Koala Boom: Murder he Wrote

Children need objectivity, not moral wisdom.  

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On Saturday, my six year old son presented me with a story he’d written and illustrated about a murdered koala. Slightly concerned about the subject matter, I asked him why he’d created some sort of fluff-ball massacre? His answer: he was inspired by the Crimelines anthology.

Oh dear. If you follow me regularly on social media, you are no doubt sick of hearing about Crimelines: the anthology that includes my first ever published story. It was launched a few weeks ago at Manchester’s John Rylands library, and after discussions with the Editor, I figured it was fine to take my son along to listen to the readings. Yes, the stories were pitched at an older age group, but the content was far from graphic. It would be fine.

But after the murdered koala, I did wonder if I’d made the right decision? I’d set my son to work on producing a comic. I thought it would be fun. He wrote about murder in the animal kingdom. What had I done to my baby?

However, after several hours of worrying that I had turned my son into a koala serial killer, I had a change of heart. I decided that this awareness of the fact that everything’s far from Rosie, was a good thing. (Sorry BBC, but you lie.)

My son lives in Manchester. The sound of sirens is a feature of every day life. Crime, both petty and serious, is a stark reality. He needs to know this. I don’t want to frighten the pants off him, but equally if he grows up naive to the realities of life in our major conurbations, he grows up vulnerable. I know my son better than anyone. He is a pragmatic little boy: give him the facts and his response will be a level headed and logical one. Explore that response with him, and you will see he is equipped to handle more than rainbows and fluffy bunnies.

Writers, have through the centuries, been aware of this durability in children. Think about the fairy tales that have transcended generations: poisoning the step daughter, roasting children in the oven and swallowing up grandma; our kids are raised on death and destruction. In making sense of this, they make sense of reality.

After all, the perpetrator of the terrible koala crime, was apprehended and appropriately punished. My son made no attempt to glorify the villain. Nor did he draw gratuitously violent images of the victim. He processed the stories he had heard and he concluded that, yes, crime is a reality, but it is also wrong.  He made his own moral judgement: no need for censorship.

Other children, exposed to age appropriate stories, will make their own judgements too. Those who call for censorship, who wish to filter the information that young people are exposed to, down play their intelligence. They also downplay the complexity of childhood.

My job as a writer is to tell stories that reflect this complexity. To make a connection with my readers. They need objectivity, reflections of reality, not moral wisdoms. The murdered koala was a good thing.

Swimming with the Fishes

The Godfather Part 1 – Paramount Pictures

Some writing mistakes are fatal.

I was editing my short piece for  the Royal Philharmonic Society today. Nothing major. Just a few minor tweaks to make sure my work read as well as possible.

But then, my seventeen-year-old alter ego got a bit annoyed. Erg, hello young adult author. You are seriously lame. Basically like, you are talking about old people stuff here. Nobody cares.

How dare you? You snotty nosed little wiper snapper, was my instant response. But then I thought again. Perhaps the seventeen-year-old me had a point? Maybe, I was so old, I was using cultural references that belonged more in historical fiction?

So I did a bit of research: had the average teen heard of The Godfather?   The conclusion to my non-scientific survey, yes they had. Get in! However, few of them had actually seen the films.  

I nearly committed a fatal mistake today. I got so carried away with my story that I forgot to ensure that I was at all times grounding my character in a relevant reality.

See, I told you like. Loser.

My alter ego, is right to chastise me. I took my eye of the ball. Having pretty much cracked the young adult voice issues, I relaxed a bit too much. Failed to pay full attention to my writing. To give it the due respect.

I managed to fix things pretty easily. But my alter ego has sent me a warning.   Respect the young adult family, or you’ll be swimming with the fishes.

Crimelines – Publication is Looming

Crimelines Anthology Front Cover - Image by Joe Wallis, Manchester School of Art

It’s just a few weeks now until the Manchester Children’s Book Festival and the publication of my short story Leave it all Behind.

The story features in Crimelines,  a crime themed anthology for teens, published by Manchester Metropolitan University.  I’m really excited about seeing my work in print for the first time, but I’m also slightly dubious. I mean, what if people hate it?

I’ve tested out some of my writing on children before, but this is different: anyone can read my story. And then there’s the launch event where I’ve agreed to do a reading. Will I live up to expectations?

The prospect of seeing my work in print has, it seems, taken me back to my child ego state. I thought I was over this; that I’d tackled that deep-rooted lack of confidence that drove me to seek external validation. I mean, what happened to the Just For Me?

But I guess the reality is, when it comes to being published, I have to care what people think. A writer’s success is dependent on external validation. That’s a reality regardless of how you package it.

The best way to deal with this, I figure, is to immerse myself in that reality.  To embrace the fear as opposed to fight it. That’s why no matter how much it scares me, I’m doing that reading at the launch. I’m putting myself out there: I am a writer.

Crimelines will be launched at Manchester’s John Ryland’s Library on Saturday 5th July as part of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. You can find out more here.

Image by Joe Wallis, Manchester School of Art.