Gaiman took it on the chin and said he also gets told off for not writing books for dads, who also get a hard time in children’s stories. He’s addressing this with a new book called Fortunately the Milk, where a dad gets to have an adventure. He also revealed how he originally wrote the Blueberry Book for Girls as a poem for Tori Amos when she was pregnant.
It was a fitting note near the end of the session – both Gaiman and well-known Australian author Margo Lanagan had spent much of the time with Kate de Goldi explaining that they struggle to be prescriptive as to whether a book is for children or young adults when they write it.
The success of Coraline, Gaiman said, was due to the young daughters of his agent. The agent had initially said that Coraline wasn’t a children’s book as she was terrified reading it. They worked out a deal whereby she would test it on her children and if they were terrified they’d sent it off as an adult book, and if they loved it, it would be sent off to the children’s publisher.
They did love it – but Gaiman found out at the premiere of the musical that one of the children was actually terrified – she had said she loved it because she knew she wouldn’t get the rest of the story if she said otherwise.
When asked what a young adult novel was Margo Lanagan said “It’s a place in a bookshop. Beyond that it’s a very large argument.”
Librarians teachers and parents and “and other throwers round of their weight” want young people’s books to have particular themes or outcomes. She does put some “concessions” in her books she says, but is now moving much more towards fantasy writing which helps get around the problems.
Gaiman related how when he was reviewing book in the 1980s all he saw were prescribed fictions by teachers and librarians. “A proper book should be kid in south London in a tower block who’s older brother was having trouble with heroin,” he said. The books always featured a noble teacher who would point out the error of the youth’s ways. “Horrible,” he said.
Diana Wynne Jones was the kind of writer both authors admired. She is often quoted as saying ‘when you write for children you only have to say things once’. Gaiman put it slightly differently: “She assumes that kids are really smart and are paying attention”.
After Gaiman’s professed love of libraries earlier in the day, this was an interesting cautionary note. Encourage reading, don’t gatekeep. What do you say librarians? Are you “throwers around of your weight”?