Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Writing for Kids

Here's an interesting article I missed while I was away. Daphne Lee in Starmag laments the state of local publishing for children. Local talents lack the chance:
At present, we have little access to local content and good local writers and illustrators. I should add that it’s not that they don’t exist. It’s just that they are not reaching the public because they have few opportunities to be published. Local publishers aren’t very supportive of children’s fiction. If you were an assessment book writer, you would make much more money in our market than if you wrote as well as Roald Dahl!

At present, the only children’s “literature” local publishers are interested in are ghost stories. This is because the Mr Midnight series and Russell Lee’s anthologies sell so well. So, what we have now are short story collections by “writers” with appalling grammar and little (if any) flair for writing. The stories are unoriginal, the language hackneyed, the style (if you could even call it that) clumsy. Would it be so difficult to employ writers with fresh ideas and a good command of the English language? Or better editors? James Lee, who writes the Mr Midnight books, is no Edgar Allen Poe, but he does at least write cleanly and clearly.

Perhaps the publishers feel that it would make little difference to readers. Well, I think it’s insulting to charge for these poorly written excuses for stories. Actually, a source informed me that a certain local horror series is not selling well at all. So you see, the public is becoming more discerning.

I’m sure Malaysian book lovers would be receptive to well-written local content if it were available. It’s the proverbial chicken and egg situation. Publishers are waiting for evidence of a market, but they need to help create one.
I'd echo what Daphne says. There is I think a very large pool of untapped talent. Many of the participants on my creative writing courses said that they would like to write for children, but there is little support locally to develop their skills. Some time back I did mention that Donald Kee of MPH felt that there was a market for locally produced children's fiction. But nothing is going to happen without someone (and here we're talking about organisations) taking the initiative to get something off the ground.

One lady who has published her own kids books locally is Vanaja Dhanan. I loved her Ben O book so much I took a copy home for a niece in Britain who was thrilled by it.


starlight said...

you've just reminded me that i have a couple of children's stories tucked away in my drawer. maybe i should dust them off, ponder their potential, add to them and send them off to a publisher.

Vanaja is a good friend so i have a copy of Ben O too! really liked the illustrations.

Anonymous said...

Just curious but how much would it cost to publish a children's book? One meant for younger readers with colourful illustrations.

I remember having a discussion with Ruhayat X a few months ago and when he told me how much Wilayah Kutu cost, I thought "is that all?"


3rd Chimp said...

I am pondering the future of kids' books. On the one hand, it seems like a market that will never die; there are always going to be more kids, and they will need books to read. At least, that's what I've always thought. But is that still true? We hear about the drastic decline in adult fiction readership all the time. What about kids? (I'm not referring specifically to Malaysia.) Are they so absorbed in other forms of entertainment that books are losing ground?

Yvonne Foong said...

Sharon, did you receive my e-mail regarding a creative writing seminar?

amir said...

A Shout Before the Water's Edge

With all due respect, I have always regarded those who want to write children's books with some degree of suspicion.

I've met a number of people who view children's literature as something SIMPLER and EASIER to do than an adult novel.

In other words, a shortcut.

Plus, the millions made by Rowling has enticed some of the writers to try and emulate that success.

I do not feel their honesty for the craft and sometimes it shows in their writing. Which, of course, has never been published.

Not to be negative, but I think the intention is slightly tinged with greed for these people.

It's the same as celebrity children's books. Madonna wrote one. Mick Foley did as well. I heard most of these were ghost-written.

Then, yes, there are those singular characters - usually ageing aunts or women who have never had children - clutching a finished manuscript or a box of self-published children's books like a guest with unwanted birthday presents hanging around.

It's quite sad because their work has the beginnings of any great children's books - a lot of love.

The thing is, people who believe children's literature to be simple to write should reassess their thinking.

A good piece of writing comes from a whole lot of work and respect for the material as well as the audience.

I don't think that by disrespecting the genre would result in great work.

Then again, people buy crap anyway. So who cares? Muahahaha.

bibliobibuli said...

starlight - good luck with that but which publisher?

animah - suggest you check out Gary Gan for prices for POD which might be the best option. Colour illustrations are expensive to print, of course. I also have a friend in Singapore who publishes her own children's books aimed at young children - Shamini Mahadevan Flint. Her own books are excellent and she says that she is willing to publish work by other children's writers - provided that the standard is as high as she would expect of her own work. You can contact her at

3rd chimp - one hopes that adults will always read to kids ... I don't know figures but get the impression that children's publishing is doing pretty well in Britain ... and this is a relatively new market and bound to grow. I'm optimistic because books will always do things that computers can't ... But does anyone else have a take on this??

yvonne - so sorry lah - yes did get your e-mail but in my usual blur way put it aside to answer later and then forgot ... thanks for reminding me ... will be in touch in a while PROMISE!!

amir - there is for sure a great deal of truth in all you say. some of the folks who have approached me about wanting to write children's books are very good writers anyway and their motivation is that they want to produce something for their own kids. i think that you need to have a love of children before you can begin to write for them.

something else that's defintely true - kids are nobody's fools - they are very discerning about the kinds of books they want to read. and because they are now exposed to quality imported children's books, their standards will be extremely high. we can't fob them off with the second rate ...

Anonymous said...

I think there's a HUGE pool of untapped talent. I think what there _isn't_ is a huge pile of untapped funds :)

bibliobibuli said...

funds can always be found if you are devious!!!

Anisah said...

Sharon and anon, yes, funds can be found, the wicked knows no rest. :D

Anonymous said...

It suddenly occured to me that VD's (oops) book can be called the story of O :)

bibliobibuli said...

anon - bedtime stories?