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Brain Damage and the Complexity of Writing for Children
In a recent BBC2 interview for Faulks on Fiction, Martin Amis made a pretty major clanger when he stated that he would only consider writing a children’s book if he had sustained ‘serious brain injury’ writes Holly turner.

Unsurprisingly, children’s authors have been outraged, insulted and have had more than a
few words to say about this deprecating perspective of their work.

Children’s writer Lucy Coates responds to Amis’s inexplicit slur on her blog, An Awfully Big Blog Adventure - arguing that the age of a writer’s audience does not determine the complexity of the thought process behind children’s fiction, nor does it mean that the readers should be belittled any more than with other mature genres.

She comments ‘children hate patronising adults’ - which is true. As anyone who has been a child (pretty much everyone there then) knows, childhood is a complex stage, enabling development into adult life. Therefore with obviously an immense amount of learning and new concepts to understand. Children (well, most children) are constantly developing their world knowledge to a much faster pace than adults. They will most likely want to read fiction that reciprocates this, and adds to their experience, challenges them, works on their level.

Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen couldn’t have put this clearer, where he writes for the Guardian that children’s books need to ‘negotiate that space’ between the child and adult worlds. And that would take a lot of careful thinking, drawing on own experience and relating to modern trends. Children have a completely different cultural system to adults, and the ability to channel that through writing would take just as much understanding of character and identity as with writing adult fiction.

Plot and structure should not be undermined in children’s writing either, as readers would
quite capably understand where and when things don’t quite make sense. Tracy Marchini’s blog post ‘Don’t Ignore Logic When Writing Fiction for Children’ on outlines key aspects for authors to focus on: such as the logical constructions of plots, character building, narrative arcs and the construction of new ‘worlds’. These are all obvious attributes which children would pay attention to in fiction, and any deterioration from the “logical conclusions” could lead to a loss of interest.

And speaking of interest, in his interview Martin Amis also comments (arguably audaciously) on the probability of his becoming a children’s author that ‘fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.’ Restraints? Children can enjoy a magnitude of varied language use, and surely the range of genres available to children and teenagers is proof of these possibilities. To keep the interest of the reader, surely children’s fiction would necessarily be as unrestrained as possible, capturing the imaginative and inquisitive natures children can have? And could it be plausible to suggest that a child’s imaginative capacity can be pretty more expansive than most adults’, allowing a greater acceptance or even desire for creative and inventive concepts in fiction?

Evidently, writing for children needs an application of not a lower, but a contrasting level of
thinking to fiction for adults. For writers, it can surely be a difficult feat to understand the wants and needs of this audience, and for those who feel that ‘serious brain injury’ would need to be involved before attempting to write children’s fiction may need examination rather than injury. As Ursula Le Guin says: ‘Sure, it's simple, writing for kids . . . just as simple as bringing them up.’

Holly Turner
is a young writer based at York St. John.