How to get on with your next children's book ... or not. By Griselda Heppel.
|Fresh, deliciously green copies of|
The Fall of a Sparrow by Griselda Heppel
So what does a writer do at that moment, apart from buzz around doing book signings (where possible) and school visits (where invited), plus the odd radio/magazine interview?
Well, she starts on her next book of course. If she’s not well into it already. Certainly a whole year later, there should be at least a first draft in the can, if not a second/third/fourth. Writers burst with ideas, don’t they, characters running around in their heads, banging on their temples, me me me they cry, what about ME, it’s my story now, get ON with it….
I am being a wuss about this, I know. More diversity in children’s books is long overdue and the fact that it’s beginning to happen is very exciting. Nor has there been any let-up in the stream of high quality children’s books published every year, so clearly the rules are working.
Erm. Yes. Or, in my case, not so much.
People often ask: what comes first, plot or character? Answers to this can go on forever but of course you need both. Not much point thinking up a cracking plot if you can’t match it with believable, well-rounded characters your readers will care about. Equally the most deeply researched, painfully realistic characters are not enough to keep your reader hooked if the story is dull, or there’s no story at all… unless you’re writing literary fiction, where apparently this is OK. (Which is why I read very little contemporary lit fic; the frequently poor plotting is just too annoying.)
In my case it’s always the story that comes first. Something strikes me – usually a few ideas or images thrown together – that would make a brilliantly exciting (I think) story. Now all I need is the characters to drive it. And that’s where I find myself increasingly coming unstuck. There are just so many rules now in children’s and young adult books. Your cast of characters must be as diverse as possible, reflecting – rightly – real life, with children from different ethnic backgrounds and differently abled, and ideally, driving the narrative as hero/heroine. But wait – you can only do this if you, the writer, share personally their life experiences, because otherwise This Is Not Your Story To Tell. Which means you end up not being allowed to tell any story but your own, which isn’t what’s wanted anyway.
These rules are often repeated by writers/agents/editors on social media but no one has ever yet been able to tell me (and believe me, I have asked) how you can simultaneously do one thing and also not – on any account – do it.
|A fairy story. |
Photo by Tú Nguyễn:
But I do wonder if this is why so many books nowadays have magical heroes – witches, pixies, fairies, sprites, children with super powers, talking animals – or are set in imaginary worlds.
After all, if everything is invented, no one can accuse you of pretending to someone else’s reality.