Author Jez Alborough on the Mumsnet Book of Bedtime Stories: "a remarkable achievement"
We're very excited that the Book of Bedtime Stories - a beautifully illustrated treasury of tales written by Mumsnetters and Gransnetters - is published today! Huge congratulations to all those whose entries were chosen - writing children's stories is much trickier than one might think, as children's author Jez Alborough explains in this celebratory guest post.
The Book of Bedtime Stories - beautifully illustrated night-time tales from Mumsnetters and Gransnetters, chosen by Michael Rosen
“It’s easy to write for children, anyone could do it!” Some people actually believe this; I suppose their reasoning is that you’re writing for undeveloped minds, there aren’t many pages and you don’t even have to use many words. But anyone who loves children’s books, or indeed who has tried to write one, knows that this is simply not true. ‘Less’ is certainly ‘more’, but how to write ‘less’ and make it ‘more’ is not an easy thing to achieve - which makes the achievement of those Mumsnetters whose stories are published in this book all the more remarkable.
So what actually goes into the making of a picture book? For my part, the aim is to capture some aspect of life within thirty-two pages of words and pictures, and make it relevant, engaging and fun for children.
If I manage to say something true about my chosen subject, then there's every possibility that the parent reading the book will enjoy it too. For the book to be ‘true’, the psychology in the story has to be authentic. For example, my book HUG tells the story of a chimp called Bobo who has lost his Mummy. It’s not enough to just show Bobo being sad; like any child in his predicament he experiences a whole range of emotions, as do the other animals who feel compelled to help him. If the feelings portrayed in a picture book are not believable then the story just won’t ring true. However I have to convey the information about feelings and the twists and turns of a story in a way that is clear and understandable to a child.
‘When I write a children's book part of me is tuned into what that five-year-old me would enjoy in a story - while the other, adult part is providing the craft.’
There is a knack to this and for me it involves being in touch with the child I was around the age of five; this affords me the ability to communicate with children on their terms. Without this knack it is possible to fall into the trap of ‘writing down’ to children and portraying what an adult mind thinks that their view of the world is like. This is not the same thing at all. When I write a children’s book part of me is tuned into what that five year old me would enjoy in a story, while the other, adult part is providing the craft which tells me how best to tell the story. The process then is a mixture of the innocence of the child’s perspective and the experience of the adults.
Craft in storytelling is every bit as important as inspiration. If you described a day in your life in which extraordinary events took place, it wouldn't necessarily make a great story. The storyteller pulls events together in a structure which sets off the emotional journey of the story to its best advantage. In basic terms storytelling is all about the releasing of information; this has to be done at exactly the right time and in the most appropriate and entertaining way. The HUG story is extremely simple: Bobo loses his Mum, then with the help of other animals, is reunited with her. The interest comes from the craft of relating all the subtle twists and turns of how this happens.
One of the best things about picture books is that they are created to be read out loud, to be shared. This means that they are very much an interactive art form: they require someone to read them out to bring them to life. The reader of the book is the last link in the chain which began with me having the original idea for the story. The book is like a sleeping beauty - the story is all there, but it needs the reader - you - to kiss it into life.
Jez's site is www.jezalborough.com.
You can buy the Mumsnet Book of Bedtime Stories over here or have a sneak peak at the stories here. Do come back to tell us what you think!