I fell in love for the first time when I was eight years old. My dad said, "I think you’ll like this book . . . " and took out Pride and Prejudice to read to me, one chapter a night. That was it: I was a goner.As many of my readers probably already know, famous author Martin Amis said something woefully stupid recently in an interview on the BBC show, Faulks on Fiction. As this write-up in The Guardian notes, Amis said "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book", and, well, the world of authors who write for children and teens went ballistic. In all fairness, in context, Amis's quote isn't quite as moronic as it seems on its face - he speaks of not wanting to be conscious of his audience as he writes, and I think it's fair to say that most of us who write for the under 21 set keep our intended audience in mind, at least a little. Still, here's part of Charles London's well-reasoned response, "WHY I WRITE FOR CHILDREN: A RESPONSE TO MARTIN AMIS".
Oh, the banter between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy! Oh, the crunchy conflict! The laugh-out-loud humour! The romance! I read P&P over and over again and lapped up every single movie and TV version. I devoured every book Jane Austen had written, adding Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion to my list of Favourite Books Ever.
And along the way, I learned some things about romance. Real romance, I mean, not just the fictional fantasy.
Fiction is not freedom, not at all.Back in a bit with today's chapter of Pride and Prejudice, in which we get really interesting information indeed.
Writing fiction, as Amis well knows, is the craft of finding truth within the limitations of language; it is an art of choices and of self-imposed restraints. Every word and every action and every character creates a new set of limitations and cuts off certain paths, just as it opens others. The relation of those choices to each other creates the world of the novel. Its success at living within or defying those limitations are the measure of fiction that works and fiction that doesn't. This is true for novelists of Amis's ilk and true for those of us who write for children. We are all yoked to language, learning to love our burden and to live as freely as possible within it.
But those of us who write for children do indeed have added constraints, which Amis dismisses, and which are, I think, the greatest strength of young people's literature. Amis may, as he claims, write without any consciousness of his audience, but children's authors aren't so self-obsessed. We write because we are conscious of our audience, of its hunger for story and its need to see the world reflected back at it through other eyes.
I choose to write for children because one never loves a book as much as one does when one is young. And one never hates a book as much either. I can be happily indifferent to Amis's Yellow Dog, but I can never forgive Esther Forbes for Johnny Tremain. We all have such books.