– Interview with Female First UK
Why my children’s book is all about the power of words
by Veronica del Valle
11 June 2019
When I started working on this middle-grade book I knew two things:
1) I wanted to write a story that celebrated words. One of my main objectives was to teach children about the importance of words and books. The main theme of the novel is exactly that: the power of language. The Word-Keeper tries to answer the following question: What would happen to the world if words disappeared forever?
Language is one of human kind’s most precious possessions. Words can do good or they can do evil. They can create or they can destroy. They can embrace or they can alienate. They can unite or they can divide. The choice is ours. And if we teach this to children from an early age, I believe it would have a huge impact on the betterment of our society.
If a child knows how important words are, then as a result, they will grasp –almost effortlessly– the significance of honesty, empathy, integrity and what being an authentic human being really means.
2) I wanted the book to be a middle-grade novel with some elements of fantasy. My aim was to make it feel almost like a fairytale in terms of style and with an old-fashioned tone to it.
Why a middle-grade book one might wonder?
Well, because I think the reading we do as children stays deep within us in a way no other reading in our life does.
The books we read when we are seven, eight, nine or ten years old profoundly shapes who we are, what kind of person we become, the values we uphold, how we understand the world and how we relate with ourselves and with others.
There’s nothing better than seeing a child discover the joy of books. Early reading is essential to promote self-confidence, to encourage a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning. As Maria Montessori said: “The development of language is part of the development of the personality, for words are the natural means of expressing thoughts and establishing understanding between people.”
But that’s not all. I was also looking to write about complex matters in a simple way. Mainly because of the fact that, on the one hand, I love the simplicity of a fable or a folk tale. Yet on the other hand, I think children are incredibly intelligent and they are perfectly able to understand complex matters –ranging from philosophy to language to emotional intelligence– as long as you present these topics within a framework and context that makes sense to them.
We shouldn’t be afraid of using elaborate language or vocabulary with children. We just need to be sure to explain the meaning to them. By this I mean, you can use a complex or rare word but use it in a sentence that pertains to their world. And explain that complex word with other simpler words they already know.
Lastly, I longed to write a story that a child would love but if an adult were to pick up the book they would really take pleasure in reading it as well. As C. S. Lewis once stated, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not good a good children’s story in the slightest.” I agree with this idea wholeheartedly.
I hope The Word-Keeper inspires people to love and respect one another and the world we live in. And I also hope that the children (or adults) who read this book will be inspired to be who they truly are, without ever comparing themselves to others, and follow their dreams.
Interview with Marie-Hélène Fasquel
1- When did you start writing?
I have a BA degree in communications and I’ve always had a fondness for words and language, but the truth is I never thought of being a fiction writer. However, about nine years ago, when I was living in London, I stumbled upon a creative writing course at Central Saint Matins and I, straight away, fell in love with the craft of storytelling.
Several short stories were born and then I began writing The Word-Keeper. Later on, I decided to get my MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University, where I met the most incredible writers who taught me and inspired me more than I could say.
2- Your favourite author?
It’s very difficult to narrow it down to one. Let’s say it’s a tie between Toni Morrison, Roald Dahl and Jorge Luis Borges.
3- What do you like best about writing?
I learned so much writing this book. I found my way of working and my way of writing. For me, at least, this means a lot of hard work, discipline, patience and dealing with the unforeseen. Sometimes you have an idea in your head of what the story is going to be like and then the story itself steers you in a whole new and surprising way.
Writing has taught me a lot about how creativity works, for me at least (although I think I still don’t quite understand it.) There are days when creativity just flows so easily and there are days when creativity is just not there. There are days when the greatest ideas come flooding in, the characters reveal themselves to you and questions about the plot are answered. And there are days when I know I probably won’t even write one good sentence. However, on those days, I still show up for work: I sit down at my desk, I try to find a way through the story. And if nothing comes up, I do research, I edit, I think, I wait, I meditate.
I’ve learned that there’s planning and then there’s surprise and the unexpected. It’s a balance of the two.
4- Do you have any anecdotes to share about writing, about your relationships with your readers?
Writing is a solitary job and I actually really really like that. It’s a very intimate experience. When I write I disconnect from the rest of the world. And it’s something that I do passionately and gratefully. So first of all, I want to write work that I’m proud of. I like to take the time to write and re-write my stories until they meet or exceed my own aesthetic and narrative standards.
Regarding the second part of the question, this is my first published book, so I’m just now starting to get to know my readers. So far, this book has belonged only to me. Now it belongs to anyone who reads it and makes it their own, gives it their own interpretation. I’m eager to see how The Word-Keeper reaches people in different ways for different reasons. If I know that my book has been meaningful to at least one child (or adult), I would consider that a huge success.
5- Your last word?
They would be two.
The first one would be the last word of The Word-keeper: Words. Because they are incredibly powerful.
The second one would be the last word of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Present.
This stems out of my love of meditation. I’ve done my training in London and in Rishikesh, India. I did this training because I wanted to deepen my knowledge of the science of meditation and mindfulness. I’ve been practicing it for over 15 years and I apply it to every aspect of my life, including my writing. The benefits of being fully present in the present moment cannot be exaggerated. On that note, I believe children are uniquely suited to benefit from mindfulness practice. The habits we create when we are young will shape who we become as adults. If we teach our kids to be mindful, we’ll be giving them the tools to be peaceful, resilient, compassionate and happy human beings.
INTERVIEW WITH ELS EBRAERT, BforBookReview
– Is there a drink or food that keeps you company while you write?
As cliché as it might sound: A good cup of coffee with soy milk, hot in winter and iced in summer.
– What is your favourite book?
That’s a really difficult question to answer. And I suppose the answer would have been different had I answered it ten years ago or if I were to answer it in ten years time.
Today: it’s a tie between Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Wonderful O by James Thurber, Matilda by Roald Dahl and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.
– Have you ever considered writing in a different genre in the future?
So far no, I’ve never thought about writing in a different genre. This is the style and genre that comes naturally to me. But you never know, right?
– Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
There are a few of my characters that have traits of people I know, people I admire, people that inspire me. But mostly, since I write middle-grade fantasy, I love to create characters who are unlike anyone I’ve met before. There’s something truly magical in discovering characters that you would never come across in the street. I’m extremely fond of the fantastical and everything you can find once you step inside a fantasy world.
– Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
You know, actually I don’t. If I come across a good idea when I’m not at my desk –whether that is out and about or right when I’m about to fall asleep– I make a purposeful effort to remember that idea and store it in my mind for later use. I never write them down.
– Which genre do you not like at all?
There isn’t any particular genre that I dislike. I like to read a bit of everything. What I choose to read depends very much on my mood at the moment. And if the writer is good, the book will be good, regardless of the genre.
– If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
I would say Abi Elphinstone, Kiran Millwood Hargrave or Katherine Rundell. It would be the most rewarding learning experience.
– If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
Probably Japan. I love the culture and I’ve been studying the language for years, yet I’ve never been there. It would be a dream to travel to that country to do research for a book.
ARTICLE FOR THE MAGIC OF WOR(L)DS
As I wrote The Word-Keeper, there were two things that were in my mind at all times:
Number One: I wanted to write a middle-grade fantasy story that paid tribute to words. I believe it’s paramount for children to know how meaningful language is. In fact, The Word-Keeper tries to answer the following question: What would happen to the world if words disappeared forever?
Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Austrian philosopher, said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. All I know is what I have words for.” Indeed, language is one of human kind’s most valuable possessions, and we often forget that. We fail to remember that words can do good or they can do evil. If we make sure children know this from an early age, it would have the most positive and constructive consequences for our society.
And Number Two: I wanted the book to be a middle-grade fairytale-like fantasy novel with an old-fashioned tone to it. The reason behind this is actually twofold.
I love the simplicity of a fable or a folk tale. I wanted to write about complex matters in a simple way. This stems out of the fact that children are incredibly intelligent and more than able to understand complicated issues as long as you present these topics within a context that makes sense to them.
The following passage by E. B. White perfectly summarizes my thoughts on the subject:
“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.”
“Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn’t know. This emasculates the prose and, I suspect, bores the reader. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention.”
The other reason I chose to write a middle-grade novel is because I think the reading we do as children stays deep within us in a way no other reading in our life does.
The books we read when we are eight, nine or ten years old profoundly shapes who we are, who we become as adults, what moral standards we defend, how we understand the world and how we relate with ourselves and with others.
INTERVIEW WITH DONNA, DONNASBOOKBLOG
What inspired you to write this book?
My love for language. I wanted to write a story that honoured words. My aim was to teach children how important words (and books) are. The main theme of the novel is exactly that: the power of language and the need to defend it.
If you could sell this book in one sentence what would it be?
What would happen if words disappeared forever?
What are you up to next?
I’m working on a book of short stories, which also falls under the middle-grade fairytale-like fantasy genre.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
When I did my MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University I met the most incredible writers who taught me and inspired me more than I could say.