Saturday, 3 December 2011
Who's Teaching Who?
When I'm looking after my grandson I like to think that I'm teaching him things as well. We spend time reading books, and looking at flashcards. But we also spend huge amounts of time playing games that are all process and absolutely no product.
For example one of his favourite games at the moment involves me building a tower from wooden blocks that he then knocks down with his tractor to the accompaniment of a shout of 'Crash!' from me and something a bit like 'Agh!' from him. This game can be repeated endlessly until he gets sick of it (and his tolerance level is pretty high right now).
This is the complete opposite of the way I work as a professional children's writer. Whenever the idea for a story pops into my head I immediately start seeing it as a completed novel and asking questions like: What age reader is this story intended for? Will my agent like it? Will my editor like it? How does it fit with the other books I've written? I can't help this. I've been writing children's books for thirty years so perhaps it's inevitable.
However, seeing how my grandson plays has made me remember how I first began writing. Naturally, I wanted to get published in those days but that wasn't why I wrote. I wrote for one simple reason: because I enjoyed it. I explored the writing process rather like my grandson explores the possibilities of wooden bricks and tractors.
I can remember reading a lot of Roald Dahl stories and understanding exactly how he achieved his twist endings. It's so precise it's almost mathematical. And that doesn't mean I'm criticising him, by the way. He's an architect of fiction and like every good architect he plans his work very carefully.
When I realised this I went away and wrote any number of twist stories, just to prove to myself that I could do it and just for the pleasure of seeing how the machinery worked.
Writing is my job. It's work and like all work it has to be taken seriously. But it's also fun. My grandson has reminded me of that. So who's teaching who?