Dave Rudden is the author of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy, and is our partnering author for YA books in our #DACBaccess month. Here is why Dave is supporting the open month:
When I’m not writing, I run a live roleplay show in school for 10-year kids. It’s glorious and chaotic – the kids all play characters, I and the other performer tell them a story, and they provide suggestions at crucial moments. That’s all stories are really – a selection of crucial moments, and what people decide to do in them. We’ve had kids defeat the story’s villain by proposing to them, unlock magical cages by singing, and teachers are always so impressed that the kids not only accept the crucial moments we throw them, but are well fit to come up with a host of solutions that have sometimes surprised even us. We could just tell the kids a story, but we learn a lot more when we listen and they tell us theirs.
The thing is, kids are immersed in nick-of-time rescues and famous last stands from the moment they’re old enough to be read to. By the age of ten, kids are fluent in adventure. Proficient in peril. They soak up every rule and detail of the stories they hear because it’s at that age that you believe you may need them.
The only time I’ve ever seen a kid nonplussed is when we unveil the artwork for our characters. The leader of our party of heroes is Lady Jayna Falchion, who has armour, a sword that talks, and dark skin. When we clicked through to the slide with Jayna’s picture (drawn by the very talented Dearbháil Clarke) a little black girl at the back of the room exclaimed;
‘She looks like me!’
She didn’t say this with joy, or pride, or interest, but with a blank sort of shock. She simply had no frame of reference for seeing herself as a main character, let alone a leader of a band of heroes. When I hear white, straight people (usually men) complain that the world is being taken over by diversity, that every character now must be a person of colour, or LGBTQ or other than themselves, I don’t think about the numbers –
(though the numbers are damning. Bigotry is as irrational as it is systemic, but research shows that, no matter how loud certain protests are, no such takeover is taking place)
– I think about just how much children learn from story. Stories tell kids what is possible, and what is impossible, and all the odds in between. We are soaked in the visual language of narrative, and when you present heroes as all white and straight and able-bodied, you are lying to your audience.
You are letting them know where they stand, telling them that crucial moments and the options bound into them only belong to others, and not to them. It’s our responsibility as authors and creators – especially those who have directly or indirectly benefited from being on the inside looking out – to not right this wrong, but to make room for the voices that have not yet had a chance to speak, because you can only learn so much from telling your own story again and again and again. There are better stories out to hear.