Monday, 6 August 2018

The Universal Mysteries of Being Ten...

Remember 1988? It was the year the Liberal Democrats formed, the year that £1 notes stopped being legal tender, and the year the National Curriculum and league tables were introduced into education. Funny old year. I don't remember all that, of course. I was ten. I'd have probably seen brief snippets of news, and possibly heard about the education changes when my parent's teacher-mates came round for summer holiday drinks. But those Wikipedia-searched news items are not what pop into my head when I cast my mind back thirty years.

1988, and rebelling against the
 notion of a bikini even then.
For me, 1988 was more about getting through Junior Four (as it was known in the olden days). Finding a quiet moment at the kitchen table to do my homework before my one year old sister had a cry about something. It was when I had two secondhand bras (32AA - hahahahahaha) from the girl up the road. I wore them for family dos and, when I was VERY daring, the odd school day. It was when I was dancing to Bananarama in my room and looking forward to the day I could leave home and be an adult for real, eating all the E numbers I wanted. Being ten was a busy time of inner reflection. I suppose that's why I made my new book's narrator/protagonist/main gal, ten-years-old. There's so much introspection to share. 

Like many before me, I've cockily tackled the challenge of writing in another person's voice by thinking, 'No problem! I've been ten. I've been a girl.* What could be easier? Pass me my laptop and let's churn this stuff out!' Yeah, and like many before me, I've come a cropper at times. Trying to create a modern day ten-year-old when my main frame of reference is thirty years old, throws up some real discrepancies between the youth of today and my own childhood. 

This is exactly how it was,
arranging lifts to Music Centre.
Technology is the biggie. The concept of playing outside with a mobile phone is hysterical. To me, anyway. Obviously it's not so unimaginable for most Year Six kids now**. But the very idea that an adult would've been able to contact the 1988 me when I was out and about on my bike, makes me feel queasy. I was generally given a boundary to stay within. Sometimes I didn't. Imagine my parents being able to ring me when I was cycling outside of their rules! Lordy.*** Similarly, once a week, I'd tell my parents I needed to ring my friend to arrange lifts for Music Centre (Yeah, you know, 9am every Saturday, playing the cello in a disused secondary school with a load of other primary school kids. What else would I want to be doing? Grrrr.) Anyway, it meant that I had a good reason to use the upstairs telephone to ring my mate. Sometimes for like twenty minutes! There'd be times when another family member would pick up the phone downstairs, and I'd have to shout that I was still talking. Or times when I'd see my Dad tapping his watchless wrist around the door, doing the universal indicator of 'get a move on'. Now it's all different. Do people even have landlines anymore? How do parents show their kids it's time to get off their phone? We all sleep with them next to our heads, right?

The thirty year chasm between my childhood experiences and that of my protagonist has been an interesting challenge to meet. Some things are easy. I've made her family skint. That means no abundance of gadgets and technology to immediately date the story or show gaps in my knowledge. Plus, her parents are ecologically aware people. If they're bothered about global warming and carbon footprints, they're not likely to be queuing outside the Apple shop for the launch of the latest iPhone. It makes the character's uneasy relationship with technology (and therefore her peers) easier to understand. 

I'm doing my best! Honest.
Apart from technology, language is the other area that can highlight an adult pretending to be a child. What do the kids say today? I had a good idea while I was teaching but I'm out of the loop now. I can throw in abbreviations and text-speak easily enough. Obvs! OMG! Lol! (Don't be fooled, it's still me.) And I can use more child-like language to describe events. But ultimately, I don't want to look like I've shoe-horned random 'yoof' words into the story. They have to belong to the character as a whole, not as an afterthought. Like I say, it's a challenge. 

One thing I'm aware of, and something that provides comfort when I panic like this, is that some issues are universal. Irrespective of a place and time in history, ten year olds deal with the same worries and fears as each other, no matter how much technology they can access. Puberty, siblings, lack of privacy, friends, school, growing up, parents, rules and pushing boundaries. It's universal. Never mind 1988, I'm sure ten year olds in 1888 were being irritated by their siblings and falling out with their friends, as they heard news of the latest Jack the Ripper murder, or the founding of the National Geographic Society. (Thanks again, Wikipedia.) 

Last week, I was chatting to a script editor. (I know, get me.) She said the first thing she asks people when they pitch is, 'What's your story about?' and the second thing she asks is, 'What's it really about?' I have the answers to both these questions. Ready? My story is a year in the life of a ten year old girl, living in a crowded Northern household, dealing with younger brothers, controlling parents and bickering friends, facing the imminent move to high school and the onset of puberty with stoicism, wit and honesty.

And now, what it's really about? That's easy. Change, and the fear of change. Like I said, some things are universal. 

Have a lovely week, folks.

*Ladies and gentlemen, I am now a woman.

** I would have been appalled at being described as a kid when I was ten. Something I bore in mind when writing the book. I was nearly a teenager. I was practically a grown up. I was mature! 

***It also seems that children 'play out' less than in the olden days. Whether it's the excitement of multiple TV channels inside, or the worries of parents who want to keep their eye on the exact location of their child, playing in the street for hours on end - day in day out - seems less prevalent. 

No comments:

Post a Comment