Writing new worlds

One of my earliest memories was being in reception class and telling a lie in school. The teacher asked us how many children were in our family. 

‘I’ve got 3 brothers,’ I said. I had. But the trouble was that I had promised my mum not to tell anyone about my severely disabled brother. If I was asked, my mum said, I was to say I had 2 brothers, as it was ‘none of anyone’s business’. So then I worried. I had been naughty. So I put my hand up again.

‘Please Miss. I haven’t got 3 brothers,’ I said. ‘I have 2.’ And now I had a new worry, about being a bad sister and lying to a teacher. Because that was a sin, and I was a five year old second generation Irish Catholic girl and really wanted to be good. 


I was born 2 years after my youngest brother was taken into an institution. My family had really suffered, and I was born into a very sad story which continued throughout his and my childhood. Life is difficult for many children. They inherit narratives they had no part in making, they live with secrets, and pressures, and worries that really shouldn’t be theirs. They are stuck in impossible situations, and I believe, I know, as many writers do, that books can help.


Books can help because they give us another world to live in. When I went to the Nosy Crow Conference last Saturday Lucy Mangan expressed that beautifully in her opening speech. I read all the time. I read Enid Blyton, I read L.M. Montgomery, I read ‘Bunty’ and ‘Mandy’  and ‘Tammy’ comics. I read Helen Cresswell and Joan Aiken.  I could not have coped with life without laughing at Paddington, and Jennings, and Just William and The Moomins . I longed to be part of the world of The Chalet School and Malory Towers and The Famous Five and The Secret Seven. I loved The Family from One End Street because the family were working class, like mine, but I also imagined flying with Prince Paul to The Secret Mountain, or taming tigers like Jimmy in Mr. Galliano’s Circus. Above all, I wanted to be a girl with a dog called Timmy, or Scamper, or Buster. Our house was too small, our circumstances not right to have one. But I could read about dogs and own one in my dreams. When I read I could not hear anyone talking to me. I could escape and be whoever I wanted to be, wherever and whenever I wanted to live. I took books on all our long treks to the hospital to visit my brother, I read them at home, in the sitting room when everyone else was watching the telly, in bed. Everywhere.


There was plenty of grit in my life. There was plenty of suffering. I don’t think I could have borne more in my books.


So how do we as writers deal with the responsibility of writing about hard things in fiction? My first published novel will be for 9-12 year olds. It is called ‘A Girl with a White Dog’, published by Catnip, and it will touch on, of all subjects, Nazi Germany. How can I justify this, when I know how much I needed to escape difficult things in my reading as a child?


I think it is because I want ‘A Girl with a White Dog’ to free children from fear, and one of the most pernicious fears there is, is fear of ‘the other’, so prevalent in our media today. I want my book to be a story that they can lose themselves in, and emerge from, with a new way of looking at the world and those who are ‘not like’ them. Children will always have limited power to change their circumstances, but I hope my book will teach them that they (like us all) can choose the stories they believe in, and ultimately that can help to change their – and our world.




10 thoughts on “Writing new worlds

  1. @VirginiaMoffatt September 25, 2013 at 7:10 am Reply

    Wow! What a first post. Moved me to tears. Welcome to the world of bloggingxxx

  2. ReadItDaddy September 25, 2013 at 8:17 am Reply

    Really can’t wait to see how “A Girl With A White Dog” turns out, and what a brilliant blog post. Sometimes the most difficult subjects are the ones that have surprised us most when we’ve come across them in children’s books – and they’re the subjects that spawn a million questions, and give us the opportunity to educate, to remember and to pass on our knowledge to our little ones.

    Any book that makes them think long and hard long after the book covers have been closed – and then ask – always ends up becoming a memorable classic and is always read and re-read.

    Lovely post Anne, wishing you all the very best with your debut!

    • bridgeanneartandwriting September 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm Reply

      What a lovely comment! I would so love it if ‘A Girl with a White Dog’ helps children that way. Sorry I have taken so long to reply – I had to be shown where the comments were. I had no idea they were waiting for me to moderate them!

  3. Emily Benet September 25, 2013 at 9:44 am Reply

    Congrats on your first blog post! I’d just read someone else’s post about forced adoption, so it’s proving to be a moving morning. I loved reading as a child, for the escapism and the adventures I could have without moving very far! All those book definitely made me who I am today. A book helping to free children from fear can only be a good thing and I look forward to reading it! Incidentally I’m about to start work as a reading helper in a school and I’m on the look out for good books for 6-11 year olds! X

    • bridgeanneartandwriting September 26, 2013 at 3:47 pm Reply

      Thanks Emily – your workshop inspired me! As for books for 6-11 year olds – have you seen the new ‘Dixie O’Day’ books by Clara Vulliamy and Shirley Hughes, or the amazing ‘Claude’ books by Alex T Smith – perfect for the early part of that range.

  4. Julia Williams September 25, 2013 at 11:22 am Reply

    Brilliant post, Anne. Makes me even more grateful for my very lucky childhood :-)xxx

  5. Helen Barbour September 25, 2013 at 2:24 pm Reply

    Anne, although I had a more straightforward childhood than yours, I can absolutely relate to all the sentiments you express about reading as a youngster – our reading lists seem to be identical, too!

    Good luck with your blog.

    • bridgeanneartandwriting September 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm Reply

      Thank you so much. I love sharing reading lists – there are so many wonderful books out there!

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