The joys of writing fiction for kids – and reading it to them! by Cheryl Burman
I grew up on Disney, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Enid Blyton’s Wishing Chair books and Narnia, among other odds and ends of fantasy. I still have my box set of Narnia books my parents gave me for a long-ago birthday. I’ve read them countless times but the stories of good vs evil with child heroes who have their own good and bad points, never grows old.
No doubt this upbringing influenced me to choose kids’ fantasy as my first book to write (or books given it turned into a trilogy). The inspiration to pen a novel at all emerged after a nation-wide battle of the people vs a government-with-plans-to sell-off-our-public forests. Some time after it was over, and we had won, I was wandering the Forest with the dog and had a rush of blood to the head. Home I sped, set up on the dining room table and started tapping away.
I hadn’t read any children’s fiction since my own kids were at school. By this time they were post university and working. I also hadn’t at that stage heard of the sensible rule to read widely in your genre. I was left to draw on my own experiences to produce Guardians of the Forest. This included my recent horror and anger at the idea of having my beloved forest sold off for potential development plus my ancient relevant reading history. When I published the books their initial fans were ‘women of a certain age’ and it worried me that I had written to my own and my peers’ tastes–but would kids actually enjoy this story?
I’m pleased to tell you yes, they do! And I suspect that’s due to my first point about tales of good vs evil never going out of fashion.
As in Disney, as in Narnia, as in Lord of the Rings and so on and so on, there is a well-defined threat in Guardians, a nastiness determined to wreak desolation and havoc (for profit of course) if it isn’t stopped. There are also doltish adults who haven’t got a clue what’s going on and have to be ignored or outright disobeyed if victory is to happen. The kids are in charge and are the true heroes, especially those who have to choose which side they are really on.
One reviewer made this point, which was totally accidental on my part:
‘The author does a skilful job of capturing the anxiety of youth facing challenges and addressing concerns the adults seem to avoid.’
Similarly, I hadn’t deliberately thought of the stories in the following terms either, but glad these messages are there, subliminally.
‘the clash between good and evil highlights the values of loyalty, determination and fighting for what is right.’
At a more prosaic level, one of my favourite reviews says this about Book 1, The Wild Army:
Heroic children, their bunny sidekick, an adorable baby griffon, and wild animals work together to save their homes and forest from evil men and ecological disaster. What's not to like? Especially when the story is so well crafted. In short, the book is a delight.
It's so much fun making this stuff up, plotting it out, bringing the drama to life with wickedness, ghostly happenings, magical pendants, and with mythical beasts and wild creatures fighting alongside the children.
What’s even better fun is reading bits of the story to its intended audience, that is the nine to twelve-year-olds. Over last summer I did this at library events as part of the UK’s Summer Reading Challenge, and more recently in a local school. Sensing the children’s attentiveness (even while they’re drawing at the same time, which helps their concentration), asking if they want more or are they done and hearing their enthusiastic ‘more please’, is pure selfish delight. I could read to kids all day, with the occasional cup of tea.
What’s good too is how the attending mums and nanas get so involved in the story as well. We are all kids at heart, which is why I’m happy that Guardians of the Forest has a fan base from 9 to 80 years old, with every age in between.
A prequel, Legend of the Winged Lion, was released in early 2022 to good reviews. At the time, I read parts of it at the school where I read Guardians, and gave them several copies to read for themselves. The sequel is nearing completion and will be out later this year, with a good wind. Writing for, and reading to, kids is a lot of fun and also brings huge benefits to the children themselves. (I wrote a blog post about that, if you want to take a look here.)
Thank you, Lily, for this chance to air some views!
Originally from Australia, Cheryl Burman now lives in the Forest of Dean, UK, a place which has inspired the likes of Tolkien and Rowling. She’s the author of two award winning novels and a novella for grownups, and a trilogy and its prequel for youngsters (although Mum, Dad and the grans love them too). Her flash fiction and short stories have won various awards and some of these are included in her collection, Dragon Giftwhile several are published in various anthologies. As Cheryl Mayo, she is the chair of Dean Writers Circle and a founder of Dean Scribblers, which encourages creative writing among young people in her community.
You can find all her books here.
Image authors own.