The Rights and Responsibilities of a Children’s Writer

On Saturday, March 29th, I appeared on a panel, alongside Bali Rai and David Belbin, at the Writers’ Conference (East Midlands). The topic was: ‘Writing for children and young adults –  a writer’s rights and responsibilities.’

This was the brief: ‘In the ever growing genre of writing for children and young adults, how do you as a writer negotiate the fine line between subject matter and what is appropriate for your audience’s age range? How do you address the latest language on the street, and are there any subjects which can’t be covered? How do these considerations affect language and tone? And how do sensibilities change over time, or even over media?

I figured this was about taboos. You know – sex, drugs, violence, knitting etc. and how we writers should never put any of these in a pop-up book. So, I pulled the usual suspects from my bookshelves – basically the collected works of Melvin Burgess – and set off for Nottingham.

I think the session went down OK – it’s always difficult to tell with an adult audience as they’re usually polite even if they’ve been bored rigid. Nevertheless, I did that thing I always do after an event and I over-analysed my performance and convinced myself I was atrocious. I should have said this and why the hell did I say that? It’s nuts, really – it’s not as if you can change anything. Except that now we have the wonderful world of blogging I can change, or at least post, my afterthoughts (AKA Helena’s Hindsights). So here goes:

The Rights of a Children’s Writer

♦The right to come up with their own ideas and not follow trends.

♦The right to question the cover design to a book.

♦The right to be hurt by negative reviews.

♦The right to enjoy positive ones.

♦The right to have copyright respected, even for blogs, tweets and lesser works.

♦The right to make mistakes.

♦The right not to live up to people’s expectations because, even though I write for children, I am still human and I do things like swear and burp and bite my nails.


♥To tell a good story.

♥To try new ideas.

♥To challenge myself as a writer.

♥To give the reader hope, especially if the book has a dark theme.

♥To be honest.

♥To polish my work until it gleams.

♥To not patronise my readers.

♠To share my story with others.

♥To recommend to readers other books they might like.

♥To admit to mistakes if I get things wrong

♥To champion libraries, librarians, teachers, other writers, bookshops, readers and reading forever and ever.


Protesting against library cuts in Lincoln in 2013

Good, eh? If I think of any more points, I’ll add them later. I have the right to do that.


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6 Responses to The Rights and Responsibilities of a Children’s Writer

  1. “to give the reader hope…”
    I think you are right but I keep remembering the child I did not know who looked up at me in the library and said, “I’m sick of AIDS and death and divorce. I just want a good adventure story.” That was some years ago now but I have just been reading the children’s novels long listed for a major award and one in particular was so dark and lacking in hope that I felt repelled by it. Others will praise the same book, indeed have already considered it fit for publication. How can that be explained?

    • Hi Cat. Thank you so much for your response. I know exactly what you mean! There has to be a variety of fiction for a variety of readers. Some books do help children who are going through similar situations and books like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (cancer) are being lapped up. What the issued-based book must do is not let the issues get in the way of the storytelling. That’s why Jacqueline Wilson has been so successful – her storytelling drives the book, not the issue. Ditto Morris Gleitzman. And, like you, I firmly believe there should be hope, a way out, for the reader at the end of the book.

  2. Pingback: Writers Conference 2014: fiction writing for YA and Children | Ruthless Scribblings

    • Thank you again, Ruth. It’s always useful to have feedback and I’m glad you took away lots of positives from our session. The topic covered such a huge issues – we could have done with a whole afternoon!

  3. Hi Helena,
    I was at the Writers’ Conference and can assure you your contribution was not boring! In fact your passion for writing came over loud and clear. As did the passion of the other writers on the panel.
    I’ve just blogged about this session on my Ruthless Scribblings blog. Grateful for the chance to learn so many useful things about writing for YA and Children.
    Best wishes, Ruth