Children’s Literature with a Message with Gail Aldwin
What first inspired you to write your latest children’s book, Pandemonium?
The idea for Pandemonium came when I was teaching a module of writing for children to undergraduates at the University of South Wales in 2015. We were looking at features of anthropomorphism, where animals have human characteristics, and I shared examples where this technique was used to explore danger vicariously and therefore safely. Students joined the discussion before going slightly off task and started chatting about cute red pandas. I spent a long time wondering what the relationship would be like between a giant panda and a red panda living in central China. When I came to research this, I found the two types of pandas are completely unrelated. So, if there are red pandas, why not write a picture book about a purple panda?
Have you always been interested in writing children’s literature or did another genre initially pique your interest?
When I set out in 2009 to become a novelist, I never imagined I would also have a children’s picture book published. Writing for children was the last thing on my mind! But as my journey to become a published author progressed, I found that writing in different genres such as poetry, comedy sketches and short fiction was good creative writing exercise and helped build stamina for longer projects including the completion of my coming-of-age debut novel The String Games, published in 2018. My latest project is a contemporary novel This Much Huxley Knows which will be released in July 2020.
When creating Pandemonium, did you start with a story idea or a message that you wanted to convey?
Peta is a cute and cuddly purple panda who lives with her parents in a department store. Although the story is about the hijinks Peta gets up to (her purple coat offers camouflage) there is also an important message about not having to look the same as everyone else to fit in. Pandemonium provides a great opportunity for children to understand everyone is unique with individual skills and talents. The story idea and the message collided to create Pandemonium.
As a writer with experience in several genres, how do you typically go about choosing a theme or message for your works? Is it a conscious decision or something that happens more naturally?
When I get an idea, I usually know how to develop it in an appropriate genre. Fleeting ideas or moments in time are generally good for poetry. Incidents or experiences can be developed to create a story arc for short fiction. In writing novels, I usually begin with characters and then put them in situations to find their strengths and weaknesses. I usually stumble upon the message or theme in the process of writing.
What specifically do you hope young readers learn from Pandemonium?
I’d like children to understand that it’s okay to be different and important to be yourself.
Is there anything particular you hope to share universally through all of your works (e.g. Pandemonium, Paisley Shirt, The String Games) or is the spirit unique to each creation?
Each of my published works has a different focus.
Pandemonium celebrates difference, Paisley Shirt, my collection of short fiction, includes stories related to resilience. My poetry pamphlet, adversaries/comrades, references the lifelong and frequently enduring relationship between siblings to inspire the work. The String Games, a coming-of-age novel draws upon inner resourcefulness at a time of crisis (the loss of the protagonist’s younger brother). All of my work to this point has been published by small presses in the UK. With my second novel This Much Huxley Knows, I want the story to reach a wider, international audience so I accepted a contract with Black Rose Writing in Texas. Set at the time of the Brexit referendum, This Much Huxley Knows explores the universal experiences of acceptance, friendship and trust. Here’s the blurb and endorsements:
I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up. Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?
‘Read this and feel young again’ – Joe Siple, author of The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride
‘Moving and ultimately upbeat’ – Christopher Wakling, author of What I Did
‘A joyous novel with the wonderfully exuberant character of Huxley’ –
Sarah Gethin, author of Not Thomas
Do you have any advice you would share with other authors and writers who are looking to incorporate a greater message and meaning into their writing?
Messages and meaning in writing may not become clear until the first draft is completed. Keep going with your work and resist the need to force an idea to the surface. The theme of your piece will show itself. Typically, the more subtle the message, the more powerful it becomes.
Gail Aldwin is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter. Her debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home in Dorset.