories for an audience that is endlessly imaginative. An audience that is more than happy to suspend belief, and take in the most amazing and outlandish events. An audience that doesn't have that jaded, "read it all before" feeling that can be an issue for adult audiences.

I also love working with illustrators. It's an amazing feeling to see the characters and events in a book come to life before your eyes. Characters and events that I've often seen only vaguely inside my mind, now taking on a life of their own.

It's funny though, because when I first began writing, I never saw myself as a creator of children's tales. My main influences were more about humour, particularly via writers such as Douglas Adams and the Monty Python crew. Sure, some of their stuff could be seen as suitable for younger audiences, but a lot of it definitely isn't.

I certainly didn't begin with a conscious effort to write children's stories. My first stories were meant purely to be stories that I hoped would make people laugh. It was only during a short story writing class, some years after I'd first began writing, that I realised I might be good at producing stories for a younger audience, purely by accident.

I'd submitted a story about a king who didn't get any respect. Nobody listened to him and everyone else in the palace walked all over him. I liked the humour of the role reversal, where someone who should have been the centre of attention and reverence ended up getting none (though I have to admit that more than a bit of it was based on my own experiences). Of course, a story where the main character gets walked over all the time would be pretty boring after a while, so I made sure that my king found his own ways to enjoy himself.

I was quite amazed when I got feedback from the class. Everyone was saying what a wonderful children's story I'd written. I even got compared to A.A. Milne. People actually seemed quite touched by the story.

And here I was thinking I'd just written a funny story. I had no idea that it might be suitable as a children's story. But it did make me think. Maybe writing for children was something I could do.

Now some things have changed. I definitely think of myself as a writer of children's stories (amongst many other things). But other things are still the same. Ultimately, to me it's mainly about the story. Is it for kids? Is it for adults? I'm never completely sure.

I just want to write the best stories I can.


  1. I’ve just plugged you in a review on Goodreads. The book in question was The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders and as soon as I started reading it I thought: I know who this reminds me of. This is another one of those books—not that the list is an exceptionally-long one—of books written for adults that feel like they ought to have been written for kids. But then all we have to do is look at comics for our precedent: material ostensibly produced for kids that increasingly found it was talking to more and more grownup kids. There’s a nostalgia that books like yours evoke. We loved reading as kids but kids’ books are just a little unsatisfying. Could there not be a product that meets us halfway? To my mind one of the best examples of this is the comic book Fables and now, of course, we’ve got all sorts of daft films out there updating fables and fairy stories, some more effectively than others.

    On the subject of illustrations though there’s a place for them and a time to put them aside. Saunders’s book has illustrations but they bear no resemblance to what’s on the page and I would’ve done without them myself. Let the reader use his own imagination.