Writing For Boys

...and how we can encourage them to read what we have written

Peter E Taylor ©2003

I went to a session on 'Writing for Boys' at a local Writers' Festival.

When comments from the crowd were asked for, I said that I felt that boys' love of reading was diminished by the stifling of creativity in high-schools, which concentrate more on pure text than the love of books.

I was embarrassed. There was total silence from the rest of the audience, and I felt that they regarded my comment as totally irrelevant.

In the spontaneity of making my suggestion, maybe I didn't explain well, or fully, what I meant.

I believe that it is more likely that boys, or anyone, will want to read stories of significant length if they have developed a love of books, a love of words, a love of language. This love is the FIRST thing we should fully develop, not expect it to be developed by reading our lengthy stories.

What do we do to children after the exciting years of picture books, the age of pop-out books and books with flaps and pockets, and the creativity of junior levels? At high school in particular, we cut off too much of the creativity associated with words and books, and our expectation for teens is that they read 'literature' which we deem appropriate.

How far have we progressed from 'Books are good for you. Go and read. You will read then analyse this …and you can do some punctuation exercises...'?

Of course, as authors, we would love teens to purchase and enjoy our rich and extended works that have been written with so much care and passion. Publishers would like to sell vast numbers of thick and expensive books to schools as 'class readers'. The thicker and more expensive the better.

Young children listen to stories and poems. They include pictures with their words, and words in their pictures. They delight in the sounds and rhythms of words. They act out plays. They design, write, illustrate and construct their own books. They paint stories. They enjoy books. They treasure books.

When they reach a specified age, we re-structure the interaction between the child and words. The high-school system of sit, listen, shut-up, do what I say, was designed by the Prussians to turn out obedient soldiers lacking creativity. We are slow to make improvements.

Apart from giving children their good medicine of, hopefully, our latest masterpiece, what else do we do to encourage the love of language? Apart from our own financial gain, why do we want people to read our books? What's in it for our readers?

Yes, we want them to become involved in, and enjoy, our story. Yes, we want them to enjoy the power of words to stimulate their senses. We want them to enter the lives of our characters. To be transported. They may even receive new insights and develop a new vision. But what else?

We hope that they will want to read more. Develop an appreciation of the written word and share our joy in language. The world of feeling. Of poetry. Of drama. Of debate.

Dare we imagine that through reading our books, children, and later, adults, will also feel a joy and a burning desire to express themselves in rich, full-bodied language? That our books will somehow provide the tools to describe colourfully? Insult eloquently? Tell jokes creatively? Argue effectively? Think profoundly? Tools for children to be stimulated by rhythm of poetry and lyric? To record thoughts and experiences with the power of evocative language? To dance freely to the music of their innermost soul?

If only it were that simple. How many of our books does it take?

When do young people listen to Dylan Thomas? Gerard Manley Hopkins? Mine did at 6 months old, if not younger. From the womb to leaving home, let us read poetry, excerpts from novels, interesting non-fiction, magazine articles, cereal packets, everything we can to them at every opportunity. But do they also experience theatrical performance? Read and write plays? Do they move to words? (At the lowest level, how many jokes require body language in the telling? How many arguments are enhanced by gestures?) What sort of books are they excited by? What sort of bindings and book structures do they experience? Do they create their own books? How many books do they smell? Do they appreciate books with 'fwump' as you close them? Are they encouraged to paint stories? Do they experiment with the size, shape, colour and layout of letters as they write? Do they paint in response to words? Write in response to music? Do they combine painting and words? When do they enter the world of calligrapher Thomas Ingmire? Here is his response to Rimboud's The Drunken Boat.

It is boiling, bitter, red; it is love!

I watched the lightning tear the sky apart

I saw the sun with mystic horrors darken
And shimmer through the violet haze;
With a shiver of shutters the waves fell
Like actors in ancient, forgotten plays!

……Let them truly enter the world of words, of language, books of every form, until these become a rich, integral and important part of their lives. Sustenance for their creativity and creative thought. Let them be absorbed by this world. Explore its totality. Let us give them experiences to savour and help them to respond with joy in their own way …to the extent that they want to bungee-jump into, and devour our offerings, with relish.