Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How much swearing is acceptable in a children’s book?

I've been up against this one for the last couple of days: just how much can a writer swear - and when - in a children's book?

Obviously, I'm not talking about picture books for the under fives here. I'm thinking more specifically of the type of reader that number one daughter is: Twelve years old, reading ahead of her years. A Twilight fan par excellence, (books which I tried to read but gave up – I went through my own teen angst, thank you very much. I don't really feel the need to read four whacking great volumes of someone else's, vampires or no), she's also a fan of the Cherub series by Robert Muchamore (which has a certain level of bad language) and the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, which doesn't, instead showcasing the fact that you don't need to be swear to convey rude or insulting language. Alright, the Cherub series has its protagonists drawn from children's homes in working class areas, and there are probably few enough linguistic angels there, so I can understand Robert Muchamore's including a few "naughty" words. But elsewhere in children's literatureliterature: how much is too much?

My own feeling is that in reading matters, we should(with a few caveats) leave it to children to be self-censoring. If my daughter picked up The Wasp Factory I might feel obliged to offer her a few words of warning before she got too far ( and I'd probably express my own forthright opinion on the book at the same time..!), but I wouldn't take it out of her hand. The pace of reading is, I think, sufficiently different to watching a film or a television programme, and the level of involvement required – a book requires reading, in a way that other media don't – makes it much easier for us to put a book we don't like down. And to make a massive generalisation (which pointedly excludes The Wasp Factory, by the way!), gratuitous sex, drugs and violence seem to figure much less prominently on my bookshelf than they do on my TV screen. I'm not saying that they're not there and/or equally/more compelling or graphic, here: if anything, quite the reverse. Just closer to their proper places in life.

But in books specifically for children?  I wouldn't be too happy with my daughter having writing designed for her that included f-bombs, the c-word is definitely out, and bugger - that favourite Australianism - greatly offends at least one of my close friends (who I certainly wouldn't describe as overly prudish) and is not, particularly, a word whose true meaning I'd like to explain to my twelve-year old on a winter's night just before bedtime.  Almost anything else would seem to represent something that most kids will have seen coming out of themselves since birth...

Thoughts and opinions welcome!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Them there school holiday work breaks...

Yes, the dreaded school holidays are with us again, and like thousands of parents the world over, I've been dredging the innermost reaches of my brain trying to figure out new ways to get the kids cold, tired, or otherwise to a state of exhaustion where they might give me five minutes peace.  This is a quest in which I've largely succeeded, but needless to say - by the time I've got them tuckered out, there isn't enough left in the tank to contemplate writing a blog post most days, let alone mount an assault on The Novel.

I have, however, had one minor result that I am - in the spirit of depthless generosity - going to ascribe to this fortnight of toil.  I managed to wake up this morning, after a night of unusually vivid dreams, with almost a fully-formed plot in front of me.  I flicked the kettle on for tea, and while I waited for it to brew sketched out the outline, ready to revisit once I've recovered.  Dreams like this don't come on their own - no.  They require the imbibing of copious quantities of alcohol and blue cheese, and my children - the little darlings - have given me plenty of motivation to seek solace in the arms of either the bottle or indeed, barely controlled fungus cultures over the last ten days.  So this story's going to be all theirs.

Snow and the lack of Surf

Yes, the surfing's been completely proscribed by the aforementioned school holidays.  I did take the family off skiing, up to Mount Dobson, a small field in the Mackenzie Country which is almost all beginner and intermediate terrain and which has terrific views over to Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo.  It also looks like a great place to break myself into going a bit more backcountry - lots of moderate off-trail runs accessible by relatively easy hikes, so I may revisit there on my own account if it looks like there's some really nice fresh snow on the cards.  What struck me about Dobson though - apart from the complete lack of school holiday crowds - was what a terrific place it was to just be, in the most hippy-dippy, quasi-Buddhist horseshit sense of the word.  The facilities are - well, basic is being generous - but somehow that just adds to the experience.

Of course, no school holidays or ski trip would have been worth its salt without the obligatory rising-of-the-swell.  The east coast, it seems, was all time during the time we were away.  But with the cold spell we've been having, and  legs heavy with the after-ski burn, somehow I didn't mind too much.  Yes, the clarion all of the warm north might be growing stronger, but there's days down here that are just pure magic.