Monday, 18 October 2010
Advice To Aspiring Children's Authors:
(1) The Morris Minor Trap
One of the mistakes aspiring children’s authors sometimes make is that they try to write books like the ones they read and loved when they were children. But publishing, like everything else, is affected by cultural changes and in the course of one person’s lifetime those changes can be very considerable.
This is particularly true of anything to do with children. The whole idea of childhood has been radically overhauled since I was a boy. And a good thing too, in my opinion. The version of childhood that I lived through had some serious design-faults of the seen-and-not-heard variety. Not to mention the physical violence variety. However, that’s another story.
Publishing is also susceptible to minor fluctuations, trends and fads. Children’s publishing in particular is affected by developments in education. If the educational sector suddenly gets in a panic about boys’ achievement and starts looking around for resources to throw at the problem, for example, then books targeted more specifically at boys start appearing in the marketplace. If a celebrity decides they like a certain kind of book, or a certain kind of author, then books of that kind or by that kind of author start appearing prominently in bookshop windows.
You can’t hope to second-guess all this, of course, but you can try not to get hopelessly left behind. Consider the analogy of the Morris Minor.
When I was a child I would go on holiday to Ireland every Summer and my Auntie Bella used to meet me at Sligo station in hers. It was a solidly-built car and it suited my Auntie Bella down to the ground. But then Auntie Bella seldom got out of second gear. An electric window would probably have given her a heart attack.
Now imagine if I were to take it into my head that I could design a new automobile and I went to an automobile manufacturer with the blueprint of the Morris Minor and offered them my services as a designer. Do you think they would snap me up and offer me large sums of money? Probably not.
So if you’re trying to be a children’s writer, it’s a good idea to avoid the Morris Minor trap and the way to do it is to read lots and lots of the latest children’s books. Not the classics. They have their place, of course. They defined the genre. But to gain an understanding of the cutting edge of contemporary children’s books, there’s nothing like reading some.