I have just returned from an inspirational Arvon residential course at Tottleigh Barton. At least I found it inspirational, I cannot necessarily make the claim for the sixteen eleven year olds from Newham I was tutoring.
These days I generally work with adults, tutoring and supervising MA students and much as I enjoy that, there is nothing like the mind of a child.
Years ago, when I first started writing for young people, I was often asked if I wrote for my own young children. My answer was always ‘No.’ I would fix my interlocutor with a beady eye and firmly state that I wrote for the child I had been and to some extent remained. It is true that I have always written the kind of story that would have excited me as a child. I’ve got a little wiser and a great deal greyer but haven’t changed that much in any essential way: I still love strange tales of magic and transformation, other worlds and secret powers. I have added to the repertoire of stories I love, but subtracted nothing.
Now my children are more or less grown up and I do fewer schools visits, it is still true that I write for myself and yet….
This week I was obliged to remember what I had not noticed I had forgotten: a children’s writer needs to hear children’s voices. I was surprised to realise how much I’ve missed them: their energy, their enthusiasms their unexpected naivete and occasionally startling sophistication. The particular group I was working with were great: polite, engaged, funny, responsive, talented and unspoiled. They were at that golden age where they could understand complex ideas, experience and express deep emotion but had not yet learned to be embarrassed or afraid of honesty, of self exposure: most of all they still believed in stories. What I mean is that they gave themselves up to a story in a way that fewer older children can and, although they did not believe in magic, the distant possibility of its existence had not quite been erased from their world.
I hope I gave them something this week in fair exchange for what they gave back to me: the subliminal hum of childhood singing in my ear.