The Chime Seekers by Ross Montgomery

Ross Montgomery books are always popular and The Chime Seekers is certainly taking social media and readers by storm. Amazing reviews are pouring in for this exciting tale. We are loving the blog that Ross has written for the FCBG today!

WHY CAN’T WE LET FICTIONAL KIDS BE MEAN?

My latest book, The Chime Seekers, is about a 12-year-old boy called Yanni. When the story begins, he’s miserable: his family has relocated to the creepy village of Fallow Hall, thanks to a new baby sister who won’t stop screaming. Having been the unrivalled focus of his parents’ love for years, Yanni now feels overlooked, forgotten and left behind.

One night – Halloween night, to be precise – it all becomes too much, and his anger and frustration and sense of abandonment boil over, and he tells his sleeping baby sister that he hates her. Little does he know that he’s been overheard by an evil faerie named Lorde Renwin, who cruelly tricks Yanni into handing his baby sister over. Left with a magical changeling instead, Yanni’s only hope of getting his sister back is to travel into the evil faerie realm – a sinister double of the village called Hallow Fall – and complete a series of fiendish challenges before it’s too late.

When I started writing this book, one of the key things I wanted to do was give Yanni the chance to be … well, a bit mean. Recently, I’ve been struck that this is something you never see in kids’ books. We see secondary characters being mean all the time – uncaring adults, cruel teachers, rude bullies – but never the main character. Protagonists aren’t allowed to behave selfishly, or thoughtlessly, or unfairly, or unkindly, or let their anger get the better of them. If they do any of those things, their choices are always shown to be absolutely justified: when they make mistakes, they rectify them immediately. We seem to be afraid of making main characters in any way unpleasant.

This is something that’s symptomatic of kids’ books in general at the moment. There’s a tendency to treat books like they’re a primer, teaching kids how to be a kind, thoughtful, upstanding citizen. This is very noble – and much more preferable than certain popular kids’ books, where everyone is absolutely foul all the time – but it comes with a huge problem attached to it. No matter how inherently nice a child might be – and some kids really are just born delightful – they can, and will, make poor decisions. They’ll be thoughtless; they’ll be spoiled; they’ll join in with teasing other children, without thinking how much it might hurt them; they’ll be inconsiderate to their friends and parents. That’s because making the right choice isn’t always cut and dried: sometimes, you need to make the wrong choice in order to understand how easy (even appealing) it can be to make bad decisions.

We need to give kids the agency to make poor choices like this, and live with the consequences: where else can they safely do that, if not in fiction? If the only time readers see selfish, thoughtless behaviour is when it’s performed by “baddies”, then it robs them of the chance to understand how “goodies” can make bad choices, too. I’ve spent years trying to find books that allow the main characters to be unpleasant, and I can only think of a few examples – Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, There’s a Boy in the Girls Bathroom by Louis Sachar. In both cases, the main characters make terrible, selfish, understandable choices, and then have to live with the consequences: only after they fully comprehend what they’ve done can they atone, make amends and grow. Isn’t that a good model for our children? Why are we only expected to relate to characters who are inherently kind, inherently good, inherently blameless?

I was determined to make Yanni a flawed, understandable, relatable main character – one who would learn throughout the book that he’s been pretty self-absorbed. I can’t say it was always easy – making a character likeable and unpleasant is a serious act in fine-tune balancing, and Yanni spent three drafts being utterly revolting – but I’m proud of how it all fits together in the final book. Yanni’s own internal journey as a character is part of his wider quest: not only does he have to save his sister, and find a way back home, he also has to find a way to come to a better understanding of himself – both the dark and the light.

Oh – and also defeat an evil faerie.

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