Monday, 1 April 2013

Writing For Il Duce

I have been teaching some classes in Writing For Children recently and one of the things I keep noticing is how many people bring a great deal of sentimentality about children along to the class. It’s one of the first things I try to get them to jettison.

Sentimentality is a very natural emotional response. I’m a sentimental man myself. For weeks after my younger daughter went off to university and the house was left empty by day except for me and my computer, I was to be found wandering from room to room, picking up random objects that belonged to her and staring at them with tear-filled eyes as though I had just received a telegram from the front line to say that she was missing in action.

And these days I am a figure of fun in the family for the way my grandchildren have me twisted around their little fingers. When he can’t get his own way, the older one performs a fake crying act that everyone else just laughs at but that somehow wins me over, even though I know perfectly well it’s phoney.

But my sentimentality is of absolutely no use to me as a writer because children’s literature is about the child’s experience; and that means not looking at your child characters but seeing the world through their eyes.

Children are not sentimental. What they are most concerned with is power. Entirely understandably, because they have none. They don’t wake up and think, ‘I wonder what I should do today.’ They get told they’re going to nursery or they’re being taken to the supermarket or (if they’re lucky) they’re going to the park. That’s why they spend so much time trying to subvert the adult agenda. If they’re being difficult it’s nearly always an attempt to wrest some sort of control from the grown-ups.

The stark truth is that however much you love them, there’s a little bit of Mussolini inside every child. So forget the sentimentality. You are writing for Il Duce. Just make sure it's good.

1 comment:

Paul said...

NOW I finally understand my children!