I tend to focus on spooky stuff when writing, and most of it is aimed at adults. However, I also love writing for children, and if you’ve never written a children’s book before, I’d really recommend giving it a go.
Why Write for Kids?
For me, the fun of creating books for adults is that you can go deep with your writing. You can put in a lot of sub-text, you can play around with subtle symbolism and you can explore subject matter right to its core. You can also go dark too – technically, very few subjects are off-limits when you’re writing for grown-ups, though obviously, there are still a few areas I’d recommend steering clear of (or handling with extreme sensitivity).
Writing for kids offers something very different. It’s a chance to get uber-creative and test out mad ideas. You can also make larger-than-life characters and include all sorts of crazy / hilarious scenarios. It’s a chance to unleash that childish energy in yourself (or is it just me who has that?) and have a whale of a time.
Is it Always Light-Hearted?
Absolutely not. In fact, some of the best kids’ books I’ve ever read have dared to stray into sad, dark territory. Take The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or Holes, for example. Or A Monster Calls, which I’m not kidding, had me sobbing in a hotel room at 2am in the morning.
However, where these books deviate from ‘adult’ books is that they handle tough topics in a manner that kids a) feel safe with and b) understand. That’s quite an art-form, but well worth experimenting with in your own writing.
When Writing for Kids…
I’m lucky enough to work as a volunteer librarian, two afternoons a week, at my sons’ school. It’s the perfect opportunity to talk to children about what they’re reading and to understand more about what subjects excite them. Some I struggle to relate to (the whole princess thing leaves me a bit baffled, to be honest), but other stories sound so good I want to read them myself!
Based on this experience, I’d wholeheartedly recommend talking to kids about what they like reading. It’s not always what you might think.
I’d also recommend reading children’s books yourself. Believe me, many of them are fantastic. For example, if you haven’t read the Mr Gum books, do. They’re genuinely hilarious, and a total joy to read (Alan Taylor the Gingerbread Man is my absolute favourite character). The Charlie Bone series is so inventive and well-written, and Cressida Cowell’s How to Train a Dragon series is just wonderful (as are her illustrations).
Test Out Your Stories
When writing for children, I always test the stories out on my sons, who are nothing if not brutally honest. That’s what’s best about them; there’s no beating around the bush – they’ll tell it like it is. While that’s disheartening when they tell you that the last chapter was boring, it’s highly uplifting when they say they loved it, because it means it genuinely did the job.
Asking children for ideas is worth doing too. I’m currently working on a very silly book about inter-dimensional space travel in a pea, and my youngest son gave me a cracking idea about encountering a race of people who were all crumb-sized. I loved it – so it’s gone in the book!
Have Fun With It
If you mainly write for adults, penning a book for kids can breathe welcome fresh air into your writing. It’s such a different approach, requiring not only different skills but also a whole new mindset, and it’s great for a change of direction.
Even if you only write for your own children (which I frequently do), it doesn’t matter. If one child enjoys it, it counts.
Some Exciting News...
And lastly (veering off topic here), the third Dr Ribero has nearly landed! It's out on the 23rd October, and is available in bookstores in the US, plus Amazon and all the usual haunts. This one's called The Case of the Hidden Daemon; I hope you enjoy it!
Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural – The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, is available to buy – you can do so here (US) or here (UK). Likewise, the second in the series, The Case of the Deadly Doppleganger is also available!