TEXT review


One for the kids (perhaps)…

review by Anthony Eaton

 

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Writing Children’s Fiction: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion
Yvonne Coppard & Linda Newberry (eds)
Series Editors: Carole Angier & Sally Cline
Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York 2013  
ISBN PB 9781408156872
EPUB 9781472535337
EPDF 9781472535320
Pb 246pp GBP14.99


Debates as to the role and nature of ‘children’s literature’ have been batted back and forth in the academy for roughly three decades now. Since the 1984 publication of Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan, Or, The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction,arguments about both the act of writing and publishing children’s fiction, as well as the role that it should play in wider cultural discourse, have been grist to the mill of children’s writers, publishers, and literary studies scholars within the academy. This book makes its own contribution to the ongoing conversation surrounding this often-contentious field of practice and scholarship, although it tends to take a reasonably conservative and, at times, reductionist approach to what is in reality an extremely broad area of creative and cultural practice.

The title proclaims it to be ‘A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion’, though much of the book – especially first, and final sections – would suggest that it has been more deliberately targeted at an unpublished readership seeking to break into the field of children’s writing, rather than to an established practitioner. A good deal of the book is spent in providing advice on issues surrounding gaining representation, learning the field, and sourcing contact information within the industry. Much of this advice will be relevant only to writers seeking to establish themselves in the UK marketplace.

The first part of the book, ‘Reflections on Writing Children’s Fiction’ is presented as something of a dialogue between the two editors of the volume – both of whom are well regarded, and well established children’s writers in their own right – and touches upon a few of the key debates and contested battlegrounds which regularly surface in discourse about children’s writing. While useful as a broad overview of one possible approach to the costs and benefits of positioning oneself as a ‘children’s writer’, this part of the book rather skims across the surface of the debates, as opposed to digging deep into them. There is a relatively unproblematised acceptance of the notion of a homogenous ‘child’ for whom all children’s literature is written which seems to inform much of the thinking behind this section of the book, and several points (notably those dealing with issues surrounding the collapse of boundaries between children’s/young adult/older reader literature) where complex debates are reduced to simple, binary, observations. In part, this is an unavoidable by-product of the unenviable task that the editors of this volume have been set; that effectively and simply elucidating the values and attitudes that inform an often highly-contested field of practice and study.

Part two of the book consists of ‘Tips and Tales’ from guest contributors – practising writers of children’s and young adult fiction, each offering their own take on various ideas and issues surrounding the practice of writing ‘for children’. In many ways this is the most dynamic and useful part of the book, as the wide variety of ideas and positions taken and presented gives some sense of the lurking complexity of the field. While this section is (like the book overall) predominately focused upon British writers and marketplaces, there is nevertheless an impressive array of children’s and young adult luminaries who have been persuaded to contribute here; David Almond, Mallory Blackman, Anthony Browne, Michael Morpurgo, and Frank Cotterell-Boyce to name just a few. The common threads, as well as points of difference, that emerge from their short essays lend some sense of cohesion to the book overall, and some (notably Mal Peet’s final couple of paragraphs) speak to a few of the debates skated over in part one of the book.

The third and final part of the book, ‘writing workshop’ purports to be a ‘nuts and bolts’ section, where the editors share ‘…All the practical advice and skill building accumulated in our writing and varied experience of teaching creative writing’ (Introduction: p. xvi). This part of the book, while not offering anything particularly new in terms of methodological approaches to both teaching and thinking about creative writing, is useful to the extent that it contextualises such practices specifically against the field of writing for children. Like the previous section, it is particularly centred upon the practice of writing for children in a British context, and a number of the observations as to the commercial realities, the politics and the practicalities of children’s writing, are not perhaps as relevant to an international readership.

Writing Children’s Fiction: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion might well be of use to a teacher seeking to engage students new to the field of children’s or young adult writing, and to provide them with a broad overview of some of the issues at play. It would also be a useful addition to the library of anyone wishing to gain some perspective of the state of play in this field of writing in the United Kingdom. As a contribution to the scholarly discourse surrounding both the theory and practice of children’s writing, it doesn’t manage to fully engage with the complex and contested areas of debate, and as a creative writing textbook it offers some accessible perspectives, and ideas which may be of use to an early career writer or student of the field.

 

Dr Anthony Eaton is an Associate Professor of Writing and Literary Studies at the University of Canberra, and the author of 11 books for children, young adult, and adult readerships.

 

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Vol 18 No 1 April 2014
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General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
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