Tag Archives: fairy tales

Wednesday Writing – ‘The Fox Queen’

Photo Credit: Eric Bégin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Eric Bégin via Compfight cc

The Fox Queen

Once, there was a girl who found that if she folded herself up just right, she could grow small, and red, and bright-eyed, and a tail would sprout from her hindquarters, big and bushy. Her brain would become quick and sharp as a needle, and her nose would see the world in layers, scent laid upon scent like silk scarves floating in a breeze. She would grow four small paws – pop, pop, pop, pop, just like that – tipped with white fur and sharp black claws, and she would be fast. Her ears would become keener than a blade newly forged.

And there was a tiny catch inside her, like a button straining on a loop, and all she had to do to go back to being a girl was unfasten it, as easy as you’d undo your shoelaces. A simple flip, swish, and she was back, but just because it was simple didn’t mean it was easy.

She practised when she could and, with time, she grew bold.

One day as she ran, quick-quick, in her fox shape, she came upon a pair of finely dressed men out walking near the river.

‘Now that I am married,’ one man was saying, his beard black and bold, ‘we may begin.’

‘How shall it be managed?’ asked the other, a man with no beard and a tall bare forehead, which went all the way back to his neck. It shone with sweat.

‘Poison, I think,’ replied Black-Beard. ‘A secret blend of my own devising, untraceable.’


‘Only the gods know that,’ smiled Black-Beard.

The fox-girl held her breath as they walked away, their steps wending towards the palace where the Princess lived, a young woman of youth and beauty and uncommon kindness, recently wed. She unfolded herself and stretched a bit, and ran towards the palace kitchens by another road.

‘Cook,’ she said. ‘Let me in.’

‘Can you turn a spit? Can you scrape potatoes?’ asked the cook, barely looking up from her work.

‘Yes, yes,’ said the girl, and the cook nodded, handing her an apron without missing a stroke of her stirring. All day the girl worked, peeling and pounding and tasting and seasoning and chopping and basting and cutting, until dinner was ready and it was time to serve. She lined up behind Cook and all the other kitchen maids, last of the lot, and her eyes were keen as they trooped into the dining hall, laden.

The Princess sat at the top table, Black-Beard smiling beside her, and the girl watched. They poured the soup, and the Princess ate. They carved the meat and the Princess licked her fingers, Black-Beard’s smile growing wider. Then, Cook brought forth the blancmange, shaped in the shape of a wedding cake, and Black-Beard smiled as widely as he could.

‘My dear,’ he said, taking up the Princess’ hand to kiss it, and as soon as she closed her demure eyes to receive him, the girl saw a white powder sliding from his sleeve, soundless and unnoticed, trickling into the Princess’ dish.

She turned to a corner and folded herself as quick as quick, and leapt like a stroke of red lightning, running straight at the blancmange with her claws out, grasping. She knocked it right over and it quivered on the floor, unserved. Her tail brushed the Princess’ dish from the table and it flew to the tiles, where it shivered into a million pieces.

‘A piece of gold for that creature’s pelt!’ roared Black-Beard, but the Princess laid a hand on his arm.

‘Surely not, my dear,’ she said. ‘It is only a beast, who knows no better.’

The fox-girl ran back to the kitchen and unfolded herself, steadying her cap on her head and her apron on her waist just in time for the giggling kitchen maids to pour back in, full of gossip and excitement, and nobody noticed anything amiss.

Next day, the stink of Black-Beard filled her head as soon as she folded herself up. She followed him like a careful shadow, testing the wind as she drew near, for this day he and Long-Head had dogs with them, stupid and slow but with mouthfuls of teeth.

‘This time we will try to unhorse her,’ growled Black-Beard. ‘At my mark, the dogs will frighten her mount, and it will be suitably tragic.’

‘An excellent plan, my lord,’ smiled Long-Head.

The fox-girl unfolded herself, stretched her tired muscles, and ran to the palace stables. She hid in a corner until the Princess entered, smiling, to be helped onto her horse. With fanfare, Black-Beard joined her and the party rode out.

The girl took a deep breath and transformed herself into the shiniest, plumpest fox that had ever been seen, and instantly the dogs took her scent. The Princess had barely ridden out of her palace before the beasts were lured away, howling and bawling, saliva running, eyes maddened and hearts aflame. The fox-girl heard Black-Beard roaring as she ran, and the Princess, cheering her on.

On the third day, the fox-girl waited for Black-Beard and Long-Head, and by the by they came, frowns glowering and eyes overcast.

‘This time, it shall be in her chamber,’ said Black-Beard. ‘I shall take a blade and drive it home myself, in privacy.’

‘A wonderful plan, my lord,’ sneered Long-Head.

The fox-girl ran to the palace, climbing walls and ivy until the Princess’ window was reached. It was open, and she stole in, hiding in a dark corner. Her folded-up muscles ached, and her eyes stung with tiredness, and her belly yowled with hunger, but she waited still and patient for darkness to fall. In time, it did.

The Princess entered, and was undressed and bathed and garbed in her nightgown, her hair brushed out one hundred times and her prayers whispered. Still, the fox-girl waited, eyes shining in the shadows.

A knock came at the door.

‘My dear,’ wheedled Black-Beard. ‘May I enter?’

‘Lord husband,’ replied the Princess. ‘Of course.’ She crossed to let him in, and the fox-girl tensed every pained muscle, straining to see.

‘You are lovely, wife,’ said Black-Beard, holding the Princess at arm’s length. ‘Come, let me embrace you.’ She raised her arms to welcome him, and the fox-girl saw his hand slide to his belt.

She leapt from the corner and bounded for his head, her teeth bared, and Black-Beard fell back with a yell. Quicker than a thought, he drew forth his blade and threw it. The dagger struck the fox-girl’s foot, slicing through it and removing two tiny toes, and her red blood on the floor matched the red of her coat. She ran for the window as the Princess shrieked for her guards.

Talk was, next day, that the Princess’ husband and his liege-man had been called home on urgent business. They vanished, at any rate, and were never seen again in the Princess’ realm or any other, and the fox-girl went home and her hand was bandaged, and life went on.

One day the fox-girl passed the Princess on the road. She curtsied and stood aside, and the Princess’ horse had almost trotted past when her voice was heard, calling.

‘Girl,’ she said. ‘How did you injure your hand?’

‘An accident, your Highness,’ replied the fox-girl.

‘Strange,’ said the Princess. ‘I once saw a fox injured in just the same way, two of its toes sliced away by a traitorous blade. When my maid came to clean the blood, she found the fox-toes had turned into fingers, thick and calloused from hard work, strong and short of nail.’ The fox-girl said nothing. ‘Hold out your hands to me, girl,’ said the Princess.

The fox-girl did as she was told, and the Princess saw the truth of things.

‘I will reward you with anything it is in my power to give,’ she said.

‘A small bag of gold for my parents, your Highness,’ replied the fox-girl.

‘And for you?’

‘I have had my reward,’ she replied, curtsying.

From that day forth, however, the Princess – later the Queen – made no decision without consulting the fox-girl. In time, the girl and her family took rooms in the palace, and the fox-girl sat by the Queen’s side in a red throne of her own. Finally, the Queen died, and the fox-girl ruled in her place, until she too passed from this world.

Now they lie together in a single tomb, two days’ ride from here, on the far side of the mountain. And if you don’t believe me, you can go and look for yourself, and that’s the end of it.


Masterpieces of Children’s Literature

Earlier this week, a reader used the words ‘masterpieces of children’s literature’ in a search engine, and as a result they came upon my blog. I’m not sure whether they went away disappointed, or if they found what they were looking for, because I’ve never really written about the broad scope of children’s literature here; it is my primary passion in life, and yet I’ve never actually gone into it in any detail.

In honour of that blog searcher, then, I’d like to write a little about children’s literature, its history and development, and some of the masterpieces of the genre.

I promise it won’t be boring. There’ll be blood and gore and highly inappropriate content, and everything. Sort of.

Is it just me, or is this really creepy? *shudder* Photo Credit: Stewart Leiwakabessy via Compfight cc</a

Is it just me, or is this really creepy? *shudder*
Photo Credit: Stewart Leiwakabessy via Compfight cc

So, it’s probably not news to anyone that the idea of ‘children’s literature’ didn’t really exist until the mid to late eighteenth century; before that, texts were written for children, of course, but they were without exception things like ‘horn books’, or primers to help them learn to read, primarily composed of Scripture excerpts and lessons. Early literature didn’t really distinguish between ‘adult’ readers and ‘child’ readers in the sense that nobody wondered whether kids would like to read stuff that appealed to their imaginations – in fact, it was precisely this sort of flightiness that literature for children sought to keep under wraps. Early writing for young readers was all about control and instruction. Even fairy tales (now considered the foundation of children’s literature) weren’t originally designed for child readers, and were sanitised thoroughly by nineteenth-century moralists to make them ‘suitable’, which is a shame.

I recently attended a lecture about children’s literature in which the speaker discussed Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift, as a story which is full of allusions to things kids wouldn’t have a clue about, like history, politics and sexuality but which is, nevertheless, for children. I was inclined to agree. A tale which deals with changing body size, the arbitrary nature of justice in a world you don’t understand, and being utterly lost, are all things familiar to anyone who loves to write or read children’s books, even now. It’s incredible to think it dates from the 1720s.

Throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, texts and stories written with children in mind began to proliferate. However, they were heavy on the moralistic didacticism, and light on the fun. Swiss Family Robinson, published in 1812, is a great adventure story but it was designed to teach. At the Back of the North Wind, from 1868, is a good example of a story which is full of wonder and imagination, but also stuffed with the sickly-sweet idealisation of childhood; between its goody-two-shoes narrator and its puke-tastic ending, it wouldn’t last two seconds with a modern child reader. Little Women was also published in 1868, and it’s admittedly a masterpiece – but it’s also full of lessons, despite being as different from North Wind as it’s possible for two texts to be. I’m not really a fan of either.

Argh! Scary, no? Photo Credit: chicks57 via Compfight cc

Argh! Scary, no?
Photo Credit: chicks57 via Compfight cc

Oscar Wilde did a good job, in my opinion, of marrying the didacticism with wonderful stories. His fairy tales, including The Happy Prince, are still considered masterpieces – though, again, I’m not sure what modern children would make of them. They’re probably more appealing to adults, these days.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland dates, scarily, to 1865; it’s definitely a masterpiece, though it’s also stuffed full of lessons and allusions, not that you’d notice them because the story is so much fun. Considering that this was originally cooked up to keep three little girls amused on a summer’s afternoon, I think it definitely passes the ‘was this intended for children?’ test with flying colours. With Mark Twain and his The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, books about adventure which try to teach the world a lesson, as opposed to the children doing the reading, come into their own. I’m not sure how ground-breaking Huck’s relationship with Jim was perceived at the time these books were new, but I can guess that it was pretty spectacular. As the nineteenth century drew to a close we had stories like Kidnapped and Treasure Island and The Jungle Book, all of which are considered masterpieces of children’s literature but which, to me, illustrate the changes in taste between then and now; I’m not sure modern readers have the patience for such monumental works. Kipling’s Stalky & Co., from 1899, would probably be classed as ‘YA’ literature these days; slightly on the risqué side, the stories which make up this book were based on the author’s own recollections of his younger days.

The twentieth century saw Oz, which nobody can argue with; full of allusions and references which children might miss but their parents would not, it and its sequels are definitely masterpieces. The Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon, from Kenneth Grahame, and Winnie the Pooh from A. A. Milne still charm children today. E. Nesbit’s work, spanning the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is wonderful – The Story of the Treasure Seekers,The Railway Children and more. She influenced writers like Edward Eager whose novels mention some of her characters, entwining them with his own in a sort of ‘story-Otherworld’, which is fantastic. Eager’s The Time Garden is a charming children’s novel from the 1950s, which I love. Her Bastable children also turn up in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and her influence stretched as far as Diana Wynne Jones and other writers who place ordinary children into extraordinary, magic-tinged scenarios. Marjorie Phillips’ Annabel and Bryony, from 1953, is a sweet (if very old-fashioned) story about fairies which hasn’t aged as well as some of its contemporaries, but which is still beautiful. Alan Garner appeared as the 1960s dawned, and remains one of the towering greats of ‘children’s’ literature (even though he never actually defined himself as a writer for children); everyone should read The Weirdstone of BrisingamenThe Moon of Gomrath and Elidor, and that’s just for starters.

And… I should’ve guessed this would take up more than one blog post! The ‘Golden Age of Children’s Literature’ was considered to have taken place in the nineteenth century, but in some ways I think we’re living through it now. Since the mid-twentieth century, I think more masterpieces of children’s literature have been written than existed in the entirety of human culture up to that point, but there’s no room left in this post to talk about them.

I’m sure I’ve missed hundreds of books which others would consider masterpieces, and which I’ve either forgotten about or not managed to read yet. What would you add to the list of Children’s Literature Masterpieces?

Some Eyeball-Tickling Links

Today’s post, dear ones, is a wail of desperation from the uttermost reaches of my very soul.

Image: flashpacker.com

Image: flashpacker.com

Writing today’s post has been a challenge.

First, I tried to draft a piece about how I will, in all likelihood, miss a submission deadline today because my brain feels like a pumpkin at Halloween, but I failed to complete said post. In short: I have written five pseudo-stories for this particular competition, and none of them will do. The deadline is tomorrow. Draw your own conclusions.

Next, I tried to draft a few hundred words about how I’m feeling re. waiting to hear from some of the places to which I have submitted work, but I also failed to complete this post. In short: I have no fingernails and very little hair left and I’ve started drinking caffeinated coffee once more, having been on a healthy ‘decaf’ kick for some weeks (but then, this was sort of inevitable.) Again, with the conclusions thing.

Finally, I considered, briefly, writing about the blasted landscape of my thoughts but soon gave that up as a bad idea.

So, instead, I have done something dreadful. I have stolen an idea – brazenly, and shamelessly – which I have seen several other bloggers use, and one which I’ve always thought looked like far too much work to be bothering with. I’ve rounded up some links to the stuff I’ve read recently which I found interesting, hilarious, touching, scary, airpunchingly brilliant, or otherwise emotionally affecting.

Turns out, it’s not that much work at all, and it was rather fun.

Not as much fun as this, admittedly, but pretty good all the same. Image: franceinlondon.com

Not as much fun as this, admittedly, but pretty good all the same.
Image: franceinlondon.com

First, the emotional stuff.

Foz Meadows is a writer and blogger who I turn to whenever I need a shot of intellectual brilliance, clear critical thinking, and perfectly constructed argument. This utterly incredible, elegant yet rapier-sharp blog post (a response to an infuriating sexist who made the most inappropriate remarks I’ve ever heard to a bunch of schoolgirls) made me want to weep with pride. It’s long, but really worth a read.

In fact, while you’re there, stick around and have a pootle through Foz’s past posts. There’s always something worth reading – and most of her posts are masterclasses in how to write, too.

FGM (or Female Genital Mutilation) is something which exercises my indignation, and I try to follow developments relating to it in the media. This article from the UK Guardian made me very pleased when I read it the other day, and very glad that there are young women like Fahma Mohamed willing to stand up and say ‘FGM is wrong, and needs to stop.’ I am not a fan of Michael Gove, the UK Secretary of State for Education (for so many reasons), but I am glad he’s listening on this issue.

I was sort of torn about the next link, because while I fully and wholeheartedly support the idea that adults should support children’s reading at all times and in all ways, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to shape what they read. I know the tone of the article is light-hearted (and I think the book choices are excellent, for the most part), and I realise that a child encouraged in such a way would grow up to be a very interesting, well-read and broad-minded person indeed, but still… shouldn’t they read what they want? Plus, I’m not sure I agree with keeping children away from Jane Austen – once they’ve reached the appropriate age, of course.

Anyway. I’m still not sure what I think about this article, but it was interesting, and I’m still thinking about it, so it’s included. What do you think?

I love the blog of Maureen Eichner. She is a wonderful book blogger and reviewer, and a huge advocate of children’s books and the importance of good writing for young readers. I turn to her words at least once a week for guidance and inspiration. One of her recent blog posts about fairy tales, and their retellings, has stuck in my mind because I love fairy tales (as does any right-thinking person), and it’s great to have a resource like this list to hand. So, thanks to her for compiling it.

It can’t have escaped your attention that, in recent days, an article was written exhorting J.K. Rowling to stop writing because – and I quote – her books have ‘sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere,’ thereby making life impossible for any other emerging or ambitious authors. I don’t want to link to the article itself because, quite frankly, it’s bonkers – and I can’t understand how anyone who works as an author could write such a piece – but I thought this open letter to J. K. Rowling was interesting, so I’ve included it instead. As far as I’m concerned, Ms Rowling can keep writing until the sun falls out of the sky. End of story.

All Hail! Image: telegraph.co.uk

All Hail!
Image: telegraph.co.uk

And now for a bit of fun.

‘Frasier’ was an amazing TV show, as I hope you’ll agree. Recently, I’ve caught a few old episodes of ‘Cheers’, and they’ve aged extremely well. I was a bit too young to appreciate ‘Cheers’ first time ’round, but its spinoff ‘Frasier’ was a huge part of my cultural life. I found this post on Buzzfeed which gives you a list of quotes from ‘Frasier’ to cover any possible social situation – so, you’ll never be stuck for a pithy comeback ever again.

You’re welcome.

And finally – the best one of all.

I love the work – and the blog – of YA author Kristin Cashore. She seems like an awesome lady with excellent taste in everything from books to holiday destinations to nail polish to TV shows, and she recently posted up some footage of Benedict Cumberbatch on Sesame Street. If this doesn’t make you laugh – or, at least, entertain you even a small bit – there’s something deeply wrong with your insides.

So, there you have it. A blog post entirely pilfered (at least, in principle) from other people. Let’s hope my brain feels a bit less like someone has set fire to it and scraped out the ashes by the time tomorrow morning rolls around.




Top Ten Tuesday REWIND – Klaatu Barada Nikto*

There’s this really cool meme I’ve been seeing on all the best blogs (dahling) over the past few weeks, and it’s called Top Ten Tuesday. It’s hosted by the lovely people over at The Broke and the Bookish, and – I’ve got to say – I’ve been wondering about taking part for a while now.

So, in honour of the fact that I took the plunge back into submitting work for publication yesterday (because it’s the ‘being brave enough to submit’, not ‘actually getting the nod’ that counts), I thought perhaps I’d try this other new thing today.

Because, you know me. I love new things.

Image: marottaonmoney.com

Image: marottaonmoney.com


Today is a ‘Top Ten Tuesday Rewind’, which means you have the pick of a long list of Top Ten lists to choose from (the full list is on the Broke and the Bookish website); my choice is number 86 on that list.

Top Ten Books I Would Quickly Save If My House Was Going to Be Abducted by Aliens (or any other natural disaster)

Because aliens are so a natural disaster.

1. Elidor (but only if I can bring all my editions, currently three)

This one should come as zero surprise to anyone who has read this blog, ever.

Image: lwcurrey.com

Image: lwcurrey.com

The book which fed my childhood imagination? The book which gave me my love for medieval stuff? The book which frightened my shivering soul itself almost to the point of insanity – but which had me coming back for more? Yes. A thousand times, yes. I love this book, and so should you.

2. The Earthsea Quartet

Oh, wizard Ged and your wonderful ways! I couldn’t possibly leave you behind. Not even if giant silver humanoid killing machines were smashing through my window. What would I do without the magnificence of Orm-Embar, the calm dignity of Tenar, the terror of the Dry Land? No. I would bring my Earthsea Quartet, and I would try to smuggle in ‘Tales from Earthsea’ and ‘The Other Wind’, too.

Dash it all. I’d just clear off my entire Ursula Le Guin shelf, and have done with it.

image: aadenianink.com

image: aadenianink.com

3. Six Middle English Romances, ed. Maldwyn Mills

Image: bookdepository.co.uk

Image: bookdepository.co.uk

I don’t have a reason for this beyond the following: I am a huge giant nerd; I love Middle English, particularly these six texts, and I can’t imagine not having them to hand; I would want to save them from the huge squid-like aliens with their giant fangs and scant regard for human culture; most importantly, they rock. Seriously.

4. Lords and Ladies

Terry Pratchett has written a lot of books. I would, of course, want to save them all if something with far too many legs was attempting to rip off my head, but I think I would save this one as a representative volume. Mainly, it’s because ‘Lords and Ladies’ is my favourite of the Discworld books, but it’s also because my current edition was a gift from my husband. So, you know. Kudos.

5. The Dark is Rising Sequence

Aha. I see you are on to me. ‘What’s all this, then? Saving trilogies and quadrilogies and that? You’re cheating!‘ Well, yes. Yes, I am. But the ‘Dark is Rising’ books are all in one volume, so therefore it counts as one book. Stuff it, aliens.

image: yp.smp.com

image: yp.smp.com

This book is far too excellent. I couldn’t allow it to fall into the hands of an alien civilisation, possibly because they’d eat it and spit it out and that would be that. So, it’s coming.

6. The Little Prince

I have four editions of this. Two in English, one in French and one in Irish. I’m bringing ’em all.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

What would be the point of surviving an alien attack, I ask you, if I leave behind a book which teaches me about the love of a little boy and his flower, or the loneliness of a fox, or the fact that every desert has an oasis at its heart, or how laughter amid the stars sounds like little bells, or what a boa constrictor who has swallowed an elephant looks like? Non. This book is precious. It’s coming.

7. Perrault’s Complete Fairy Tales, ed. Christopher Betts/Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales/Alan Garner’s Collected Folk Tales/Grimm Tales, ed. Philip Pullman

This speaks for itself, I feel. Yes, they are four separate books but come on. How can you save Perrault without Grimm? How can you leave behind Garner’s British folktale treasury? How can you expect me to walk out the door Angela Carter-less? It’s not happening.

image: goodreads.com

image: goodreads.com

This isn’t just about saving my favourite books (even though these are all my favourite books); it’s about saving human culture from the ravening maw of destruction. These books are, collectively, a brilliant gem of human culture. Truth. (Also, they’re pretty.)

8. Neverwhere and/or American Gods

I’m beginning to get the feeling that I’ll be eaten like an oversized, screaming hors d’oeuvre by these alien overlords. I’ll be too busy dithering at my bookshelves to bother about running away. Perhaps I should prepare a grab-bag of necessities, just in case?

Image: list.co.uk

Image: list.co.uk

I cannot choose between ‘American Gods’ and ‘Neverwhere.’ I can’t! Could you?

Then, of course, there’s the graphic novel adaptation of ‘Neverwhere’ (as illustrated handsomely above), which I also love, and then – horrors! – there’s my ‘Sandman’ collection, which I could hardly bear to leave behind… curse you, Neil Gaiman, for being so talented. You, and you alone, will be responsible for my being chewed up by aliens.

9. What Katy Did/What Katy Did Next

Susan Coolidge’s masterpieces kept me company all through my childhood. I owned a beautiful hardback edition of these two books, all in one volume, which – now that I think about it – I haven’t seen for a while.

I was fascinated by Katy and ‘all the little Carrs’, and the lemonade they used to make and the swing outside their house and the descriptions of their area and Katy’s utter gawkiness and… all of it. Just all of it. I loved these stories as a little girl, and so they’re coming.

I just hope I find my copy of the book before the aliens get here.

10. Whatever Jeanette Winterson I can get my hands on before the killer death-rays start blowing the roof off my house

Yeah. So, I have a problem with Jeanette Winterson, too. Do I save ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’? How can I save that and not save ‘Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy’? And then, how can I ask myself to live the rest of my (probably, rather short) life without ever casting my eyes upon ‘Sexing the Cherry’ again? I don’t feel life would be worth living without ‘The Passion.’

And that’s before we get anywhere near her children’s books.

Image: harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

Image: harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

I think what we can all take from this exercise is that if aliens do arrive on my fair isle, I shall not survive. However, at least I shall die happy, in the company of my books, and that is more than I deserve.

Happy Tuesday to you.

*Psst! Did you see what I did there?

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.

About Patience, and Books (of course)

Today, my thoughts are turning to August 30th – not too far away now, of course.  But I have been waiting for August 30th for several months at this point.  I know, in a manner of speaking, we’ve all been waiting for it – nobody (that we know of) has a shortcut to get them from, say, March to October in the blink of an eye, just in case they don’t feel like living through all the days in between.  The reason I can’t wait for this specific day, though, is because there’s something in particular happening then, the thoughts of which have been tickling around inside my skull since before the summer.

I’ve been looking forward to it in much the same way I used to look forward to Christmas, or my birthday, as a kid.  The waiting is all part of the experience, I think.  It adds something to the eventual pleasure of having your expectations fulfilled; it makes the whole thing feel somehow greater.  I wonder, though, if this mind-set is something I have because I’m a child of a certain era, an era in which we had no choice but to wait if we wanted something.  There was no ‘instant-download’ this, no ‘one-click purchase’ that.  I think, and I know it’s not a new thought by any means, that humanity lost something important when it jettisoned its ability to wait, to anticipate, to look forward to the unexpected, or uncontrollable, arrival of something which is desired.  Soon, if our entertainment purveyors can’t download happy experiences directly into our brain before we’ve even thought of what we’d like to do, or see, or hear, we’ll consider it a travesty of justice.  As my mother would say: God forbid.

So here I am, the soul of patience.

The event on August 30th?  The new novel by my lifelong hero, Alan Garner, entitled ‘Boneland’, will be published.  I have it on order, from an actual bricks-and-mortar bookshop.  I can’t wait.