Tag Archives: childhood

When I grow up I want to write stories

Words come easily to some people. Even at a young age it’s easy to spot those children who will never struggle to be heard or understood. I wasn’t one of these children.

The simplicity and directness of language fascinated me. However, I made things hard on myself. I favoured ‘big words’ because they seemed to convey so much in such a short space of time.

For me ‘big words’ really were ‘simple’ words. It took me many years to see where I was going wrong.

Despite the seeming directness that a broad vocabulary offered, what I was really doing was alienating my peers.

Words are more complicated than I realised at the age of eight or nine. All the same, knowing what a change in word use can do makes it easier to tailor my speech and writing now.

At five years old I loved to write stories (you know the kind: you draw and colour it in (stay inside the lines!), then write a sentence underneath to make sense of it all). Teachers would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up and the answer always shifted between ‘archaeologist’ and ‘story writer’.

Eventually my love for dinosaurs was surpassed by my desire to be understood and to entertain. By my teens I had firmly decided on ‘writer’ as the end game.

It would be easy to say that I’ve always wanted to be a writer but it’s not quite true. My real motivation was to reach a point where people’s eyes wouldn’t glaze over as I spoke to them.

I would let myself hope to be interesting or entertaining but most of the time I’d settle for people remaining focused after 30 seconds.

As I entered university I also started to approach the idea of conveying ‘big ideas’. However, when I became a parent I realised that sometimes you can show big ideas with some very small actions.

The Jack Reusen books are wrapped around family and magic but the ‘big ideas’ are hidden behind that.

How important is comfort/safety? Can a full life be had without stepping away from the familiar?  Who should have power? Does power imply a duty to do right by those who do not have it? Should ‘dangerous’ knowledge be locked away/hidden from others?

My desire to become a writer can be confusing to some. However, far more people seem able to sympathise with a desire to be understood.

Did you struggle to be understood as a child? Do you find that writing helps you get past that? Perhaps you found a different form of expression. If so, what was it? Do you find that voice helpful/therapeutic?

As always, thanks so much for stopping by this page. All the best, John

Advertisements

Was Enid Blyton a bad writer?

wpid-imag1413_burst008.jpgEnid Blyton is responsible for a huge portion of missed sleep from my childhood. The Famous Five books and the ‘Mystery’ series were staple components of my evenings (and long into the night) from the age of about eight or nine till I started high school at twelve (we don’t do middle school in Scotland). She opened a world of adventure to me but I have to admit she also wedged me thoroughly into a literary rut.

With Blyton’s books I developed a love of reading that became a core part of my identity, ever since then I’ve regarded myself as a passionate reader. However, her writing style left me cocooned from other works of fiction; she wrote in a relaxed, easily accessible, manner that demanded little of the reader and simply allowed the story to flow.

In many ways reading Blyton was like watching TV; I simply allowed the story to unfold before me, often going for chapters without feeling as though I needed to put much of my own thought in at all. This is the blessing and the curse of Blyton’s writing. Her books were published at a time when children were just beginning to migrate towards television as the entertainment medium of choice, Blyton appeared with an alternative.

I grew up in the eighties and by then we had access to so much more child-orientated TV than the generations that preceded us. The challenge was even greater for authors then than it had been back in Blyton’s day. Eighties children’s authors had to go foor the popular vote by whatever means necessary. They grasped for the ghoulish in the form of the Goosebumps series or pandered to a growing culture of pre-teen girls who aspired to a fantasised version of teenaged life in books like the Babysitters club. Meanwhile, in a dusty antique book shop on a holiday trip to Lincoln cathedral I came upon the famous five. I was hooked.

Blyton enjoyed (and still enjoys) the backlash from librarians, teachers, and other people who wish to promote ‘proper literature’ to children the world over for her work. Rhiannon Lassiter’s mother (Mary Hoffman) banned Blyton, you can see what Lassiter thought to that by following this link.

For many Blyton was low brow, pandering and, at best, akin to the type of bargain-bin paperback frivolity that adults buy at the train station or airport to help pass the time. In essence it was (is?) seen as just one step up from a magazine.

I can’t help but wonder if this is just a case of the anti-popularism which is often sported by the self-designated cultural elite, who seem to feel the need to put down anything popular as bourgeois and watered-down alternatives to ‘real’ literature/art in general.

I’ve never gone for this kind of thinking, I liken it to the idea that fine dining is always superior to fast food. Of course there’s something to be said for an excellently prepared meal but sometimes you really just want a greasy cheeseburger and fries from a burger van. (Neither fine dining nor fast food have the best credibility as sources of nutrition, in both instances it’s all about the taste, the aesthetic)

I think the same thing is true of literature, sometimes we’ll want to enjoy the complexities and nuances of an exquisite work of fiction but sometimes, and I think this goes ten-fold for those who are just beginning their literary journey, sometimes you just want to be swept up in an adventure.

So was Enid Blyton a bad writer? In my mind the answer is a resounding NO; she provided me a literary foothold in an era in which electronics and TV were taking over every aspect of the life of a child. She let me escape that world (a little) and allowed me access to the world of my imagination in a way that the alternatives simply couldn’t. Was she a literary marvel? Probably not, but the service she did perform well was to allow children to marvel at what a book could do.

I am the first to admit that moving on from Blyton’s style of writing was quite hard but as I noted in a previous post I found a way, as I’m sure many many more people did as well. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the modern book industry would be an shell of its current state if it wasn’t for her prolific contribution to children’s literature, if for nothing else but that her works stood as an alternative to the proliferation of TV into the lives of children. In this sense, at least in my opinion, she stands up as a literary hero in her own right.

DON’T FORGET: Book one of the Jack Reusen series: ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ is available in both paperback and in digital format. You’ll make me as happy as four kids and a dog with a picnic blanket and lashings of ginger beer if you click on this link to pop over to the ‘books’ page where you can find out more about the book and get details on how to get hold of your copy. I hope you like it as much as I enjoyed writing it 🙂

A place that’s safe

wpid-imag1289.jpgWe all need a place where we can feel like ourselves. Sometimes as an adult it’s hard to remember how difficult it can be to find that place. As adults these places can even be kind of portable. We can take our identity with us in the clothes that we wear, the books we have in our bag and a whole host of identity affirming things like tattoos and piercings.

What’s more we can alter our environment through choice by picking a favourite coffee place, a spot at the library, even simply a seat in the staff room.

However, children lack this luxury (and I’m not trying to condone letting your child get a tattoo or get a piercing here). A lot of children, especially in early primary school, will have a whole collection of decisions made for them: their clothes will be chosen for them, their meals decided in advance by someone else, even what they do with their day is largely out of their control.

Kids go to school, they then get rushed off to whatever club or group their parents have signed them up to, in amongst that you wonder how they manage to find something that feels like ‘theirs’. In the midst of all this jostling its inevitable that children may sometimes need a secret place or, if they’re lucky (or are an only child), they might even get a room of their own. It sounds like a difficult task yet somehow we’ve all gone through it and we all managed to find that place.

When I was a kid (with a younger sister who got into everything) my safe places could sometimes get kind of small. Sometimes it would be an old biscuit tin filled with niknaks and half broken toys that I didn’t want to part with. I sometimes wonder if this was the beginning of the traditional ‘man’s bit box’ (typically filled with screws, odd bolts, parts of old electronics and a host of possibly dud batteries.

However, I also felt safe and like myself in big, open, natural, places like forests and the ‘beaches’ beside rivers. I always used to imagine all kinds of weird and wonderful stories there, somehow these places seemed more connected to magic. It’s probably why so much the books are set in these kinds of places.

I can’t help but wonder if my experiences are unusual or if feeling safe and more like yourself in these kinds of places is quite common. Where did you feel most at home as a child? What places offered you the most adventure and did you have a niknak box? As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John