One thing that’s often missing in children’s stories

Last week I met a school friend I had not seen in forty years.

Yep. You read that right.

Forty years.

Do you know how much people change in forty years?

Not much at all, really.

Maybe our outward appearance gets tweaked and polished and tumbled and knocked about.

But our essence remains the same. I immediately noticed that what made us friends in the first place was still there. That innate understanding. That kindred connection. That shared sense of humour and irreverence and ‘groundedness’.

Our friendship began in primary school. We lived in the country. Farms and sheep, kelpies, crops and mice plagues featured heavily in our lives.

And so did Enid Blyton.

We spoke at length about this. About our love of Enid and the Famous Five. About our rough and tumble, freewheeling, unchartered childhoods.

We recalled occasions when our parents would drop us off at someone’s farm and leave us there.

Alone.

For a few days…

We RELISHED the freedom.

The dangers were obvious but rarely taken seriously (this was way before mobile phones were even thought of, so when I say we were on our own, we really were ON OUR OWN).

This sort of ‘let’s go camping at the ripe old age of 10’ might not happen these days.

But it was par for the course back then.

And those experiences have heavily influenced my writing.

We laughed, my friend and I, when I explained that what makes my Truly Tan stories ‘exotic’ is that the kids, the characters, have freedom. For the main part, their lives are unplanned, unscheduled and, often, unsupervised.

These days, the freedom I bestow on my characters, this pale but nonetheless unconventional version of the freedom we took for granted as kids, is what constitutes fiction and, well, high jinx.

A child at a school visit asked me to write a story called Truly Tan: Trapped. Clearly that child wanted to see how Tan would rise to such a challenge. Me too! So I said yes and I wrote the book. It’s book 6 in the series. Published by HarperCollins, illustrated by Claire Robertson

If you inject your stories with a sense of freedom, grant your characters autonomy, it can make your stories unique. Especially by today’s standards. Freedom is enticing and invigorating. It demands of our characters resourcefulness and an aptitude for survival. It is also a great source of comfort (and hope) to today’s modern child.

Take off your parenting hat when writing for children. Just put it aside and see what happens to your story, your characters, your delicious world of make believe.

Grant yourself the freedom to create—freely.

Do it for you, your characters and for your reader.

If your story is dragging or lacklustre, ask yourself, am I being too timid here? Am I acting like a parent rather than a storyteller?

Ask yourself, what would Enid do?

Have an adventure. See what happens. I dare you…

Jen xo

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