Something awesome happened to me via Twitter the other day, and I realised I should probably write it down for posterity. Now, I know Twitter can be like a torrent of RTs and shite a lot of the time, but on the whole I think it, and other social media interfaces, can do a lot for networking between writers and readers. I follow a few authors – big house and self-pub – and I enjoy seeing their little soundbites and links and stuff. Sometimes (i.e. the indie and self-pub ones) they follow me back, and there is direct interaction.
Until this marvellous event the other day, the shining crown in my author-twitter collection was Joanne Harris favouriting a pun about baked goods when I replied to her request for such items. It’s almost like she knows I exist!
NB my best ever Twitter famous person thing which will never be topped unless Nathan Fillion is involved, was a brief joke with Stephen Mangan about Matt LeBlanc’s hair. There was a Moment. I cling to it forever, that Stephen Mangan thought I was worthy of a five-second reply. Yes, I screen-shotted it. No, I have no regrets.
Aaaanyway, while I always love talking to authors – and having them talk back, making me less of a weird stalker – my Joanne Harris trumping moment (and this is tough, but it’s deep-seated) was two (TWO) of my tweets to Kim Goodacre about death in children’s books being favourited by the illustrator I mentioned, Chris Riddell. In case you have no clue who that is (for shame!) then he was one half of Stewart & Riddell, who wrote and illustrated The Edge Chronicles. I loved those books as a tween, and they are still on my shelf like a reminder of excellent book choices past. When I reorganised my books recently, I found myself accidentally re-reading the first one – Beyond the Deepwoods – and falling under its spell once again.
Kim Goodacre was asking Twitter whether death is acceptable in children’s books, and if so, were there or should there be rules about it. And Beyond the Deepwoods immediately sprang to mind. The protagonist of the book is called Twig, and he’s on a quest. He’s a bit whiny and useless, but to be fair he’s just found out he’s adopted and in a sort-of Shyamalan The Village thing, has never been allowed out into the woods by himself. But now he is, and he’s lost and nearly died about ten times by this point, and then he meets and befriends a huge creature called a Banderbear. He fixes its toothache and the two become allies, with the bear helping Twig find food, and the Banderbear even manages to say Twig’s name and it’s all so lovely.
..aaaand then there are the wig-wigs. They’re like the piranhas of the woods. Orange fuzzballs of death that hunt in packs and bring you down by weight of numbers. And then eat you alive. Holy crap, and this is a kids’ book! So guess what happens. They get chased, and the Banderbear (and I’m actually tearing up while typing it, no joke) sacrifices himself for Twig and gets eaten by the wig-wigs. He pushes Twig into a tree, because they’re friends, and saving friends is what you do. So it serves a purpose, and is very good for Twig’s character development, and of course the woods are dangerous. The woods are full of other creatures and poisons and death traps that Twig must negotiate. It’s a pretty brutal book actually, considering. So I tweeted that to Kim, in 140 characters.
The point is, Stewart & Riddell are the duo who really stoked my burning desire to tell stories. My friend at school, Sara, she was a very talented artist, and so I thought we could do something similar. We’d write the story together and she would illustrate it. It never really came to anything, of course, we were twelve. But it opened up to me the idea that picture books aren’t just for five year olds. You can have a proper, pages of text book with beautiful illustrations, but the subject matter is solid and not just about losing a sock in the farmyard or something. The only other place I’d seen such a thing was Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. And I’d thought that was a special case. I mean, it’s Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. They’re a category on their own. That’s just how those books go.
The Edge books dealt with a lot of big topics – parental abandonment, death, fear, greed, identity and destiny – and didn’t talk down to the reader. Alright, the vocabulary is simpler so it’s accessible to independent child readers, but it’s not patronising. I was once in a lecture at Uni and my lecturer referenced the floating city of Sanctaphrax from the books, and of the hundred plus students there, I was the only one who got the reference. So they also get bonus points for making me cool in the eyes of academia.
That’s why Chris Riddell taking the time to favourite that conversation means so much. And that’s why it trumps Joanne Harris and her baked goods. Making me, aged twelve, cry hot little tears over the death of a big, friendly bear. Thanks for your part in that, Chris Riddell. You made a child cry. And it was awesome.