Sunday, 28 June 2009

No television, no computers

and no electronic games or other whizz-bang toys and games either. A young friend was sitting there in her favourite chair (it rocks slightly) at our place and frowning at me. She had just read the manuscript of the book I wrote last year. The child I wrote it for had allowed her to borrow it 'just for one night'. Now the second one was telling me what she thought of it. Her comments definitely show she is a child of the electronic age.
"They don't have television or computers or anything like that. You don't even have them going to the pictures. They have bikes but is that because Ruth needs hers and so did you think the rest of them need one too? I mean honestly Cat it's like they don't have things at all but they still do things. I liked it, really, really liked it. I think it would be the most amazing fun to have just a holiday like that - but not all the time - but it is a bit weird that you can write a whole book and not have a computer or television in it and no MP3 or even any CDs!"
"Well remember I am writing about fifty years ago and people did not have those things. They don't even have electricity there, although it is coming. Alastair's working on that."
"I just don't understand that. I mean - well how would you cook and things? You wouldn't have a microwave and we use that all the time. I mean what would you really do all the time?"
"They hadn't even invented microwave ovens - ask your Dad. There are a lot of things they did not have fifty years ago."
"Okay, but it is so weird not to even have television and what about the radio - do they have that? I suppose you will say that do not need that either. They'd have to read all the time. I still liked it though."
"Can you tell me why you liked it?"
"Well, it's because they do things I suppose. None of them are super-smart or can do magic or anything like that. They're ordinary and they do ordinary things, real things. It's like it might really have happened only I don't think adults would really let you go and do things like that now - you know like being out in a boat - by yourself."
"Even Ruth finding the door is ordinary?"
"Well yes in a way but not ordinary either. It's a book, something has to happen. There has to be a sort of adventure in a book like that and, for her, that is a big adventure isn't it? And, it's a good thing to happen because it helps him - Alastair I mean. I sort of really like him. He's grown up but not too grown up like you said. There should be more people like that in books."
It is a curious comment. Adults sometimes do not feature at all in books for children. If they do, they are not always realistic by any means. Does this mean I have managed 'realistic'? It would be good to think so.
There are only two adults who have seen the manuscript and one of them has yet to read it. The first is, rightly, not telling me what he thinks until the second has read it. They may see it very differently. They almost certainly will. The first will be biased. I have used his mother's characters - something that took more discipline than even I first thought - and I added Ruth. Ruth is younger so the adults needed to be more in evidence, another cause for more discipline.
It really does not matter now whether the adults like it or not because, however many faults there are in it, I have had my theory re-confirmed. A straightforward adventure story is still something many children want to read. Books about social issues will be read if there is nothing else to read but, like adults, children read fiction to be entertained.


Adelaide Dupont said...

I think I would really enjoy this book too: up my street. Especially the character of Alistair.

Did they cook with gas in those times, before electricity? Or even the really old-fashioned element: fire!

And good for your Dad being so ... discreet and having nothing invested in the book.

catdownunder said...

There is a woodburning range in Kindrachill - the house. If you want to start on these books then you begin with "The House in Hiding" by Elinor Lyon (republished by Fidra). There are camping stoves of course (one appears in another of the books) but gas would have to be in bottles. We are talking the western highlands of Scotland in the early 50's - not unlike where I grew up except that we had hot, dry weather and they had cold, wet weather!