I haven’t been around much. (Let’s start by stating the obvious.)
A few weeks ago, I started work as Writer Liaison for Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things, a new magazine catering specifically for teens and Young Adult readers. Most of my time has been taken up getting to grips with the new job.
You may be wondering what the work of a ‘Writer Liaison’ entails, as I did myself before I took it on. Aside from the usual admin stuff, it involves a lot of coordination between writers/submitters (via Submittable), the Editor in Chief (Brian Lewis), and the army of hardworking readers engaged at E & GJ Little Press.
It’s fun. Lots of fun. I sometimes wonder if it’s actually ‘work’ when it is such a pleasure to do.
By far the most fun part, though, is reading through the submissions. As the person responsible for checking over work aimed at 10 – 18 year old readers, it is extremely interesting. And one of the things that struck me is how we actually read pieces of work for children, and how many different ways we have of interpreting what we read.
For instance, when I read a story aimed at a teenager/young person, I can either read it as a critical adult, checking it over for SPAG issues and sizing it up as a possible ‘good fit’ in terms of story arc and plot development.
Or, I can read it through my ‘child’s eye’, and throw the critical baggage out the window, focusing instead on whether it’s fun and interesting for the thirteen year old I still try and imagine has a heart beating away somewhere inside of me.
(This is menna be fun, right?)
Or again, I can read it as something I imagine a child ought to be interested in, seeing a piece of work as having some kind of pedagogic function and educating the reader in some way.
(Look closely …)
This is a very crude breakdown of some of the main ways we can read stories for young people. But if you think of the Harry Potter series, or His Dark Materials, or the latest John Green bestseller, or any successful work of children’s literature, what you realise is that these ways of reading are all definitely there, but the only one which can successfully be allowed to dominate is the second one, the ‘child’s eye’.
Unless a writer gets that part right, nothing else will hit the sweet spot, no matter how well meant and how technically correct the story or poetry may be. It’s like making sure that the ‘soul’ is in place before you build up the body around it. And it’s not that the technical bits don’t matter—they absolutely do!— but unless you get the soul in there, the rest will just feel like so many nuts and bolts and dry details, a bit like Frankenstein’s monster before the lightning hit.
Whenever I read I try and keep that in mind. So instead of getting completely side-tracked by my picky adult self, I try and ‘feel’ whether the story is carrying me along with it.
Have I forgotten what time it is?
Did I lose myself in the characters and start thinking about them as if they were real people, wondering what they would do in a given situation outside of the story they’re in?
Am I surprised at where my imagination is being led?
Did I read something in that poem that made me see my world in a completely new light?
These are all good signs that the writing is working as it should, and I’m optimistic that kids would feel the same way if they could read these things too. So that’s when I vote ‘Yes’ on something, and then hope and pray that Ember has the good fortune to catch a piece of writing that deserves to be published and read by a wider audience. And if that piece of work happens to be by a young writer, even better! That’s like the cherry on the top. Or a fresh cream strawberry gateau on a hot summer’s day.
(The one time I do hand-picked and home made, I have to have photographic evidence to prove it.)
It’s an exciting process for anyone who enjoys reading and likes to see how children’s literature can literally fill you with wonder and surprise. It’s no wonder I enjoy it so much and I feel like the luckiest person in the world with the best job ever.
Even if it is unpaid.
If you think you have a piece of work, either a short story or some poetry, which is suitable for 10 – 18 year old readers, and you’d like to submit to Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things, please check out the details via this link:
There are also some vacancies for Staff Readers and Screeners, so please get in touch if you’re interested. It would be great to have you on board.
You can also follow Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things on Twitter @EmberJournal and keep up to date with news, jobs and publication info from the E & GJ Little Press team.