Do you remember those stories that used to make you feel like you could do anything? The magic that was sprinkled in your world from the chapters of books like Matilda, A Little Princess, Tom’s Midnight Garden or the Chronicles of Narnia?
Today’s instalment in our On Writing series is from Polly Ho-Yen and examines the art of magic in storytelling.
Polly is a critically-acclaimed and Carnegie nominated author who writes especially wonderful middle grade fiction. Her books, whilst real world set, are peppered with magic and the extraordinary.
As her latest novel, Fly Me Home, has just been published, we wanted to share Polly’s tips for creating those extra-special magic moments in children’s fiction…
Your novels always include an element of wonder – why do you think it is important to have this in books for children?
Children are full of wonder. They are curious, amazed and fascinated by the world. I’m always reminded by this when I spend any time with my young nephew (who is captivated at the moment by switching a lamp on and off.) Writing an element of wonder into my books for children is something that has happened quite naturally for me and not exactly by design. It is though perhaps heavily influenced by being part of many wondrous children’s lives as a primary school teacher and now, as an auntie, and I see its importance in its reflection of its audience.
I like to throw around the idea of stories happening in a world that is just like our own, but with one thing that’s different. I then explore how that one thing has a knock-on effect on everything and everyone around it. Having this is in mind has also led me to delving deeper into wonder – and so perhaps it’s particularly important as a way of investigating difference.
Does the magical element of storytelling need to represent something more significant or can it be there purely to entertain?
I’m often surprised when I’m reading over what I’ve written how themes and issues are interwoven throughout the story that I made no conscious decision to put there. I might think that a magical aspect of a story I’m writing is merely entertaining. I might believe that it is designed to engage the reader (and I hope it is!) but when I look back on it, with the benefit of perspective, I realise what my unconscious was really trying to do. I then see the representation, and its significance – the message that lay hidden, even to me!
Are there any books/authors in particular that inspire or influence your work? What do they do well?
Too many to list! I’m always grateful to the authors who wrote the books that I’ve reread and reread and never tire of – To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diddakoi, Northern Lights are just a few. Reading the current (and brilliant) work of authors writing currently – Patrick Ness, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, Meg Rosoff – made me itch to pick up a pen and get going myself. I think what they all do fantastically well is creating a world and characters that feel incredibly real to me.
Is magic just for kids?
Magic is for anyone who has an imagination and likes to use it.