black_marya: (читаю)
[personal profile] black_marya
Do you put much of your childhood in your books? No, very rarely, for two reasons. First because it would be what I always derisively call ‘a loving re-creation of childhood’ – an adult exercise in nostalgia – where children are entirely forward-looking. It does not interest most children in the least what their parents or grandparents did as children – most of them would be surprised to find that the adults they know ever were that young. They have no historical sense and can’t wait to grow up. I think it is this futurewards orientation that I find most congenial about children’s minds; but a lot of substandard didactic writers do nevertheless insist on writing books about ‘growing up’. When I meet these kind of books, or those of the ‘loving re-creation’ school, I must confess that I reach for my gun. This is absolutely not the right approach.

The second reason I do not put my own childhood into things I write is that it was mostly too bizarre to use directly. In addition to the general madness of wartime and the eccentricity of my parents (my father’s meanness, for instance, caused him at one point to obtain me three lessons in Greek in exchange for my sisters’ much-loved dollshouse), there was the village where I spent the years from nine to adulthood. Everyone there was peculiar in some way, singly and interactively. Some people behaved like witches, other people frankly admitted that they were. A man sat in the church porch who said he went mad at full moon. The vicar preached Communism from the pulpit and people came in hobnailed boots from Great Dunmow specially to walk out in the sermon. There were passionate folklorists, hand-weavers, adherents of William Morris, persons who were hippies long before hippies existed, and the girls were always getting pregnant. Someone made life-size working models of elephants. Everyone danced in the streets. German prisoners of war mingled with Polish displaced persons and London evacuees to cause a prolusion of eccentricity, shortly augmented by the American airbase nearby. Also nearby was a colony of painters, one of whom did anti-vivisection naive art, and there were strange folk in outlying farmhouses either getting into debt or keeping boa constrictors and dragon-lizards in their attics. The as-it-were conference centre which my parents ran added to the general peculiarity, both by importing mad musicians and insane actors and causing myself and my sisters to have to live, as one of the guests described it, ‘in the margins of a dirty postcard’, and by employing a succession of local eccentrics. The gardener there had had a vision on the Sampford Road in which an angel descended to him and told him always to go to Chapel and never to join a Trade Union.

It was only as a student that I realised that these things were not normal. It has taken me all these years to realise that some of the episodes from this lunatic place make very good stories in their own right; but I shall write them primarily for adults, not for children.

But naturally a childhood like that has to be an influence somewhere. In a way, it lies behind everything I write, in that it has to expand your notions of what is credible and make you readier to believe that extremely odd things can happen. Enough of it was hilariously funny, too, to make me aware that humour is essential when things get wild. Oddly, the most insanely funny things were nearly always part of something intensely tragic (for instance, when my father lay dying to the sound of young men beating on our door shouting ‘We want women!’) and I came to the conclusion that the two states are, in fact, closely related and that fantasy – the times things go wild – is the connecting factor. For all this, the perpetual riot and mayhem in which we lived then was always like a brick wall cutting me off from anything truly imaginative. Life was too restless and pragmatic to give one a chance to think. I got glimpses of what was cut off from books. There was a volume of Arthur Mee’s encyclopedia among my few books with a picture in it of a girl learning to play the piano. The piano was up against a brick wall, beyond which was a wonderful garden to which the girl had access only through strenuous endeavour. I actually cried when I first saw it, not because my mother had forbidden music lessons on the grounds that I was not musical, but because it seemed exactly to describe my situation – and I could see no way to penetrate that wall.

The queer thing was that the conference centre did in fact possess just such a garden. It was known as the Other Garden. The garden that everyone saw was pleasant enough, though somewhat boringly laid out around a large square of grass. The Other Garden was quite different. It was like that garden in folktales where the king has counted all the apples. It was across a road, walled away from everyone, a blaze of manicured lawn leading to a tunnel of roses ending in an inlaid wood summer house, where espalier apple trees of types that are no longer grown surrounded like hedges plots of fruit, flowers and vegetables. The bees had a plot of their own because they did not get on with the visionary gardener. Something about this garden caused the visionary gardener to build little shrine-like places in the wall niches and ornament them with posies and old Venetian glass. My father would not let anyone go there. He kept the large old key to it in his pocket and it often took several days of pleading to get him to release it to me, grudgingly, for an hour or so. When I got there I simply wandered, in utter bliss. I talked to the bees, who never once stung me, although they pursued the visionary gardener once a week, in clouds, and occasionally turned on my father too; I ate apples; I watched things grow; and I never once connected it with the garden in the piano-playing picture, though that was more or less what it was. I remember I did try to connect it with The Secret Garden. I dragged a copy of that past the censor, with my mother saying, ‘Oh very well then, read it if you must, but remember it’s nothing but sentimental nonsense!’ and tried, in a puzzled way, to lay it alongside the Other Garden. But the Other Garden had nothing to do with sentimental nonsense. I couldn’t make it out.

I see now that the two gardens of the conference centre came to represent to me the activities of the two sides of the human brain, the first concerned with day-to-day living and the second with all creative needs. But I put it to myself more in terms of enchantment as opposed to the mundane.

...

Fantasy is a very important part of the way your mind works. People trot out as a truism that man is a tool-making animal, but nobody pauses to think that before a caveman could make a stone axe or an obsidian arrowhead, he had to imagine it first. What if I lashed this luckily-shaped hunk of stone to this sturdy stick? Would it help me divide this tree into usable bits? The caveman might actually laugh here at the idea of dividing a tree up at all. And the same sort of half-incredulous What if? applies to the most abstruse piece of engineering, except that here the laughter will be subsumed into a sort of keen enjoyment of the chase: Nobody has done this before, but I’m going to do it all the same. What if I ...? Man, before anything, is a problem-solver. We have evolved practically requiring to enjoy solving problems, and foremost among our means of doing so is the half-joking ‘What if ?’ of fantasy. One of the mythical Treasures of Britain was a thermos flask, conceived long before it was possible to make one. And of course it is fun, solving something. Look at Archimedes, rushing outside dripping and shouting. Naturally, we enjoy fantasy.

There is an extension of this fun-function. We also enjoy day-dreaming – fantasising, as they call it. In some day dreams, our problems are simply miraculously solved. Here, we recognised the problem and lowered the level of pain from it. Nobody solved anything while worried and hurting. That is one part of fantasising. The other part is the actual practising of situations in our heads. Reading a book constructed on these lines is only an augmented form of this. Both prepare you for a version of the situation in actuality. Without either, you really do not find it easy to distinguish the credible from the unbelievable, the obscene from the silly joke. I always think it is significant that the generation that trained my mother to despise all fantasising produced Hitler and two world wars. People confronted with Hitler should have said ‘He’s just like that villain I imagined the other night,’ or ‘He’s as mad as something out of Batman,’ but they couldn’t, because it was not allowed.

Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used. A book for children, like the myths and folktales that tend to slide into it, is really a blueprint for dealing with life. For that reason, it might have a happy ending, because nobody ever solved a problem while believing it was hopeless. It might put the aims and the solution unrealistically high – in the same way that folktales tend to be about kings and queens – but this is because it is better to aim for the moon and get halfway there than just to aim for the roof and get halfway upstairs. The blueprint should, I think, be an experience in all the meanings of that word, and the better to make it so, I would want it to draw on the deeper resonances we all ought to have in the other side of our minds. For me, those resonances will have something to do with the Other Garden, but I am willing to hope – or even to believe – that if I get the book right, I might actually provide these resonances for those who did not happen to have such a Garden. I have anyway always hoped to write a truly memorable book, the one that you go back to the beginning of and start rereading as soon as you get to the end, the one that you think of in subsequent years as the one that really pointed you in the way you wish to go. I still don’t think I have done it. That’s life. Halfway to the moon. But on what I have done, I would not really like to set an age-limit. I am always delighted when aunts and grandfathers write to me, saying their nephew/granddaughter has just introduced them to, say, Howl and they couldn’t put him down.

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September 2013

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