Why I Write for Children...
When I was a teenager, I wrote angsty poetry about love and death and poetry (I was very meta). I wore baggy, black jumpers and Doc Martins. I thought of myself as a 1990s Sylvia Plath, or Emily Dickinson. Like them, I wanted to write about our deepest, darkest truths.
Many (many) years later, I find myself wearing the full colour spectrum and writing for children.
How did that happen?
Surely, writing for children is all about happy endings, about meeting your prince and eating midnight feasts in castles? What happened to all that angst? All that yearning for truth?
One answer is, I realised my poetry was rubbish!
A fuller answer is that I think writing for children is a good way to explore fundamental truths about the things that matter. About family and friends, about love and loss and about how to navigate the world. There’s a hopefulness to that exploration that I admire. But more than that, children have a low tolerance for waffle and obfuscation. This means that, if you write for children, you are forced to be honest. If you aren’t, they will stop reading. You have to be engaging. You can’t write long, flowery descriptions just for the sake of it. If you do, they will stop reading. You have to have integrity. If you try to push an agenda, or teach a lesson, or enthuse about something that you don’t actually care about, they will see it coming a mile off...and stop reading. They’re a tough crowd!
With my first novel How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant I wrote about how important it is to keep promises; the way families will stand by each other, and how to get what you want by mammoth mammal rustling. In Operation Eiffel Tower I wanted to tell the truth about how family break-ups feel: sadness, anger, but also a certain kind of relief. I also wanted to make readers laugh, even if they’re doing it through tears. I wanted to be honest and engaging, with a little dollop of integrity.
I write for children because they are the best audience to have. They will listen, dream, imagine, wonder. But, if you put a foot wrong, they’ll stop reading in an instant
Teenage me would have been too terrified to write for such brilliant readers.
Adult me is delighted to have found them. Though I’d still like a pair of cherry red Docs.
Elen's new book Operation Eiffel Tower is out now, published by Bloomsbury.
Elen Caldecott’s Operation Eiffel Tower has been shortlisted for the Red house Children’s Book Award 2013.