Sunday, 5 April 2015

Who are you writing for?

I've always struggled with the idea that a story is written for a particular somebody. 'Who are you writing the story for?' is a question often asked of us. As the story-teller, are we not taken with character and story first, and once the story's finished, and only because of the way the publishing industry works, have to worry about the category of reader? 




By the very nature of the publishing world, books need to find their audience. They must be labelled, marketed and shelved appropriately. And as illustrators and authors we choose the basic form within which we're going to work, be it picture book or short story, or whichever.

Do we always need to be so hung up on 'who' a book is officially for?

What I mean is that, unlike clothes, for example, which are specifically made to fit a certain age and range, and simply won't fit any other – stories, on the other hand, are stories, in all their different shapes and sizes.

There are naturally more specific fitting stories than others. A story about a girl being bullied, will most likely 'fit' other girls around this age who may have either experienced or witnessed something similar. But it's not an exclusive 'fit'. Stories can 'fit' anyone who wants to try them. Anyone with whom they resonate. Whether it be an adult carried along on the rhythm and illustrations of We're Going on a Bear Hunt, or a ten-year old captivated by the humorous philosophy of Calvin and Hobbes. Do we always need, therefore, to be so hung up on 'who' a book is officially for?

Clearly there needs to be some guidance as to subjects deemed age-inappropriate (although this pales against children's access to all things unsavoury depicted in full technicolour on their TV and computer screens).


I read about the rising popularity of colouring-in books, 'for adults'. My immediate response was to think, why on earth would an adult want to colour-in?

The reason this came to mind, is that I read about the rising popularity of colouring-in books, 'for adults'. My immediate response was to think, rather sneeringly, that this was none other than a marketing gimmick, and why on earth would an adult want to colour in anyway?

It got me thinking about my reaction to those published and established authors who sneer at adults thoroughly enjoying children's books. Such pompous getting one's knickers in a twist has always made me snort. Did modern civilization collapse as a result of commuting adults immersing themselves in Harry Potter?

Did modern civilization collapse as a result of commuting adults immersing themselves in Harry Potter?

It's almost as if such censorious derision of adults indulging in books not befitting their age, pokes at something uncomfortable and unresolved residing in the psyche of such naysayers. They'd quite like to forget all about having ever been a child, thank you very much. That all things of childhood are childish, and should be well and truly left behind in the pursuit of higher art. Perhaps if they opened themselves up to the freeing experience of enjoying story for story's sake, they might unravel whatever's lying knotted and wrinkled beneath.

Because it is from here, from deep within ourselves, that stories emerge, something resonant and fundamental to our own experience. It is this that we share through the depiction of a fictional character, and it is this that readers of whatever age relate to.

It is from here, from deep within ourselves, that stories emerge, something resonant and fundamental of our own experience

In 1940, Beatrix Potter was asked by a publisher "to tell again how Peter Rabbit came to be written."

"I do not remember a time," she answered, "when I did not try to invent pictures and make for myself a fairyland amongst the wild flowers, the animals, fungi, mosses, woods and streams, all the thousand objects of the countryside; that pleasant, unchanging world of realism and romance, which in our northern clime is stiffened by hard weather, a tough ancestry, and the strength that comes from the hills."

Perhaps if I sat down and coloured in a beautifully printed image, I would open up, immerse fully in the creative pleasure. But this could be any image, not simply one specifically marketed 'for' adults. Just as I love reading Asterix, and old copies of the Beano, and my kids loved reading Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip supposedly 'for' adults. Stories and their pictures are for everyone and anyone to enjoy, to see if they fit.



Don't forget to have a look at last week's posts on Words & Pictures. These are a definite 'fit' for everyone:

Monday's report by Cathy Bee, on a wonderful workshop re-shaping the Gingerbread Man in to a collaborative rap.
Tuesday's Ten-minute Time Machine, in which Nick takes us back to the very beginnings and rich seams of a selection of blogs
Wednesday's Debut author series - another inspiring story brought to us by Nicky - Lindsay Littleson on winning the Kelpies prize
Thursday's Network News Stop press - a new Critique group coming to Tunbridge Wells, and news of what the NW network got up to at Salford Uni - & Event Report on the Masterclass, Picture Books for the Digital Age, with Eric Huang
Friday's new Featured Illustrator for April, Duncan Wilson
Saturday's A New Slushpile Challenge, brought to us from Julia Churchill

Also, check out this year's new themes: This month we're focusing on Who are you?








Nancy Saunders is the new Editor of W&P. You can find some of her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders

3 comments:

  1. My wife, who's a very accomplished artist, loves colouring-in books! I don't think she minds whether they're targeted towards adults or children, though.

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  2. Good on her! I'm thinking of getting one myself...probably one targeted at adults, because they look more appealing :-) There's nothing like shooting one's own vague argument in the foot ...

    ReplyDelete
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