One of my grandsons emailed me yesterday. He had done a page count of some of my books and wanted to know how I manage to write upward of 300 pages. He, aged 11, had just struggled to complete 17 pages of what he’d thought was a super idea for a story.
What to tell him, apart from the fact that 17 pages is a great achievement? Certainly more than I managed last week. Well, first to point out that a full-length novel is a very different animal than a short story. A novel is a marathon, written at a leisurely pace (unless the bailiffs are at the door). A short story has to achieve much in very few pages. I think it’s the toughest kind of writing to pull off and though I’ve done it, on request, I never really got the hang of it.
I was quite impressed that Max understood what I do for a living. When I was his age I had absolutely no concept of writers as real people who sat at a typewriter. Were Enid Blyton and Angela Brazil actual human beings? The thought never crossed my mind. Books just…. existed. But of course Max is of a generation accustomed to celebrity authors. It started with J K Rowling. A lot of things did. Children now know where books come from.
Max’s other question was, had I learned how to write books from a YouTube tutorial and if so, could I send him the link. That was an easy one to answer. No tutorials. I’m allergic to them. In my youth Creative Writing courses were but a twinkle in the eye of college administrators. I grew up in a house that didn’t even have a dictionary, though both of my parents, despite having left school aged 14, spoke and wrote good plain English. I had a library ticket. That was my open sesame to books. And I also had pencil, paper and long hours of freedom in a provincial suburb where, apart from one murder, nothing much ever happened. I suspect I started writing to escape.
My grandson’s approach is intellectual and analytical. How does plot work? How do you know where to end a story? How indeed. I’ve just been online and bought him a book called How to Write Your Best Story Ever. It’s being mailed direct to him. But now I’m thinking maybe I should have had it sent here so I could read it first. They say we’re never too old to learn. Whoever ‘they’ are.