In this post we hear from Ann Pearce about her experiences writing children’s stories for her granddaughters. As well as an insight into her writing for children, a story she wrote for her grandchildren is included.
Ann is a regular contributor to Untold Stories and has several self-published books in print. She is about to publish a selection of short stories. Ann has also created her own artwork to illustrate the publications.
WRITING FOR CHILDREN – MY EXPERIENCE
When my two granddaughters, Marianne and Corinna, were about 4 and 3 years old respectively, they spent some time with me each week when their favourite things to do was draw and paint and compose stories, carefully practising their reading and writing skills. Gradually this lead to a collaboration between them and me on writing a number of short stories aimed directly at them and what they were interested in at the time.
The Land of the Northern Lights came first, written after the family trip to Tromso, Norway in the Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights. The holiday was to celebrate my daughter’s 40th birthday and was her choice. It was a great vacation but was completely absent of the Northern Lights. Still, the trip became the inspiration for the story I subsequently wrote.
At the time both girls were interested in fairies, fairy queens, fairy dresses and all things fairy. They had a number of wings themselves and were often to be seen around the shopping centre with them on. The whole idea of this story was for them to read it themselves as best they could with help from an adult. In consequence, the language had to be simple, the sentences not too long and a relatable story that could both serve to remind them and inspire their imaginations. A combination of using their names for the two ‘heroins’, placing the story where they had just been and putting in pictures of them, scenes from Tromso, and fairies seemed to do the trick and I gave them the story, printed out, for Easter. They had endless fun with it and treasure it to this day.
This was followed by The Oak Tree. I wrote the story and tasked them to do the illustrations. I gave them a free hand and didn’t interfere at all. Again, using something they could relate to, they had recently been learning about trees and cities, I combined the two formulating the story of an ancient oak that starts off as a tiny sapling and ends up in the middle of a huge town.
Next was the Garden Fairy. I have a big pot in my back garden with an ornamental fairy on a swing stuck in the earth. The girls would often, when tiny, push her and talk to her. I asked them to imagine where she may have come from, what she might like to do, what sort of garden she would like to be in and so on. Their imaginations fired again and between us, we put together her story, a lot of it in their own words with me editing and rewriting.
The last one I wrote for them was The Flowers. The girls had moved to a large farmhouse on the Cheshire Hills and had been helping their father redoing the garden. They had learnt quite a few flower names and were interested to see how they grew. This gave me an idea and another story was born. I described the flowers, how they grew, what they liked and what they didn’t. Another success as they related the flowers in their garden to the flowers in the story.
Each story got more complicated with an expanded vocabulary to keep pace with their learning. Each story had a moral conclusion and a learning opportunity coupled with pictures when writing for the very young. Each story had a definite beginning, middle and end because that is how children think. They like black and white, lines drawn, conclusions.
I enjoyed the experience of understanding the demands of the young for interesting and relatable reading material. It constrained my writing to think deeper and harder about words, punctuation and communication and I look forward to writing the next one, very different now they are 13 and 12.
THE GARDEN FAIRY
Nelly, the garden fairy, sat on her swing attached to a wire hook stuck into a huge pot of flowering nasturtiums.
She had been chosen from the shop by Marietta and Camomile King, the two lovely daughters of the house. They would watch her as she would swing gently to and fro in the breeze. She saw the garden gradually grow tended to by the gardener.
Sometimes the big lady from the house would stroll around in her long silk dress complete with bustle. Her thick, curly, blond hair was neatly piled up around the back of her head and held in place by a jewelled comb. Sometimes the man would be with her. He was very important and wore black suits with high collars pined with a gold medal. He usually carried a long silver stick under his arm that he pointed at plants as he discussed them with the beautiful lady.
The children, though played and made up stories about Nelly, for that is what they called her.
First she was a princess lost in a giant’s land. They brought out some of their dollies to play this particularly game with. The dollies were the giants stomping about the garden while Nelly was hidden behind some pot or stone for them to find.
Then they hung her swing from a tree branch and watched as the inquisitive birds came to investigate who this newcomer was.
Next, an explorer hanging by a thread from the highest bush and fighting off flying monsters, that were, of course, hover flies, butterflies and the like.
In the winter Nelly watched them as they played in the snow and mummy and daddy and George, their elder brother by some two years, built snowmen with carrots for noses and coal for eyes.
When they were very cold and wet and their gloves stuck together with the snow, Millicent, their nanny, would howl at them that they will catch their deaths and bring out hot drinks and warm shawls to dry them and protect them from the cold.
Sometimes they would hang Nelly from the snowman’s cap and carefully retrieve her when the snowman melted.
Nelly enjoyed many years of these larks as she slowly saw the children grow until one day there was such a commotion in the garden with a huge tent being erected down by the orchard and huge bunches of flowers being delivered. Food laid out along tressel tables and a five tier white iced cake in the middle.
Nelly was plucked from her place where she had lain all Spring in a pot full of pansies beside the pond. The man, for that is who had taken her, carefully placed her in the shed on a sheet of newspaper and, with a soft brush painted her a pale golden colour all over except for her eyes that he pointed blue, and her lips that he painted red. Her wings shone.
She was indeed quite a sight. He cut off her fraying string and threaded through the hole in her back a shining thread of gold. Then, attaching this to a new golden rod he stuck the rod into the top of the high, white, beflowered cake right in the centre of the table.
Nelly was so proud. She gently swung there surveying the whole garden.
Later she was taken down and wrapped in fine tissue paper and put into a box. She was not sure she liked this box. She couldn’t see anything and neither could she hear anything. There was nothing to it but to go to sleep. So she did.
She was awoken by light being let into the box and someone above her shouting.
“Look what I’ve found. Do you think it is a cake top? Oh, she’s lovely. The box has something written on it. “Mariette’s wedding 1894″. Oh my. This must be great Aunt Marie’s. We must keep this.” She could just make put a young woman’s face surrounded by golden curls.
And she was returned to the box, and the box, once more, was sealed up.
Gradually she became aware of children’s voices. Shouting and laughing somewhere in the distance she thought.
Now, one was carrying the box and she could once again smell the flowers. She was outside.
The little boy undid the box and lifted the fairy from her bed. “Now, be gentle with that Christopher.” His mummy said. “It is not a plaything.”
“But, mummy, there’s a string in the box with a hooked stick. I think she may have swung from it.”
They both looked very carefully and agreed that once upon a time this fairy on her tiny swing was indeed a garden fairy. So, they put her together and put her into a large grey stone urn that sat on the terrace up near the house. Here she could see all the garden and she immediately recognised her old home.
But, the garden was overgrown and neglected and the only place that had been tended was the terrace on which she now lived.
Christopher didn’t play with her though and all she could do was watch as lots of workmen buzzed around the garden, cutting, pruning, clearing and generally rebuilding the place she remembered.
When it was done it was completely different though. There was mainly lawn, the trees had been cut down, the lovely flower bushes she remembered were gone, in fact there were very few plants at all. It was all grass and concrete paths. There stood in the middle a huge gazebo under which was a grand table and many chairs.
At the weekends many people came to sit under the gazebo and eat from a large open oven that the men cooked on.
The women wore long flowing, colourfully patterned dresses and flowers in their hair that appeared to Nelly long and unattended in the extreme.
She was completely forgotten.
As she slept she dreamed of her long ago garden. The huge shrubs. The pond so full of fish. The trellises against the house up which climbing plants grew.
She dreamed of Mariette and Camomile, of the mistress in her grand dresses, the master moustached and smart. The last time she had seen George he was tall and handsome and dressed in a bright red uniform. The whole family were having their tea on the terrace served by the maids. She felt then their sadness and it seemed they were saying goodbye to George.
Nelly never saw him again although the house was very quiet and people spoke in whispers.
It was the occasion with the cake that had brought it back to life. Oh yes she remembered the cake. How wonderful it was to be the centre of attention.
She was rudely and suddenly awakened by being shook fiercely in her cocooned box. Now carried. Lots of happy shouting and laughing. What was this now?
The light streamed in as the box was opened and there staring down at her were the eyes of her beloved Marietta. And, there, Camomile. And, there, George. But wait, something was wrong. These were not her children. They were very similar but different somehow. Was it their dress?
They had on bright coloured tops and one was marked with a big shiny unicorn, the other with a butterfly. The boy had on a black one with a white tick on the right side. They all wore trousers! Oh my, she thought, even the girls. And, on their feet were rather large clumsy shoes tied with laces and were bright and sparkly.
All three children were so excited to see her. They gently removed her from her paper bed and turned her over and over talking quickly trying to decide what she was.
“Children, where are you?” Came a call from somewhere not too far away.
The taller of the two girls shouted back, “We’re in here mummy, in the big room with the doors out onto the garden.”
“What have you there Marianne?” Asked mummy.
“Corinna found it mummy. Isn’t she beautiful. What do you think she is supposed to be. The box was just here. I think it must have been dropped and left here.”
As Nelly watched, the boy floated away as if on wheels. What strange shoes she thought.
“She is lovely mummy. She’s been painted gold at some time but it has faded. What do you think she was? A toy of some sort?”
“We’ll let daddy see her when he arrives. He’s just picking up pizza for some lunch. I haven’t got the kitchen up and running yet.”
This was all so strange to Nelly but she liked these children straight away.
The day went in a frenzy as the family unpacked and removal men came and went. The following month was similar with much noise and flurry around the house and Nelly was mostly forgotten as she lay on her tissue paper bed in the open box on the window ledge of the old drawing room.
Finally, as the weather was beginning to turn colder, John, for that is what the boy was called, lifted her out and set her on a large polished table with the whole family sitting around.
“So, this is your find, eh children?” Asked daddy. He went on. “Well, I’ve spoken to Uncle David and he has found some very old photos of the family in the late 1880’s through to 1981. So here they are. Let’s see if we can find anything.” And he emptied a big box of photographs onto the table.
With much excitement the family went through them all and sometimes a shout would go up that one had been found with Nelly in.
They found one of her and Mariette and Camomile. It was brown and faded but they could still make out two smiling children wrapped in long coats and fur hats in the snow, Nelly on her swing in the big pot between them. On the back was written their names and, “Nelly the fairy”.
They found one of her swinging on a tree with George sitting astride the branch.
They found one of the whole family posing and smiling in their long white summer dresses and large straw hats with servants lined up behind them in their black and white uniforms. And, there in the corner was Nelly swinging from a small round pot that had a fern in it.
They found a torn and wrinkled picture of Nelly on top of the wedding cake and the smiling couple, Mariette and her husband. At this one, daddy said, ‘Oh look Samantha, This one is written on the back. It’s your great, great grandmother and grandfather, Mariette and Alfred.” Mummy was so pleased to have that one.
There were no others of Nelly until they came to some orange tinted photos of people standing under a huge gazebo in bright coloured long dresses and wide bottomed trousers, long hair and lots of beads and flowers around their necks. The next one was of a boy holding a toy aeroplane and standing next to a plain stone coloured urn where Nelly once more swung.
That was all they found from the pile.
Mummy said, “Well, how interesting that was children. Ian,” She spoke to daddy, “now we know what the garden was like originally can we do something similar do you think?”
“Yes, that’s a great idea. I’ll speak to some people I know and get the ball rolling. The decorators finish this week with the house so we can go straight onto the garden. It’s the perfect time of year to plant.”
“Can we paint the fairy mummy. She needs it.” Said Corinna.
And so, Nelly was painted. She now wore a bright pink and white dress with dark brown hair, blue eyes and red lips. Her wings had been painted silver. Her swing was now bright green. John had got hold of a long piece of metal and had bent a hook in the end.
Mummy had thread Nelly onto a strong piece of fine string and they, with great ceremony, planted her in a large pot of small nasturtiums standing on the wall of the terrace. She was very happy.
Now, she could see the whole garden that was coming on beautifully.
The two girls played with her and hung her from newly planted trees and bushes. They brought out their dollies to play games with her, sometimes pirates, when they called her tinker bell, and sometimes, when playing Snow White, she was the good fairy.
But, always they took great care of her and loved her and she loved them.