So why do I write what I do? Why books for girls from about 10 to 16? (Although I have to say my 90+ year-old great aunt is very nice about them.) Why do I feel as though what young teens are going through right now is so important, and that if I can have the privilege of helping, I want to try?
I came across an article in The Sunday Times last week that helped explain some of it. It was called ‘Raising girls right’ and if you’ve got access to The Times, you can read it here. It was by Steve Biddulph, based on his book ‘Raising Girls’, which is out this week. There was one section that seemed to sum it up, called ‘Help them find their spark’. Here’s an extract:
Help them find their spark
Between the ages of 10 and 14, a girl’s job is to get her roots down deep into who she is. The question is, how? Peter Benson, one of the world’s leading experts on adolescence, discovered that children and young teenagers almost always have something inside them that, if supported, gives them joy, motivation and direction. That thing is their spark.
The key to your daughter finding herself and beginning really to blossom as a person, at age 10 to 14 (or younger), might be as simple as this. Ask her: “What do you really love to do?”
Benson said there were three kinds of spark:
1 A skill or talent — for instance, to draw, write, be athletic, dance or make music.
2 A commitment — for example, to protect the natural world, to work for social justice.
3 A quality of character — a part of their personality, such as empathy, being the one who others go to talk to. Or courage — being the one who speaks up or takes the lead to get something fixed.
And reading this, I thought Wow – there you have my books, my characters, their epiphanies, what makes me dance round the house with glee when I think I’ve got it right.
It felt at first as though Benson was describing Threads. Crow has the talent for drawing, Edie has the commitment to social justice, Nonie and Jenny have strong personalities and Nonie in particular discovers, to her amazement, that she’s loyal, reliable, competent and organised. She can get things done. All the girls pool their passions and resources, work together and take charge. They make things happen and take some responsibility for the world around them. It gives them a huge, well-deserved sense of satisfaction and they’re on the way to growing up. They’ve found their spark.
In The Look, Ted finds photography, and the ability to stand up for herself, and realises that she’s a key part of her sister’s survival. In my new book, the girls find … well they find more creative talents, more inner strength and different hidden abilities they didn’t know they had. They start out as potential victims in a world that wants to exploit them, and they end up on top of it, having the time of their lives. Well, some of them do, anyway.
Did I find my spark as a teenager? Well, a bit. I wish my spark had been fashion design, or film writing, modern dance or working for the Times. They were all things I considered, tried and didn’t get as far at as I’d have liked. But some form of writing was there. I knew I had a knack for language and I was certainly encouraged. It was enough to keep me going through those tough teenage years.
My characters do better, because the books I write, though firmly set in the real world, are fairy tales. They are what I imagine to be my and my readers’ best selves. If you were a self-conscious teenage girl, and you were put in this difficult situation, what would you do? How could you possibly emerge victorious? What does it take to succeed at being you?
And the answer isn’t a boy. Boys are lovely, they really are. I like them very much. Finding the right person to share your first intimacies with is pretty fabulous if you can do it. But the thing is, if you can’t – and lots of us can’t, or didn’t – you’re still you. You can still be a success. You can still find your spark. In fact, if you find it, you’re much more likely to make all the other things, like boys and great jobs and interesting life experiences happen. But the spark is in you.
According to Steve Biddulph’s article, “Benson believes our job is to confirm and strengthen our child’s spark, to blow on it and help ignite it.”
And that, in a nutshell, is why I write.