Saturday 8 September 2018

Guest post by Danielle James

Before I start, I want to thank Amanda for so kindly allowing me to write a guest blog for her wonderful site.

I have always been an avid reader - now, at aged (AHEM … *CLEARS THROAT*)  I am literally never without a book in my hand.  I read everything I can get my hands on (including the backs of cereal boxes - trust me, you can learn a lot from them) and treasure all my books (my favourite is over 120 years old and is in bad condition - it was like that when I was given it).

I often work with children and they roll their eyes when I tell them off for desecrating their books - turning the corners over damages them.  Who knows, maybe your favourite book will become a collector’s item one day.  

Who are your favourite authors?  Do you like any of the classics and - more to the point, what makes a classic?   I love Enid Blyton even at my age - in fact, it was one of her books (The Little House At The Corner) which revealed my path to me.  The minute I read that book, I knew I was going to be an author (which is a dream I have fulfilled).

I remember one of the first books I ever fell in love with - sadly I can’t remember the title but the subject and cover remain firmly lodged in my head.  It was about an astronaut and the training he went through (fiction but based on fact) and, bizarrely had a black and pink cover.  Why do I recall that book with so much affection?  Because I went through a phase of copying the stories out by hand - this was the first one I did it with.

Now, before you adults shout ‘PLAGIARISM’ at me, let me explain.  I never intended to publish and pretend it was my own.  The aim was to learn my craft and - even from a young age - I knew that there is a connection between the brain and hand.  

I learned about sentence structure and length - if you write a poem, it is fine to have, say five words to every sentence but it becomes monotonous if you try to do it in everyday writing.

I also discovered the importance of choosing JUST the right words.  Without that, the scene can be black and white - not even any contrast.

Imagine someone who is tired.  They may be described as yawning or rubbing their eyes … that tells you nothing about HOW tired they are.  However, what if they COLLAPSED into a chair with a heavy sigh of relief and wiped the sweat off their face?  Now you get a completely different picture of how they feel - it is more realistic.

I think that’s one reason I love Enid Blyton so much - she brings a scene to life.  The characters sing and dance off the page - she also has the gift for making you laugh with her descriptions.  Check out the Five Findouters (which are available in huge books, each containing a trilogy) and I challenge you not to laugh when Freddy is disguised as the author herself. 

Sure, she is classed as ‘old fashioned’ and no book is above criticism (even my own).  Her writing style is third person omniscient (also known as head hopping).  Now that is out of favour at the moment but I don’t see why.  She goes so far as to tell us what Kiki the Parrot is thinking in one story … OK, so maybe that IS going a little too far but she’s still immensely popular today and a little known series of her books have been found recently - as a result, she appears to be having something of a resurgence.  

So, am I saying that she’s the only writer worth reading?  NO!

As a writer, I’m forced to keep up with current trends (oh, what a tiresome job it is, too - NOT!) so I have to read books by modern authors too.

Today’s books are very different to those I grew up with.  Back in the 1970’s we had titles such as Mrs Pepperpot, Milly Molly Mandy, The Five Children and It and the Swish of the Curtain.  Fast forward to modern times and the trends have changed dramatically - very few books have survived the test of time.  Now David Williams and Tom Gates have the top spot, along with Michael Morpego and JK Rowling.

I think what I like about these books is that the stories may well be silly and laugh out loud (certainly in the case of David Walliams) but they usually raise some very important issues (such as prejudging people in the case of Mr Stink; and what life would really be like if you had billions of pounds - not as much fun as you might expect as Joe from the Billionaire Boy discovers).  I am delighted to see a few classics have stood the test of time such as Stig of the Dump, I am David, Anne of Green Gables and the wonderful Heidi.  Sadly most books do not remain popular for long enough to become a classic.  

Today’s reader is required to think more than their ancestors (now I am showing my age, using that word).  When I was young, most of the stories were just that - fictional, exciting tales.  We would read them and play games based on their adventures.  However, these days, books seem to be focussed on messages.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this - just that I miss the days of reading for pure pleasure. 

I guess that’s why I write the way I do … but even I have been forced to conform if I want my work traditionally published.  My stories, I now realise DO contain messages of hope but I hope I don’t ram it down the throats of the readers.  I hope they are fun and make people laugh - only you, the reader, can judge.  In this paragraph I have committed the cardinal sin of repeating the word hope close together several times - but that is done for effect).

One book that did surprise me was Chris Colfer’s The Land of Forgotten Stories.  I love the premise of this (which has become a running theme recently).  In this series (I believe we are up to book 6 now …) which make me laugh and cry off the page (quite the achievement, believe me!) the author asks what happened AFTER the fairy story ended.  Did Snow White and her stepmother bury the hatchet?  What happened to Red Riding Hood?  And WHO is the Frog Prince?  These and other stories are explored in depth, with the twist being that the famous Fairy Godmother actually has two grandchildren from our world - both of whom fall into a huge book and find themselves in their land (somehow I love the frog prince best).  I expected it to be silly but it’s so easy to engage with the characters and you, the reader, delight in the joy of rediscovering old friends - the only one I don’t think he’s brought into it is Beauty and the Beast (sad, as that’s my all time favourite fairy tale).  

Just like Enid Blyton, Chris Colfer writes in third person omniscient and pulls it off.  Personally, I don’t like first person (which is the current trend) - it’s rare that I find a book it works in.  For me, the problem is I cannot suspend disbelief.  I’m really not riding into the sunset towards Cinderella’s castle with wolves baying at my back … OK, I’m mixing my stories but you get the idea.

Many children have asked why I love reading and writing - well my answer will always be the same, regardless of the activity.

ESCAPISM.  Remember, you can never be lonely when you are a reader because the characters will keep you company.

Even Disney have started adding messages to their books and films - that’s a subject for another blog if I’m ever invited back! **HINT!  HINT**

I’m on a personal drive to make reading fun for children.  Let me know in the comments which your favourite books are and why.  You never know, I may be inspired to read one of them and perhaps they may even become a favourite.

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