NNFN: Three Cheers for Non-fiction Books! A guest post by Marcia Williams

Marcia WIlliams

Marcia Williams

Today’s guest post comes from Marcia Williams. Marcia is famous for her retellings of classic stories. From Shakespeare and Dickens, to the Canterbury Tales and Greek Myths, her humorous comic-strip illustrations are hugely popular all over the world. Recent titles include ‘The Romans: Gods, Emperors and Dormice’, ‘Archie’s War’, ‘My Secret War Diary’ and ‘The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes and Ferrets’.


“I am a late convert to non-fiction as when I was a child non-fiction only existed in the most dire textbook form. Even for the very young, it was usually written by an ‘expert’ in the particular field and then compiled, along with the most boring library photographs, by a publisher specialising in school books! Then one day there was a revolution when Père Castor’s wonderful nature books joined the realms of non-fiction. They were beautifully illustrated and were told from the animal’s point of view, perhaps the first narrative non-fiction books. They put the facts into a context, which is to my mind as important as the facts themselves.

It was a slow revolution, but a gradual stream of beautifully crafted non-fiction books began to flow onto the bookshelves of young readers. Now we have wonderful publishers, writers and illustrators creating beautiful and imaginative non-fiction books. Some are experts in their field, but they also have the gift of communicating their enthusiasm, and it is this enthusiasm that will draw in the reader. Young readers can sniff out a ‘dry as dust expert’ at a hundred paces, and will leave such books to gather dust on the shelf – and quite right too.

It is easy to forget that a non-fiction writer is talking about a world that now belongs to the young reader, and will be viewed and judged from his or her perspective. The information we impart may stay with a reader for many years and because of that we have a duty of care. We must pay attention that we are as honest and caring as we can possibly be. We cannot simply impart facts. There is an order to all things. Even facts are conditioned by other facts so we need to pay attention to their context and to their possible impact.

thestoneageSome people may feel that the internet has made books redundant, but if we allow all information to be retrieved from the internet we risk distorting the truth. The internet is a brilliant, if sometimes inaccurate, tool but that is all it is. It is not a sentient being and it is without thought or compassion. It can juxtapose and isolate facts in a way which can be both shallow, random and negative. Nor will it ever have the smell, the creativity, integrity, beauty or humour of a good nonfiction book. So three cheers for publishers, writers and illustrators! Long may they continue to create non-fiction with a passion and a clear vision of the whole picture and, most importantly, how this might seed itself into the mind of a young reader.”


Our thanks go to Marcia for today’s post. Her latest book, The Stone Age: Hunters, Gatherers and Woolly Mammoths is out now in hardback, £12.99, and The Tudors is out now in paperback, £8.99. Do visit Marcia at www.marciawilliams.co.uk.

One response to “NNFN: Three Cheers for Non-fiction Books! A guest post by Marcia Williams”

  1. Anne Rooney says:

    But Marcia – surely you wouldn’t rather books for children were written by people who don’t know anything or do any research? It’s important that children’s books are accurate. Please don’t align yourself with Gove’s ‘the people are sick of experts’ stance. There is nothing wrong with experts and they don’t have to write boring books *because* they are experts. I am working with a post-doc expert on dinosaurs for my current dino book, and the book would be a lot poorer without his input. Its presentation – language and pictures – that make a good (or bad) book.