I was asked recently why I only write sad books. I was quite taken aback by this question, because I don’t think of myself as someone who writes sad books. But at the same time I knew where the asker was coming from. After all, this person may have read some of my more lighthearted stories in the past, but most recently she had read both Pearl Verses the World and Toppling, both of which deal with some pretty weighty issues.
While perhaps this person’s question stopped me in my tracks a little bit, it really isn’t unusual for me to be asked why I write stories that make people cry. Whenever I visit a school and talk about Pearl or Toppling, a child will ask a similar question – especially if they have not actually read the books. And there’s the crunch for me. If you haven’t read the books, you could well hear about them and think they are going to be overwhelmingly sad. After all, Pearl Verses the World deals with issues of dementia, death, and loneliness, whilst Toppling focuses on childhood cancer. These are not light topics, and when I wrote both of these stories I was really confronted with my own emotions surrounding these issues.
But I hope, I really hope, that when young readers read these books the overarching feeling they are left with by the end of each story is not one of sorrow or helplessness, but one of hope. Without giving too much of either story away (I do try hard to avoid spoilers to my books), both stories focus not on easy solutions to these problems, but on young characters finding hope, finding ways to deal with the tough stuff that arises in their lives.
I really strongly believe that kids need books that allow them to cry (if they feel the need to), that allow them to relate to harsh life experiences, to empathise or sympathise with characters of their own age as they go through tough stuff. But I also believe that they need to see that no matter how hard life is, there is always some glimmer of hope.
Does every book need to be sad/serious? No. Whilst I’m really proud of these two books, I am equally proud of my books about frogs that float and bears that sing, and kangaroos that pull Santa’s sleigh. Kids need all kinds of stories, and I’m grateful that I’m able to write them.