Thursday, 23 June 2011

An Awfully Big Blog Adventure is

going to have a festival next month. If I was smart enough I would be able to work out how to put the little button here on my blog. I still cannot work it out. I think my BIL has done something to secure the computer and I am not confident about undoing it. I may need to ask him.
But the ABBA people have obviously got their writing hands together - please go and check out their programme via my blog roll. It looks interesting. (Of course residing Downunder I will be catnapping most of the time this is on but I can take an interest at the begining and the end of their day - which is the end and beginning of mine.)
But there is a question over on ABBA at present which might be put as, "Do adults know what children want to read?" We might want to say, "Of course they do. How else do books get published?"
There is of course a difference between publishing for adults and publishing for children. Adults, by and large, choose their own reading matter. Children have their reading matter chosen for them. It is a powerful difference. I think we should be more aware of it.
Let me tell you a story. I have been observing what children like to read for years. I have provided the Whirlwind (and, by default, her friends) with books for some years. Among other things the Whirlwind, and her friends, like straightforward adventure stories. Many of these would now be deemed "old-fashioned". Unless they are something like CS Lewis they are no longer on the library shelves. I do not think there is a single Malcolm Saville or Geoffrey Trease or Nina Bawden on the shelves of the local library. Most of Joan Aiken's books have disappeared. The staff have not heard of Anne Barrett or John Verney or Margaret Storey. They were simply not prolific enough. One of my own personal favourites, Elinor Lyon, wrote more and was translated into German and Spanish as well but it took Fidra to reissue some of them before another generation of children could enjoy them. Girls Gone By has reissued some Saville books along with Monica Edwards and others.
The Whirlwind devoured the Elinor Lyon books. It helped of course that one of the characters and I share the same name but, that aside, she thought the books were "really, really good". Why? "Because they are about ordinary children who do ordinary sorts of things and still have adventures." When she had finished reading (and re-reading) them she desperately wanted another one about the same children. I eventually gave in to the begging and pleading and wrote one for her.
She read it and then passed it around her class at school. The feedback was, gratifyingly, highly positive. I know (as the owner of Fidra told me) that my effort "talks down" somewhat to the reader - but, in my defence, I was aiming at the then nine year old Whirlwind and it was about right for her.
I am aware that the book, in ms form, has now gone further afield. Another copy was made so that the Whirlwind would not lose her own copy. There are strict rules on borrowing it so that the next child on the list can read it. It is all very nice but it will not get the book published.
If I had tried to get it published I suspect I would have been unsuccessful. It is clearly what children want to read - even if I have committed the sin of talking down to the reader - but it is not what adults want to publish.
The book I am now trying to interest agents in may also get rejected. One publishing house was kind enough to say it did not fit their list but that I should try elsewhere. I knew it was unlikely but they were asking for submissions and it seemed wise to at least try. An agent told me the story had "merits" but was not for her but then said it might appeal to other agents. I took that as a "keep trying". I am trying to be patient as I make further inquiries. The problem is that it is an adventure story. It is not about vampires or magic or a social issue.
I may well be writing what children want to read but it is entirely possible I am not writing what adults want them to read. There is a difference.


Frances said...

When I was a child, Cat, - earlier in history than you, I gather - boys really loved to read stories with male role models, eg Biggles.
And: teenagers are often romantic in the broadest sense, and idealistic: hence the once and now popularity of L.M.Montgomery. But there would be absolutely no chance of having such published these days, as far as I can see.

widdershins said...

Seems like you already have a base readership, so publish the thing yourself!

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat - two things. First, to get that widget for the ABBA festival, email the organiser, Lucy (email address was in the blogpost) and she'll send you the code. Then, go into edit in blogger, and choose "html" instead of "compose". Then paste the code in where you want and then go back to compose - magic!!

Second, the thing about V saying your writing "talked down" - this is much more subtle than you're suggesting sand is crucial to writing for children. Of course we have to find the right voice for telling the story for a 9-year-old (or whatever) but may aspiring children's writers unwittingly use a talking down voice - adult talking TO child - instead of a young voice - adult talking THROUGH child. Voice is very subtle, but crucial. There's a mental leap to be made and not everyone can do it. Keep trying but you do need fully to understand what the thing is you are trying to do - read Eva Ibbotson to see how modern and traditional can marry beautifully. She was a genius, right up to her death aged 85 while reading the proofs of her newest book, One Dog and His Boy!

Anonymous said...

Cat, as you know I have read it, and it IS good. Yes, there are times when you "talk down" but I think that could have been dealt with by a bit of editing. Remember you were aiming it at a nine year old and, for them, it might have been about right.
I have not read the other one but remember Cathy has and she came to it as an adult who has read a lot of literature but almost no books for children. She liked it. I would go with her gut reaction because of her background. In fact, if it does get turned down everywhere I think you should consider getting some editing help and then self-publishing. It IS good enough. Chris

Catnip said...

I think this post is really interesting, especially since I'm one of the adults who decide which books children should read.

I'd say that most adults working in children's publishing harbour an inner child - they have a clear feeling of what it was like to *be* a child. Yet we also have the benefit of adult knowledge, like the subtlties of subplot, the importance of paragraph breaks and the register of language.

Children may devour a book that an adult deems 'talks down to them' but if that adult is correct, then I think what you'd find is diminishing interest in the book. As an editor, I'd aim for every manuscript I edit to stand up to every 100 re-reads and for every author I work with to find a truly timeless voice.

The best children's books should appeal to everyone. Not just children.

For those who suggest self-publishing I'm not sure you've followed an earlier thrust of Cat's argument - children don't get to choose their own books, so you've got to be sure that the adults who give them books will choose yours. Self-publishing is a harder route to those adults because no one is marketing the book to them.

catdownunder said...

Miaou - I will catnap on all these comments and comment tomorrow.
Nicola, thankyou for the widget advice.
Catnip - purrlease stay around - I think we need to talk!