So, SF Said comes along and posts this insanely eloquent and brilliant post here about 21st century middle-grade books then you get me showing up posting photos of myself as a unicorn. Sorry guys. Blame Darren from BookZone for letting me be a Middle Grade Strikes Back contributor. Although I'm tempted to post photo after photo of dragons and snow leopards, I'm going to reign it in (a little) and talk about why I write middle grade stories.
Me as a unicorn
I didn't always know that I wanted to write for 8-13-year-olds. I didn't even know I wanted to be a writer until I was in my mid twenties. From the age of six I wanted to be a unicorn and after that I wanted to be a Blue Peter Presenter. Neither have happened. Yet. I did love writing as a child (I wrote morbid newspaper articles, a few highly unrealistic plays and a selection of wanted posters directed at my siblings when they annoyed me), but most of my childhood was spent exploring outdoors. There was something magical about those years (aged 8-13) - I was full of wonder at the world and I craved adventure. I ran everywhere; I had to see and do EVERYTHING. My 'YA years' may have held the excitement of 'growing up' but my parents' divorce during that time left me craving the naive idealism of my younger years. In fact it left me desperate to write about them years later.
Me (with a dreadful haircut) hitching a ride into the woods to build a treehouse
I grew up in the wilds of Scotland next to a farm. When I wasn’t building dens in the woods with my brothers and sister, I was mixing potions from flower petals or careering down the river on a lilo. My siblings and I camped under the stars up the glen, played monkey bars from the rafters of the barn and fished the pond for giant beetles. Birthdays comprised of wheelbarrow races round the garden and high-jump competitions over bamboo canes. When I think about it, I don’t really have any memories of being inside. At six, I could distinguish a skylark call from a yellowhammer and by seven I was scrambling up mountains in search of eagles’ eyries and riding ponies bareback on the beach.
Swimming in the river with my siblings
When I had to be inside I read everything that I could get my hands on (thanks to my Mum): Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch series, Sylvia Waugh’s The Mennymns, CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – and it was these types of stories that sprinkled every adventure I had with magic. When I pushed open old, ivy-strewn doors into secret gardens, I genuinely believed Narnia might be on the other side; when I looked under ferny overhangs by the river, I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen Tinkerbell chilling out on a toadstool. And so, years later, when I realised that all I really wanted to do was to write stories (because I was useless at everything else - in fact I was useless at writing as well at first but that's another story), it came as no surprise that I chose to write about an outdoors world filled with adventure and magic – the one I had inhabited as a middle grade child…
I started thinking about people who don’t live in traditional houses and before long, I was knee-deep in researching Romany gypsies and their beautiful wagons in the woods – and little by little, Moll’s world was born. In that world I knew I could let my childhood run wild again (tree forts, river swimming, herbal concoctions)… One of my all-time favourite books is Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights – and I knew with my own book that I wanted to create a heroine as punchy as Lyra. And so along came Moll – hopelessly flawed but filled with courage and adventurous spirit.
Lyra with Iorek from Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights
People ask me what’s coming next after Moll and Gryff’s adventures – I don’t know what plot will unfold but I do know four things: there will be people who don’t live in houses (Inuits this time, I think), a heroine who packs a punch (Eska is slowly taking shape in my mind), a child-animal bond (for some reason I can’t stop thinking about a grizzly bear cub)… and it's damn well going to be middle-grade. Unless you want to read about my non-existent love life during my YA years when I was at an all-girls school. That's right. You don't. You want DRAGONS, UNICORNS, SNOW LEOPARDS, MAGIC, GOBLINS, SECRET WORLDS. Sorry, Darren, I'll calm down. Just one final YELL:
I LOVE DRAGONS SO MUCH!