Monday, 23 March 2015

Magical Thinking: The Tyre, Mud, Two Kids, Rules of Summer

When I meet distant acquaintances who know me as ‘that guy who wrote a kids' book’, they politely enquire after book two. “Writing another?” they say.
I say yes.
“Is it for kids again?” they say. (There’s an implication here, and it’s “Are you going to do a proper book next? One for grown-ups?”)
The answer: Yes, it’s for kids. I love writing for young people. I’m having a blast.

This post is an attempt to weigh and measure what it is about writing children’s fiction that’s so exciting. I hope you’ll check out the four texts mentioned; you probably know them – each in some way captures the same magic about what it is to be a child or young adult, and what, by extension, it is about writing stories for and about children that is so magical.

Next time anyone asks, I’ll tell them this:

The Tyre is a poem by Simon Armitage, based on a childhood memory of finding a huge abandoned tractor tyre up on the moors above Meltham and, along with a gang of mates, lifting it upright and rolling it across moorland and onto the road. Once on tarmac the tyre accelerates, breaks free of its captors, and rolls over the lip of the hill down towards a nearby village. Terrified, the kids chase it, imagining a trail of devastation. Instead?  

…down in the village the tyre was gone,
and not just gone but unseen and unheard of,
not curled like a cat in the graveyard, not
cornered in the playground like a reptile,
or found and kept like a giant fossil.
Not there or anywhere. No trace. Thin air.

Being more in tune with the feel of things
than science and facts, we knew that the tyre
had travelled too fast for its size and mass,
and broken through some barrier of speed,
outrun the act of being driven, steered,
and at that moment gone beyond itself
towards some other sphere, and disappeared.

That’s why, incredulous-bloke-at-party. That’s why.
Researcher’s-friend Wikipedia tells me that, Magical thinking is the attribution of causal relationships between actions and events which cannot be justified by reason and observation.” Neat. Childhood not only gives permission for magical thinking, but positively encourages it. There’s pretty much no other kind at all at that age.

Want some more magical thinking, some – as Armitage puts it – being in touch with the feel of things? Try these:

Mud is a coming-of-age drama written and directed by Jeff Nichols. There’s a boat high up in a tree, two boys called Ellis and Neckbone, and a superb central performance from Matthew McConaughey.
Two Kids is a song by Anais Mitchell. Dad has “plenty of Campbells and beers in the basement” in case at some point in the future, no-one can leave the house. The kid’s just trying to figure out why. It’s borderline-heartbreaking and beautifully conceived.

And Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer is a list of lessons learned, like this one:
"Never forget the password" is the rule printed neatly in the centre of the left-hand page.
Damn right, because through those doors is a realm of magic, mystery and unspeakable wonder.
A lot like childhood, I guess.

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