Anita in the library – an endangered species in an endangered place
‘Do you draw the pictures?’ ‘Do you know J.K. Rowling?’ ‘How do you think up your ideas?’ These are just some of the questions I get asked when I say that I write children’s books. I reply, hopefully patiently, ‘No’ to the questions about the pictures and J.K. Rowling. Then I brace myself for the inevitable explanation of how I don’t have to think up my ideas, as such, because they are all around me. I find myself adding, almost apologetically, ‘Because I don’t write stories, I write non fiction – information books’. There usually follows a look of bafflement and a muttered ‘I haven’t heard of any of them’. And it seems to be getting worse. For so long, the endangered poor relation, children’s non fiction is, at the moment, practically extinct. There are many reasons why this is so – the internet, the global economic situation, general apathy – but it is such a shame. And shamefully short-sighted. A carefully crafted, expertly checked, and portable book is surely a much better bet for children than a random pick of a website, written anonymously and precariously pitched.
I have written more than 600 books, and I have been very lucky. Among them are the highly successful ‘Horrible Geography’ books – my big break and, generally, the only ones of my books that any lay-person has ever heard from. The reason for this is that the ethos behind the series (as it was for ‘Horrible History’ and ‘Horrible Science’) was to treat them as ‘fiction’ titles, with the author an important and valued component of the package – a refreshing and unusual experience. By contrast, for my more traditional work, I am often asked to use a pseudonym because of the fear that publishers have too many books by me on their list, even though they’ve specifically asked for me as author as a ‘safe pair of hands’. I agree to their requests – I need the work – but it doesn’t do my self-esteem any good. This would never happen in fiction, and it is sad. Are we authors really so unimportant in the process that we must be kept a shameful secret?
I don’t have the answers. I just wish that it were otherwise. Not so long ago, children’s non fiction was such a buzzing, exciting and valuable sector, and I’m sure that it could be again. Trouble is, if anything, at the moment, we authors and our writing skills are becoming even less valued than ever before. But I digress. The theme of this year’s National Non-fiction day is maps and the above has been a slightly rambling string of thoughts. Since writing ‘Horrible Geography’ I have become a ‘born-again’ geographer (I am ashamed to say that I didn’t pay much attention to geography at school). I have been inspired, moved and entertained by what I have learned in the course of writing the books, and by the people I have met – vulcanologists, glaciologists, Michael Palin! It has given me a whole new understanding and way of looking at the world. So, the answer to ‘How do you get your ideas?’ is, actually, that I look out of the window and observe the world.
And, if facts can give me such pleasure, surely it is a duty to keep writing them down and passing them on? I shall do my best.
This guest post was provided by Anita Ganeri. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.
You can find out more about Anita Ganeri’s books on her website: http://www.anitaganeri.co.uk/