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On fiction and non-fiction – KQ

November 7, 2010

I’m nearly at the end of nine months hard slog on my first non-fiction book for adults. Not a cheery subject either – disability hate crime is grim – as my children keep telling me. They want me to write something cheerful next – and I don’t blame them. But they have read the odd extract, including a poem by a disabled woman, who, as a child, saw a friend of her being drowned by nurses, like an unwanted kitten. And I don’t apologise, either, for sharing it with them – children of their age, who I met when I was filming in Rwanda, had seen torture and genocide. Indeed, when I was translating testimonies for a Rwandan charity after the genocide the one that struck me most was of a woman who had witnessed the Hutu militia strew chilli pepper in the houses of the wanted, so that children, hiding behind furniture and under beds, could be hauled out and murdered. We can’t shield our children from all that, not for ever, not in a networked world where the concept of the watershed has all but gone, but we can teach them how to live with it, understand it and be part of the generation that says: “never again”.

So I’m looking forward to writing something cheerful next, and going out filming again instead of writing this hard, every day. But I’m also wondering how we show children, in our prose, our poetry, our fiction and our non-fiction, a vision of how the world ought to be, as well as how it is. A modern utopia, so that when they read about the everyday harassment of disabled people they can also see a world beyond that, a world where people are taking down walls and ceilings(thank you Judy, for your wonderful thoughts on the walls in our minds) rather than putting them up – shaking hands, rather than striking each other.

Comments please!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010 9:24 am

    A very thought provoking post and one close to my heart as my new novel, HIDDEN, does deal, in part, with torture and persecution in war torn Iraq. However the way I have balanced things, I hope, is by also showing ordinary everyday life in Iraq so that children see that Iraqis do the same things as they and their families do – go to the markets and kick a football about and keep pets. I also use humour to keep things more manageable.

  2. childrensauthor permalink
    November 17, 2010 8:37 pm

    A very thought provoking blog… especially at a time in the world’s history where we are ever more aware of the walls we tear down between ourselves, and with the very same hands build new ones. Whether concrete or metaphorical walls between religion, colour, ethnicity, ability, age, there seems to always be a juggling act of scapegoating, hero worshipping and fence sitting – and the subject can be the same person. It is difficult to navigate our own way around these disasters, issues that can bring up conflicting emotions, let alone for children. Especially with their propensity for ‘self blame’ – mummy and daddy get divorced, and often children, mistakenly, believe it is their fault. Our cognitive ability for abstract thought develops in varying degrees under the age of 12. Due to age-related limitations of context and comprehension, what adults perceive as full information, for some children will only be a snippet and may be misconstrued. We cannot prepare children for all of life’s disasters by exposure to them – there are too many and overwhelming, we can only teach them to trust themselves to make the right decisions, to nurture their own self-respect and respect of others not follow others blindly (think Hitler, Stalin, Mao). The question is, is this best done by exposure to tragedies at a young age ? Or will this result in an alteration of boundaries so that they become inured to horror and violence?

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