chapter  1
4 Pages

Here comes the bogeyman …

I deliberated on the issues I am about to explore once before. At the turn of the millennium, in a wee book entitled Write for Children (Melrose 2002), I made a very small point with a big idea, connecting the suggestion that ‘children’s literature does not exist’ (Zipes 2002: 40), and the ‘impossibility’ of children’s literature (Rose 1984) with an idea on ‘nurture’ (Phillips 1995), which addressed a much larger, critical issue on writing for children and children’s literature. I didn’t really develop it into a huge treatise at the time because it seemed to speak for itself. Indeed, it made perfect sense to me and it still does. Since then, however, and despite the book selling extremely well, I find it has been

hitherto ignored except in some undergraduate essays and a scattering of postgraduate research, and this is partly the problem with academe and scholarship in any subject. Unless we are flag-waving from the ramparts; taking part in the discussions; attending the same conferences and engaging with others similarly engaged in all the right journals, etc., like one of Bourdieu’s ‘privileged interlocutors’, simple ideas, which at first we may take for granted, get buried; or lost; or forgotten; or (and quite likely) ignored because it appeared to be a childish, that is to say underdeveloped, ‘bogeyman’ of an idea and of little importance (for the aforementioned reasons); or even (and most likely) it simply remained unread because of the terms of engagement: it was a book on writing for as opposed to the critical study of. To some extent, then, at the turn of the millennium the book was essentially addressing the poorer cousin of the poor cousin. This is all fine by me and I have no problem with it, after all, writing for children2 as an

academic field of study is even younger than the study of children’s literature.3 But all the same there is also something quite enigmatic about the fact that such an idea could be useful but is languishing still; where an initial thought with problem-solving potential is put into the public domain but it remains unseen or unheard and lurking, ghost-like, in the shadows. We, or at least I, could be entitled to ask: how child centred is that idea? And: how adult is it to ignore a simple, child-like idea when in fact it may have good potential for development? For me those two questions are very important to the idea of ‘writing for children’,

and on the ideas of ‘impossibility’ and the idea of ‘nurture’ in this process, and in the critical issues on writing for children and children’s literature and indeed to this entire book. Perhaps I should highlight them, embolden and italicise them, though I will trust you, my reader, to cling onto them for I will certainly repeat them later. Of course, this

idea of ‘trust in your reader’ will also become very important because I am predominantly writing as a writer for children and not as a critic, albeit a writer with a critical view. Therefore, it is also important to record this is not just a book on writing for children,

but an opportunity to bring the disciplines of the writing and study of children’s fiction, the cult and culture of child-related discourse and its component parts into a cultural, critical and creative context between the covers of a single book. The important thing to record here is that it has more to do with cultural and commu-

nication ideas than literary studies. The cult of the ‘child’, ‘children’ and ‘childhood’, the culture of the ‘child’, ‘children’ and ‘childhood’ and the idea of cultural transmission and communication with children is much more complex than simply writing a book (say) and sending it out for them to read. However, it is also crucial to acknowledge that this cosy marriage between writing for

children and writing on writing for children is not without controversy. There will be other bogeymen to confront for it consists of a collection of small but critical reflections on what can best be described as fantastical critical culture that will accumulate to form a bigger, ‘hybrid’ set of critical and cultural ideas, with which not everyone in either the writing for or writing on camps will agree on. Although it is to be hoped there will be common ground. For example, although I will not necessarily be promoting all of the critical ideas on

‘hybridity’ proposed by David Rudd (Hunt 2004: 35) there are issues of agreement between us. He does come close to what I am about to propose, albeit tangentially, without fully expressing it thoroughly. At some point in this book, then, these ideas will converge into a coherent whole, for it is one of those curious academic coincidences that bring them to a meeting point. We both, and independently, from different starting points – me on writing and he on criticism – invoke the similar ideas on translation and related issues4 that deserve better scrutiny. I will develop these ideas further as I take this study into a wider theoretical discourse. But by the simple nature of these things, there will be much cutting and pasting of

ideas. For example I also (but do not always) agree with Nodelman (2008: 90) and McGillis (1997:130) whom I can paraphrase in saying my ultimate aim is not to ‘try to shield children from the world they live in’, rather to help you (my reader) to provide them with the ‘tools to read this world carefully and critically’5 – the secret is in making the connections, as I have also written elsewhere (Melrose 2010), and this will become much clearer as we progress. These connections come from a voyage, a journey, a quest to try and collate useful critically creative and creatively critical fragments into a coherent whole, so that others may be able to comprehend and make sense of them as they go about their own literary and cultural quests and critical journeys into the cult of childhood. Thus, by coming, as it does, from that previously ignored engagement in the ‘impos-

sibility and nurture’ idea, I will go back and re-engage with the available critical material in order to explain it in more depth before bringing it up to the point I see it at the start of this second decade of the new millennium. Critics such as Nodelman, Rudd, Hunt, Rose, Steedman, Kincaid, Lesnik-Oberstein, Nikolajeva, Zipes alongside critics who have much to offer in tangentially important ideas, such as Adam Phillips; Jean Baudrillard; Slavoj Žižek; Jacques Derrida; Michel Foucault; Homi Bhabha; Walter Benjamin; Mikhael Bakhtin; Sigmund Freud; Milan Kundera; Italo Calvino; Pierre Bourdieu and too many countless others to mention here will be revisited (and those listed are in a completely

random order since ideas are incorporated from all but none privileged). What I will be doing is simply revealing the connections as I see them but one that may allow us to address what, for the time being, I call the hidden child6 in writing for children. Throughout such studies, aspects of the child and childhood can get a little lost in the fug of critical discourse and this is not a good position for the writer and critical practitioner to be in. But in doing so I will be steering a critically creative and creatively critical course,

thinking as much about writing as critiquing and commenting as I go. The reasons will become obvious but as a colleague recently commented:

It is the introduction of a much broader sense of knowledge into the reading process that offers the best potential for bridging the gap between functional interpretation and the more expansive forms of textual interpretation that are likely to further … understanding and appreciation of how writing works and what being a writer means within the context of a wider culture.