It is summer in the southern hemisphere, where I am seeing in the New Year, but now and then a cold, sour blast from the north reminds me of home.
One of the on-line messages, left in response to an article I had written in the Independent about the limitations of Twitter, expressed sarcastic amusement that the author of such “deathless classics” as – and the poster (anonymous, natch) listed a couple of my children’s books – should be worrying about literary seriousness.
It is never wise to pay too much attention to graffiti scrawled on the internet wall, but these remarks reminded me of a wider snobbery, once commonplace in British culture, now – thank goodness – on the wane.
The assumption behind the sneer is simple. It is that writing fiction for children is by its nature inferior – simpler, stupider, easier – than real writing, which is for adults. Before the great revolution in attitudes caused by the success of JK Rowling, Philip Pullman and others, children’s writing was a distinctly below-stairs activity. Critics used it as handy insult in reviews. On the smarter creative writing courses, students would be mortified, insulted, by the idea that they might try to write stories for younger readers.
All that changed, but the old snobberies die hard.
Is there anything in it? The idiot poster on the Independent website had selected books I ahd written for quite young children and I suppose that, for some, it might have seemed slightly ludicrous that the author of a story about a hamster could write about literary seriousness.
But these prejudices about what is acceptable and cool for a professional writer to do, and what is beyond the pale, reveal a hidebound and rather stupid attitude towards creativity. It should hardly need saying, but now and then does, that writing books even for very young children – especially for very young children – is serious work.
Those who, apparently without engaging their own brain or imagination, believe that it is easy, should just grow up.