As regular readers (both of them) will have noticed, I’ve been elsewhere lately. Among other things I’ve been finishing a story for children entitled Defiant the Guinea-Pig: Firefighter! with my younger daughter, Crox Minima, aged 10 (though with vital contributions from Crox Minor, 12, related to novel camelopardaline transport solutions and other matters).
A defiant guinea pig, recently.
Defiant has been packed off to my our agent, but in the meantime I’d welcome feedback from readers, especially if they have children. I’m really unsure of the appropriate age range, if any, but as Crox Minima is 10, I guess it might appeal to children from 7 or 8 upwards. If you like, I can send you a file over teh interwebz – or even, for £10, a copy of the book in draft form to save you the cost of printing out 18,000 words. Enquiries to the usual address (Third Park Bench On The Left, The Esplanade, Cromer, Norfolk).
Here is what passes for a blurb.
Defiant the Guinea Pig is a Lazy Lump who spends all day in bed reading his Captain Extraordinary comic and eating carrot pies.But when his Mum tells him to go out and get a job, Defiant becomes one of the smallest and unlikeliest firefighters in the city’s fire service.His recruitment coincides with a wave of fires sweeping the city.Can Defiant and his firefighting friend Vermifuge the Armadillo find the firestarter before the city goes up in smoke?And will he make his Mum proud?
Well, we like it.
Writing this story has taught me a great deal about authorship, plot and indeed the process of writing.
Crox Minima actually wrote very little of the actual words. However, she did come up with the title, the concept and invented many of the situations in which the small furry hero finds himself, from broad-brush to small slapstick moments. I’d write, maybe, a thousand words on a commute home (on my iPad, naturally) and read them to Crox Minima at bedtime. We’d then discuss the way the story was going and think about ways to move it along. Crox Minima’s job was to come up with the big ideas. My job was to take her ideas and run them down to small details. In the process I’d draw in lots of references from books and films that would probably mean more to a grown-up reader than to a child.
Sometimes Crox Minima’s ideas (or mine) wouldn’t work. At other times they’d set off all kinds of associations that would flower into a major plot element that could be used to tie up loose ends. Although we had a good idea from the beginning about what Defiant would do, and what would happen in the end, the plot developed and ramified as it went, as new ideas came along and were woven into the story.
I’ve had lots of problems with plot before, both in fiction and nonfiction, but as Defiant was conceived on a smallish scale (despite its eventual epic and elegiac mood, if I say so myself), I could see the plot elements grow without any extraneous literary clutter. In movie terms (and, oh boy, have we already cast the movie…) it’s got all three acts. The first sets up the character; the second takes him on a journey, and the final one sees a dramatic confrontation in which our hero grows in stature (at least metaphorically), foils the villain and gets the girl (again, metaphorically, just in case you were worried about reading this to the under-8s). The story got into its shape without too much effort on our part. It just happened.
As Tolkien said of The Lord of the Rings, it’s a tale that grew in the telling. I’m not comparing Defiant with the Lord of the Rings. Of course not. It’s much shorter, for a start, and it hasn’t got any elves in it. Or hobbits. It does, however, have an armadillo and a rhinoceros. And a zebra. Those who seek to have more scientists in fiction will be pleased to learn that there’s a scientist, too. He’s a bush-baby, trying to extract sunshine from cucumbers on an industrial scale. And there’s also a chameleon who has her own custard factory.
We did, actually, have two explicit points of reference. One is a fabulous story called The Great Escape from City Zoo by Tohby Riddle, sent to us long ago by my agent, which combines an animal tale with classic Americana in way that enthralls children and amuses adults. It’s one of Crox Minima’s favourites – and one of mine too, though probably for quite different reasons. The other was The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, a book sent to us by my friend Professor D. L. of Boston – a fabulous adventure story drenched in complexity (and Americana), and (with its two sequelae) possibly Crox Minima’s favourites apart from those featuring the egregious schoolboy wizard.
Crox Minima and I are rather deflated, now, having sent our opus off to my our agent. To keep ourselves amused in the meantime we (notwithstanding inasmuch as which the term ‘we’ encompasses Crox Minor) have been thinking of more stories to challenge the rodent mettle of our diminutive adventurer. Defiant the Guinea Pig: Astronaut! was an early suggestion from Crox Minima – a science fiction epic that could well turn into Defiant the Guinea Pig: Starship Trooper! if it’s not careful.
Crox Minima perhaps wisely turned down my idea of Defiant the Guinea Pig: Accountant! Crox Minor’s idea of Defiant the Guinea Pig: Secret Agent! could have legs, and we’ve put some thought into Defiant the Guinea Pig: Conductor! – Crox Minima likes the idea of a tail-coated guinea pig waving a baton while teetering unsteadily on the podium, while I am strangely attracted by the image of a zebra as soloist in Elgar’s cello concerto.
After watching another triumphant Norwich City game, my friend M. P. of Cromer and I came up with Defiant the Guinea Pig: Championship Manager! in which Defiant is a washed-up former Bolivian international managing a no-hoper soccer team while trying to face down a serious carrot pie habit.
My latest idea (and I rather like this) is Defiant the Guinea Pig: Gladiator! in which our hero confronts the evil emperor Geraldus Camelopardalis, who (noblesse oblige) rides around in a one-wheeled chariot, and in which our hero can say things like ‘Unleash Hell!’ and ‘Commander of the Nibblers of the North; Owner of a Squashed Carrot Pie!’
One can dream.