The Idea-Making Machine

I’ve just been thinking about my earliest real attempts at writing, which date back many years. Some of these proto-stories I’ve kept, and some have been forgotten; some never made it out of my head onto paper at all. Most of them date from my teens, and into my twenties, which I suppose is quite late to start writing (even though I’m sickeningly old now, of course, so I’ve had years of practice, regardless). I wrote as a child, too, but these forays into storytelling were more like homages to my favourite books – retellings of stories that I loved, or unnecessary sequels to classic books. As a small kid, I was more of a reader than a writer, really. My first proper attempts to write began with (excruciatingly bad) poetry as a teenager, and it was only when I was in college that I started thinking seriously about writing fiction – and, even then, it was always children’s books I wanted to create. The desire to write YA fiction came to me as a natural development out of that. Ever since then, my life has been defined by my obsession with the written word.

I can’t explain precisely why I love stories for children and Young Adults so much – I’ve blogged about why I like to write these sort of stories before, so I’m not going to revisit that topic here. I stand by what I wrote before about the value of children’s literature, and how I hate any attempt to reduce it, or think of it as being less valuable than literature for adults, though. To my earlier comments, I’d add that I really think giving children the gift of literacy and encouraging them to read (and write) from the earliest age can change their whole life for the better – writing them good, solid, enjoyable, exciting stories is part of that gift. I’m passionately interested in literacy (both in childhood and adulthood) and I firmly believe that good literacy helps a person’s overall intellectual development, as well as their self-esteem and independence. It’s one of the most powerful tools we have for improving lives, and by extension society as a whole.

Reading with a parent or guardian at an early age is vital

Reading with a parent or guardian at an early age is vital

I am wondering, though, about ideas this morning, and why all the ideas I have seem to belong so readily to the world of fiction for young people. It’s not something I wish to change – not that there’s anything wrong with writing for adults, of course! – but I’m wondering why some writers find their ideas fall into particular genres so naturally. I wonder if I love stories for children because all my favourite stories, the ones that shaped my mind and my reading life (and my actual life, if truth be told) were ones I read as a child, or if it’s because there’s something in my adult mind that still loves the wonder only a great story can create. I do read books written for my own age group (honest!), and I enjoy and relish them, but the truth remains – my favourite books, even now, are those written for children. I don’t think it means I have a less-developed mind than other people my age – I certainly don’t think it has anything at all to do with immaturity. I think it’s because stories for children have a freedom at their hearts, a kind of ability to break the rules that adult books feel compelled to keep, and that’s wonderful. There are books written for adults which have this same sort of feeling – Jeanette Winterson’s, for instance – but it’s a lot more prevalent in children’s and YA writing.

I used to think, when I was younger, that I wasn’t interested in writing for adults because I hadn’t done enough living of my own to be able to write books about grown-up subjects. That’s (probably) not true any more, but my ideas haven’t changed; my mind hasn’t adjusted its sails in search of a new, more ‘literary’ horizon. Even though I’m now as grown-up as could be, and I’ve experienced more already in my life than I thought I ever would, I still wake up every morning with my mind full of other worlds, lost fathers, haunted furniture, baby-stealing goblins, school bullies, spooky old houses, and so on. I’ve always loved fairy-tales and folktales (as well as folk music, which is a hugely rich source of stories), which fed into my study of medieval literature at university; my love of the medieval, I think, helped me to adore the dark, twisted heart at the core of a lot of the best children’s stories, and also to appreciate good fantasy/SF books, too. I think my love for the stories I like to read and write is as natural to me as my hair colour, or the fact that I wear glasses, or my fear of heights. I can’t change it, and I don’t want to. My ideas have their root in the same soil as Yggdrasil, beside the stream where the Salmon of Knowledge was caught, which flows not far from Camelot. These stories are intrinsic to me, and wrapped around my DNA. They’re a treasure.

Wherever my ideas come from, and no matter what sort of form they take, I just hope they never stop coming. I think (or maybe it’s more of a desperate hope!) that the more you use your ideas – the more you listen to them, and make something of them – the more readily they’ll come to you. Not listening to my inner idea-making machine, and suppressing all the budding stories in my mind (as I had to do for too many years) only led to depression and heartache for me. Letting ideas live, and setting them free to see what they’ll do and where they’ll go, brings me huge amounts of joy, and it would be great to think that they might bring joy to others, too. Hopefully, one day, I’ll have readers who look like this:

child reading confidently on his ownIf that day ever comes, I’ll consider my life well-spent.

1 thought on “The Idea-Making Machine

  1. Salubri

    I’d agree that reading to, with and around children is crucial. I also think we’ve always been on the same page about writing for children and the importance of doing it right (although we differ on the degree of success with which certain authors do this – you know of whom I speak).

    I would guess that the attraction of writing for a younger audience is at least partly to do with the “doing it right” part… The desire to inspire!

    In the main (I generalise but shall continue to do so, eyes wide open) writers of adult “literature” / fiction write to entertain and distract (or at the best inform / convey a “message”). The chance to write to inspire, promote dreams and foster excitement is so much more appealing!

    Tangent: I think that, possibly, one of the reasons fantasy readers become fledgling fantasy writers so often, is that fantasy is one genre where inspiration of the reader and excitement of the imagination is key. (Similarly self help – but that’s a different conversation)


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