Sunday, 12 August 2012

How many of your favourite books

as a child had adults in them? They might have put in an appearance but how many of them had adults in major roles?
          "You can't leave a kid on their own!" someone told me when I explained the plot of something I have written, "It's irresponsible. You can't write that sort of thing now. Nobody will publish it."
Perhaps it won't get published but, unless the kid is on his own, there is no plot. I don't see it as "irresponsible". It's about a resourceful, intelligent kid dealing with a bad situation. He makes mistakes because he's a kid. Is there something bad about that?
One of the rules of writing for children is that, in many situations, you need to get rid of the parents. It is getting harder to do that - and doing it believably is even harder.  Once it was acceptable to have latch-key kids who took themselves to and from school, who roamed the streets barely supervised or even not supervised at all. You could send kids on a train journey alone for a holiday in the country - preferably to an ancient aunt or uncle who leave them to their own devices.  It all opened up enormous plot possibilities.
Now children get taken to and from school. There is after-school care. There are other after-school activities. Weekends are taken up with more supervised activities. Some children are not even allowed to have unsupervised play in their own backyards. They are never more than a few metres from adult scrutiny. They have no chance to climb a tree or ride around the block. I know children who are not allowed to ride their bikes up and down their driveway unless one of their parents is there to supervise.  I know others who have not been allowed to have a skateboard, scooter or soccer ball for fear of injury. Many more are not allowed to join Scouts, Guides, church youth groups and other like activities for fear of paedophiles - and yes, it is a very serious issue. The same children will attend sport - but generally with a parent in full-time attendance. They will go to ballet, music or drama class. Those things are somehow seen as different - whether they are really "safer" is dubious but they are seen as more disciplined and "worthwhile". It is hardly the sort of thing many children want to read about.
How do you write a book about children and for children when they are under that level of adult supervision? The answer is - I don't think I can. I am sure there are people who believe they can but I doubt I can.
I have chosen to set my writing back in the middle of last century, at the time when I was growing up. There are no computers. There are no mobile phones. There are adults - and I hope they are believable - but they are not always there.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is possible to write books where there is a high level of adult supervision of older children. Perhaps it is irresponsible to do away with the adults - but it is fun.


Nicole MacDonald said...

this is why I don't read current YA books - far too PC. It's fiction - I get so very sick of people touting on as if every single fiction book will be regarded as an instruction manual. Most of my favourite kids books have a big lack of adults. It's part of the fantasy for kids, to be able to make their own decisions and to learn from the consequences that result, be they good or bad. And if your story rocks, then self-publish it. There are plenty of like-minded people who are searching for books like that.

Sue Bursztynski said...

This is the first time I've heard of publisher's not wanting a book where you get rid of the adults immediately. I thought that was the first rule of the adventure story and I have seen plenty of those around in modern fiction. Keep reading. And write what you want. There ARE publishers who will buy it.the only thing I would suggest is that if you write a story set in a school you check with at least a couple of teachers under what circumstances kids might be left alone, because it's a sad fact that the school gets the pants sued off it if you leave kids unsupervised and something happens. And I have read recent novels in which kids are left without supervision during a school dance, something that wouldn't happen in any school I have worked in. It may be a simple matter of creating an emergency in which the teacher has to leave or the idiots who want to do something stupid lure the teacher away or whatever. It can be done. Use your imagination.;-)

catdownunder said...

Oh Nicole I still read a lot of YA and middle grade and picture books - I need to. I need to know what is going on out there!
Sue - it was a children's librarian I was talking to, not a publisher. Still, I found her comments rather disconcerting! She obviously found in non-PC for a middle grade book.

Claire King said...

Hi Cat! In the Night Rainbow I've left a five year old alone (with her little sister). Such a great thing about fiction, you can do that and nobody gets sued. Removing the adults shows the young character for what it really is, without rules and all the things children have to do even when they don't want to. Ignore the naysayers and free the children!

catdownunder said...

A five year old Claire! How very daring of you! :) I can imagine that there are still some very competent fictional five year old children out there - and I would like to meet them.