Welcome, Andy Seed, to Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books to celebrate the publication of the third book in the Prankensteinseries which was published on October 6th by Fat Fox Books. The story sees our hero, Soapy Thompson, having a fun time on a world cruise along with his friends from Estonia, Arvo and Loogi (the 'twince'). All is going well until some modern-day pirates board the ship and kidnap Soapy's mum.
This is a brilliantly illustrated (Richard Morgan) silly adventure full of fun and trouble aimed at readers 7 years and upwards. Here is Andy's Post Total Write-Off: Fiction vs Non-Fiction.
Most children’s authors write made up stuff and some write true stuff. The made up stuff (i.e. stories) comes under the boring label ‘fiction’ and the true stuff (i.e. fact) has the completely useless title of ‘non-fiction’. If ever there was a phrase to send children to sleep, someone has found it and attached it to a whole sphere of publishing. To make matters worse the label is absurd: how can you define something by what it’s not? ‘Coffee or non-coffee, madam?’
I’m one of the few authors who writes both novels and factual books for kids and because they are so perceived to be so different you might think it’s almost like having a split writing personality. With fiction there’s a blank page and the author is the creator of people, places, events – the controller of time, space and, well, everything. With non-fiction there’s a known world out there: a box of information into which you dip and select and then weave into some kind of paper presentation, probably with pictures and diagrams and facts and figures.
Except that it’s not that simple. Most of the time fiction writers work within the real world and need to do lots of research to ensure that their tale has plausibility and a convincing setting. My most recent novel Prankenstein on Tour may be a funny romp about a prank-playing monster who sends a world cruise into meltdown but it still needed to be set on a ship which reads like a real ocean liner and the characters needed to visit real places with buildings and details described as they really are.
So, fiction writers must check their facts too, a lot of the time, and therefore blend imagination with reality. Of course if you’re setting a story on Planet Mooku in the year 3028 then it’s a different game although your spacecraft will still have to obey the laws of physics and the galaxy you’re in must make sense to the reader.
In the case of Prankenstein on Tour, it’s the third book in a series and I really enjoyed the fact that I could re-visit previously created settings and work with established characters, injecting humour and fun into the story. In the book, the central character Soapy Thompson, aged 12, is overjoyed when his dad wins a world cruise for five and even more excited when his best friends, the detective-like Estonian twins Arvo and Loogi can come along too. The problem is cheese. If Soapy eats any he turns into an uncontrollable prank-crazed beast. Normally there’s no cheese at his house but here on a giant cruise ship…
So, what about writing non-fiction? Well, for a start it doesn’t just cover facts. My own non-fic children’s titles, such as The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff which won the 2015 Blue Peter Best Book with Facts Award is mainly factual but contains jokes, riddles, silly names, poems and lots of other content that was created rather than researched.
Children sometimes ask me if it’s harder to write fiction and usually I say it is because you have to create a whole world and then make the characters in it take us on a journey which will draw us in powerfully. Yet there’s a huge imaginative process in the writing of factual content too. There are a million ways to do it and more. Take the fact that the tiger is the largest of all cats. How can that be presented? Written in a dull sentence, yes, but a picture would help. A photo? What about a comparison with another animal or a human? A diagram? Some kind of snappy graphic? Instead of telling its weight in kg, how many 5 year-olds might it weigh the same as? (18 using averages) and so on. There’s a different kind of process but it’s still highly creative.
There are places where the two worlds collide too, of course: biographies and true stories for a start. So maybe fiction and non-fiction aren’t so different. But pleeeeease, let’s have a new label for the latter.