What is the pleasure that children can get out of books, in a way that makes them want to return time and time again to words on a page? As a children’s author, what’s my process to try and create that value? I don’t just mean education, social, or literary value but human value – because, in that, I believe, lies the main pleasure from reading.
The feeling that, as a child, you are not alone. Others not only once felt the same way you do now, but have felt things you are yet to feel. The realisation that together, people can achieve great things, even the impossible. The awareness that there is space in the world for every kind of person and creature. The realisation that one day, you might just be old enough to do anything you want.
I am often asked “Is writing full length fiction for children any different to writing for adults?” After all, parents and grandparents make up tales for their little ones at the drop of a hat, why are you making such a song and dance about it?
Well, children are different. I know it sounds obvious, but they are. Yes, they are young adults in transition, but they see the world through young eyes. Child narrators are often unreliable, with good reason. They don’t instinctively see half the motives and cynicism in adult actions and words that we do. They are often discovering experiences we take for granted – from train journeys to trifle, love to loss, pain to pirouetting – for the very first time.
I try and remember what that was like, but at the same time I try hard not to sacrifice literary style or quality for authenticity. It’s about capturing the tone or mood of that experience…we sometimes make our child narrators more articulate, more insightful, more ironic and profound than the real thing. Otherwise why read the story?
In the end, what I think most children wish, more than anything else, is to be older. To be independent and free. And like all such desires, as the stories teach us, be careful what you wish for. A good read, a pleasurable book, will grant that wish in every way. For an hour or two, you can be older. And wiser, and braver, and happier, and sadder, and angrier – hey, even more responsible if you wish! The gradual awakening that the imagination is a passport to a decades long journey of self-discovery – well, if you can grow that, then you have grown a reader for life.
Piers Torday began his career in theatre and then television as a producer and writer. His first book for children, The Last Wild, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Award and nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. The sequel, The Dark Wild, won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Other books include The Wild Beyond and The Death of an Owl. He lives in London with his husband and a very naughty dog.
Image (c) James Betts