Broken homes don’t mean broken lives

Nice clean bear looking for a reading partner

“Why do you write for children?

This was the interesting – and completely unexpected – question that I was confronted with last week. It’s not a shocking question by any means; it’s just that writing for children is what I do, but, like any other career I’ve had, I’ve never thought about why. I’ve never even considered writing for children as an occupation that needs explaining (which probably says a lot right away).

Caught unawares, I was amazed at my reply. Not only could I answer without thinking about it, this was my immediate response:

“I adore children’s literature. A love of reading is the best gift I ever received and I want to foster it in others.”

OK, not the most eloquent, but this answer stuck in my head afterwards because I wondered whether, upon reflection, it was really true. You see, writing’s not like a regular job where you turn up and muddle through – even if it’s a bad day – because you know you’ll get paid. To be a writer, you have to love what you do. Always. Fact.

But do we know why we write? And why we write what we write?

I have many ideas which would make excellent adult books, but every time I sit down to write them, the words automatically transform into children’s fiction. I love every minute spent working on my manuscripts – from the initial concept and free-flow writing, to the research and editing – but I’m sure I’d love every minute of writing adult fiction too. After all, I adore reading it. So why does this happen?

Looking at my response, I was surprised to find that the true, honest reason really was lurking there. Yes, I love children’s literature and yes, falling in love with reading was the best gift I ever received. But the final part of my reply is the crux of the matter.

“I want to foster it in others.”

Whatever a child’s background, situation or level of learning, I want to help them enjoy reading. It’s that simple. I won’t go into detail – ‘misery lit’ is not my thing – but my upbringing was far from usual, not at all pleasant and certainly not something I’d ever wish anyone else to go through.

Yet the brutal truth is; many children throughout the world are trapped in abusive homes or dangerous environments. And even though there is more awareness, leading to more support facilities, the sad fact is that these children are still trapped, their experiences limited.

But a broken home doesn’t have to lead to a broken life: even children in vulnerable situations can be the masters of their own destinies. And as far as I can see, education is the key factor.

This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in a classroom learning facts. Especially since, for many of these children, that environment won’t suit at all. But if a child can take control of their own learning – can see the value and relevance of it for themselves – then that can make a major difference to their whole lives. This may sound cliche, but it’s true.

I’ve heard people say that everyone can remember one inspirational teacher that set them on their path in life; well I had many. As a child, no matter what was happening around me, books were my haven. They showed me other places, ideas, attitudes and possibilities that no one else was going to share. They opened worlds that were otherwise unavailable.

Old friends and teachers

I was moved by the kindness of the Old Gentleman in The Railway Children and admired the tomboyish Jo March in Little Women. I dreamt about joining the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Huckleberry Finn. Outraged by the mistreatment of Celie in The Colour Purple, I was also strangely comforted by the idea that not everyone else’s life was easy. I fell in love with Santiago’s passion and determination as he fought to bring his great marlin home. And I loved and hated Scrooge in equal measure.

Whatever I wanted to know, to experience, feel; it was all there, neatly tucked away in a few pages of my own private world. And the beauty of it was, every time I finished a book, it would lead me somewhere else; a recommended read, another book by the same author, a completely different genre which conveyed similar messages.

There is a wealth of current and classic children’s literature out there and I’d love to add to it.

“I adore children’s literature. A love of reading is the best gift I ever received. It saved me and I want to foster it in others.”

Last week, I surprised myself with this answer, and after investigating it further, I’ve surprised myself even more. But the findings were so personal, I was in two minds whether I should even post this at all.

But I always believe we should do everything with honesty and with as much passion as possible. So, that’s why I went ahead with the post. And for that reason also, I will continue to write every day.

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7 thoughts on “Broken homes don’t mean broken lives

  1. Hazel Katherine Larkin says:

    Oh Elizabeth! This is a wonderful post – and I am so glad you went ahead and wrote it. Books saved my life, too. And education, hopefully, will make it better. {hugs} Hx

    • ERMurray says:

      That’s definitely a discussion to be had over a glass of wine one day. Thanks for the support. And don’t forget all the wonderful things you do to help children around the world; The Big Book of Hope for instance, but that’s just the start. And I’m not surprised that Jo was your favourite too – she was great, wasn’t she?

  2. Toby Neal (@tobywneal) says:

    Dear Elizabeth, having grown up escaping an alcoholic home through reading, and become a child therapist, it’s actually strange I’ve only just finished my first kids novel. It’s a moving experience, and i resonated with your words.
    Aloha
    Toby Neal

    • ERMurray says:

      I’m glad the post resonated with you. What a wonderful thing to do, Toby, becoming a child therapist. I think when you’ve had a traumatic childhood but conquered it, it’s only right to give something back and help others try and come through too. Looking forward to reading your children’s novel.

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