Saturday, 12 April 2014

"Did you set out to kill them all

or did it just happen as you wrote the story? What made you write something so dark and depressing? What made your agent like it enough to hand it on to a publisher? What made the publisher decide that this is the sort of thing that adolescents want to read or should be reading? Why is the book considered so important, good and valuable that it makes it to the long list of a major prize? Do we really want to give teens the message there is no hope for the future?"
I want to ask those questions of a writer currently on the long list of a major children's award. I will almost certainly never meet the author and, even if I did, I doubt the author could answer my questions. It would probably merely be seen as criticism and a failure to understand the message of the book.
I have no problem with death appearing in books for children. Death is part of the natural cycle of life. It is, at very least, disturbing and it can be deeply distressing. It can be a cataclysmic event. I have killed off parents in things I have written. It is an accepted part of the "adventure". I hope that, when I have done it, I have still left hope for the future. There has to be that. To tell children there is nothing there - that all hope is lost - seems wrong to me.
Someone who reads what I write told me that children have the right to be able to rely on the adults in their lives. Yes - but it doesn't always happen. Sometimes that makes for part of the story. Sometimes it just can't happen. Sometimes it will happen when we least expect it because, although the adult wants to help it is just not possible.
Thinking back on the scene I was questioned about I think I was justified in doing what I did. The adult does not deliberately fail to help. He can't help - and he wants to help. It adds to the tension - or I hope it does.
If I really wanted to say "there is no hope here" I would have the adult out cold on the floor and the object destroyed. That would not be the right message to convey. It would say "it's not worth doing the right thing".
But it seems there are books that say, "it's not worth doing the right thing" and "the future is without hope" and "it doesn't matter how hard you try you are going to fail and still lose everything".
To deny death is wrong. To deny failure is wrong. They can and should appear in some books for children. But death has to be replaced by some hope for the future. Failure has to be replace by some hope of success, if not at the goal in question at some other goal. We don't even need to know if the goal has been achieved - just that it might be. In "Rooftoppers" Rundell has us believe that Sophie might have achieved her goal - and that's enough. There is hope there.
Because John Rowe Townsend died recently I went back and refreshed my memory of "Gumble's Yard". It was a ground breaking book at the time he wrote it in the early 60's. The characters in it are poor in the extreme - and they don't have the cosy family unit of something like Eve Garnett's poverty stricken "The family from One End Street". 
There is an adventure and there are goodies and baddies. Kevin, who tells the story, and his sister Sandra are not going to get all they want but by the end of the book they have more than they had because they have new adults in their lives who are going to help. There is some sense of hope for the future.
I think I want that in a book - any book. I don't want to clutter my mind with darkness. There is enough of that in my working life and in the daily does of news.
But perhaps I am wrong. If you read this, please tell me what you think? Is it right not to offer any hope for the future?


Helen Devries said...

As a child who read a lot...never forgetting the kindness and professionalism of the local librarians...I wanted books that told a good story...the Greek myths half terrified me, Grimm went the whole road...but life was real enough without having to have adult current obsessions introduced to me.

catdownunder said...

That's an interesting thought Helen - yes, perhaps they are adult current obsessions.

Anonymous said...

I still enjoy reading for fun and entertainment, and it is the fun and entertainment which has kept me reading since the first book I read. I read all sorts of fiction, but there are always the fun books among them. As for the endings, I like them to be positive, and why would children want to read anything if all they get is doom and gloom. Give them fun, and hope that things will turn out OK, even if there are a few mishaps along the way.