Tag Archives: children’s books

Your fears and mine

You wake to see the shadow in the doorway. Unmoving, its silhouette breaks the illusion of safety. Your home no longer belongs to you. 

You shift position and realise the thing at the door was simply a trick of the light. The shadow of an object so mundane it makes you laugh (a jacket, a bag, something hung on the door handle).

You pull the covers back over your head and enjoy the warmth. Snuggled tight, you try to enjoy your silliness, to laugh off the fear. 

But the fear won’t go easily and the memory of that spector in your doorway plagues you. Hiding in the fringes of your vision and at the edge of your dreams. It will not be an easy night.

I’m writing a horror book and it’s given me a new found respect for R L Stine. Stine is the author of the infamous ‘Goosebumps’ series of children’s horror books (among many other titles) and he is very good at what he does.

There appears to be a tightrope to walk when writing horror for children. It wobbles between thrills and frights, and a true sense of horror. I walked the tightrope for the first eight chapters and then I fell in.

This new book is not for kids.

The difference became apparent when a main character takes in the reality of what they’ve done. That depth of responsibility, the reality of remorse somehow made things grow a lot more ‘adult’.

This made me wonder if there is a fundamental difference in what can terrify a child and an adult. We will overlap in the basic self-preservation fears, those that make us run from the monstrous (we all want to stay safe after all). However, do adults find a different kind of horror in recognising the monstrous in themselves?

Is the deep end of horror found in the place in our brain where our own monster lives? I’d love to hear what you think so please leave your own ideas in the comments section below.

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

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Go hug your mum (most kids’ books would have killed her by now)

There’s an almost unspoken rule in kids fiction; before the story begins kill the parents. Harry Potter loses his parents, Sophie in the BFG is an orphan, etc. etc. Then there’s a whole other category of what you might call half-orphans; children who have lost their mothers (i.e. Danny [champion of the world], Hiccup [How to train your dragon], Belle [Beauty and the Beast].)

There must be some literary reason behind all this maternal slaughter but the one that seemed to flair up most for me (after I decided to keep my characters’ mums alive) came as a bit of a surprise.

Initially I assumed that all the parents were being killed off because parents would make the story too boring for kids. However, the more I write mum characters the more I see how brilliant, exciting, and shocking they can be. Turns out mums aren’t so boring after all. So why do so many children’s books commit matricide?

I can boil my feelings on it down to a moment I had when writing ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’. There’s a battle, a character full of malevolence and power is poised to begin a magical takeover of the non-magical world, and all the key good guys are lining up to stop him.

Key among these is a mum with more than enough power to take him on. Originally I had her set up to do just that and then something shoved that option aside; fear. Not her fear (she was brave, bold, and everything I needed her to be), instead I found myself burgeoned with ridiculous amounts of worry on the part of her child. This is when I realised the real reason that parents stay out of the action in children’s fiction; it’s all just too much for the children to take.

As a writer you’re faced with a choice between endless descriptions of a child’s concern for their parent, or you can avoid this and make the child seem uncaring or even callous in their disregard for their mum’s safety.

The simple truth is that you can’t write a believable child without addressing their relationship with their parents. When you take their parents out of the picture, your character can get on with the adventuring.

When you take the mum out, in a strange way, you remove the character’s worries about the possibility of losing a source of deep reassurance, support, and love. Mums can’t always be part of the action because the risk is simply too great for the child protagonists.

It looks like mums are sometimes too big, too emotionally all-encompassing to be included in children’s stories. In other words mums are a bit too awesome for kids books.

Can you think of any kids books that manage to keep the mums involved? Do you have any favourite literary mums? Feel free to share in the comments and over on Facebook or Twitter.

As always thanks for reading, and happy mothers day to all the mums out there.

All the best, John