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"How can you write for children if you don't have any?!" Actually, it's easy.

The Catchpole Agency (@peachjamcloset) recently tweeted Maile Meloy’s article in the New York Times, entitled, “Whose Side Are You On?”.  Meloy’s article discusses writing for Children and teens as a non-parent, and it set me to thinking about my own writing, and what it would be like if I had children.

Like Meloy, I get the same surprised looks when I say I write for children – or Young Adults in my case – but don’t have children.  There’s this shocked, “Well, how can you possibly write for children if you don’t have any?” response, as though writing for children is the exclusive preserve of parents. (Note:  lots of great children’s authors didn’t/don't have children!)

But here’s the thing, as Meloy recognises, I may not have children, but I have a lot of experience of being a child and a teenager – and I still have the notebooks, full of reams of depressing, angsty – and thoroughly ghastly - poetry to prove my struggles as a teen trying to find myself, my way and place in the world.

I was unquestionably not one of the in-crowd.  In fact, I was the teen who spent my lunch breaks in the school library, sitting in the window seat that overlooked the tennis courts and courtyard, my nose in a book, one eye occasionally observing my peers.  I remember my teenage years well, and it’s that perspective that informs what and how I write, and the creation of my characters.

I don’t write about my own experiences, but I write from the place of being a Young Adult – with all the questions and tumultuous emotions that entails.  I remember vividly pushing the boundaries, rebelling against imposed restrictions, doing things I clearly wasn’t supposed to – and dealing with the consequences.  My characters, I suppose, are all made up of bits of teenage me and the teenager I wanted to be.  They are not informed by parental mores and responsibilities, and a bunch of should or shouldn’ts. Though I hasten to add, that having been a part-time step-parent, I’m also deeply conscious of being a responsible adult writer.  And to that end, while my stories are usually without parents – they’re there, in the background - writing about orphans is not my bag – I inevitably seem to have a “wise elder”.  A wise one, note, not a stuffy, finger-wagging one.  Can’t be doing with that.

I’m the sort of writer – and adult – who retains, courtesy of not being a parent, a huge chunk of childhood and childhood memories.  There are ways in which I’ve never had to grow up, ways in which my perspective hasn’t had to change, as it inevitably does with having children.  It’s the part of me which my friends’ kids seem to think is “so cool” – and which annoys my friends no end.  I relate to my friends’ children as people, not as children or teenagers.  I engage with them as I would with any adult (and occasionally manage to mind my language!). I’m not bound by having to be the responsible one, I get away with being a little outrageous, I take their side, I understand the need for secrecy and to push the boundaries, and I feel, along with them, the indignation and frustration at parental infringements.  I remember what it was like to be a teen.

I retweeted the Catchpole Agency tweet saying I totally related to Meloy’s article, and Catriona Gunn of @catdownunder instantly replied, “So do I! You also need to be rid of the parents! :)”

I responded to Cat, “Can’t imagine how I’d write if I was a parent.  Probably all uptight!”

In fact, I’d hazard a guess that if I was a parent, I’d probably be writing adult fiction, and not having half as much fun as I do!

I leave you with one of my favourite songs - all about teenage rebellion - from my early tweens. (Yep, I know, I'm dating myself horribly, but I still love it.)

This post first appeared on Absolute Vanilla, please read the originial post: here

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"How can you write for children if you don't have any?!" Actually, it's easy.


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