Friday, 15 February 2013

Writing for Children - Guest Post by Simon Clark

Simon P Clark

Firstly, thanks to Kat for letting me take over this blog for a day. I promise to behave, and leave everything where it was. Probably.

Kat and I are agent buddies – meaning we have the same literary agent, the one-and-only, glow in the dark book maven and all round force for light and good, Molly Ker Hawn. Through Twitter and this blog and then my blog we’re stoutly standing side by side, cracking our way into publishing and to being “proper” authors (whatever that means).

And, crucially, we both write for a younger audience. That’s what I thought I’d talk about today.

Being swept up in the world of Twitter and industry blogs and other author’s sorrows and joys, it’s easy to lose sight of one rather odd fact: normal people don’t do all this. They don’t idolise editors and agents alongside writers. They don’t particularly care about New Adult and dropping advance rates and whether Amazon is going to save us all or is secretly a front for Cthulu. And they don’t use the clever little buzz words and distinctions and jobs-speak that writers pick up after a while – like, I'm fact, New Adult, and advance, or MG or YA, etc, etc.

This has happened to me several times now:

Well Intentioned Friend or Stranger: So you’re writing / So how’s the book / So when is the book being published?

Me: It’s a long process, but I’m getting there. Pass me the gin, will you?

The Well Intentioned: What’s your book?

Me: It’s a children’s book, about [blah, blah, blah]. Seriously, though, the gin…

The Well Intentioned: Ah! Children’s, eh? Like Dr Seuss / The Very Hungry Caterpillar / Goodnight Moon. How many pages?

Me: What? No. Gin? I – pages?

Their reply is actually quite decent. I would love to have written any of those. The problem is that when I say children, I mean ten year olds, eleven years olds, thirteen year olds, even fourteen years olds. I write Middle Grade – and Middle Grade means nothing to normal people.

Young Adult has made the leap, I think, into normal parlance. With Twilight, and certain cross over books like The Hunger Games, YA has become OK. It gets a Section In the Bookstore, and is practically respectable.  If YA were a women she’d wear Mom jeans and eat healthily.

Middle Grade sounds like a year in school and I’ve learned not to use it when describing my work because, entirely justifiable, I’m met with blank faces. Yet … use ‘children’ and people go for the extreme end of the spectrum – the toddlers, the early readers, the future-people.  Is that bad? No. But I don’t write for that age range – it’s a skill I hope to acquire one day – and all that ends up happening is I finally do the normal thing and actually use my words to tell the (by now quite alarmed) other part of this conversation that, actually, I write books for kids around eleven years old. Think the first Harry Potter, before it got all serious, I say (or, before it got all Sirius. Eh? Eh? Hah!) The one with the school song and the jokes about ear wax. Think that.
So here’s my point, if I have one: it’s good sometimes to wake up and shake off the industry talk and the phrases and acronyms. Forget whether contemp. NA steampunk mss. are popular with the Big Six / Five / Whatever. Authors need to be able to talk about their work in a normal, down to earth way, just as much as we need to be professional. So, if M[idle] G[rade] hasn’t made it to your town’s vernacular yet, work out the best way to talk about your book from the heart, so people get it.

I know I sometimes get swept up myself hobnobbing, albeit virtually, with agents and editors and even incredibly famous writers. But why is it I want all that? Because of stories, and their power, and because I want kids around the world to read the ones I wrote down. Any walls between readers and writers that I have the power to bring down myself, I will.

So I’m a children’s writer, or a MG author, or just a story-teller.

And what a beautiful thing that is.


Kat here: Thanks, Simon, for taking over my blog today with your awesome post!

Don't forget to follow Simon on twitter and check out his blog. And leave your comments or questions for Simon below - commenting is for winners, my friends.


  1. SIMON!!



    1. Thank you! Now I can write BOOKS made of WORDS.

  2. This probably isn't the point of the post, but you could try calling it "juvenile fiction" that's what it was called when I was 11 and picking out books from the library with the J on the spine and it's a term I would have recognized before I got writer business savvy. :)


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