‘You Can Write About Anything For Children…’
On what would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, I thought it a good day to share how writing ‘Saving Maya‘, my first book for young readers came about. Before I’d finished writing Saving One More, my second book on puppy farming, I’d already decided I was going to write something for a younger audience. Same theme, different angle, new readership. I’m driven to keep writing on this subject, as until the injustices suffered by dogs the world over in the vast puppy production industry end, it can’t be written about enough. My writing gives my dogs and millions like them around the world, a place where their stories are told and their lives matter.
Making the decision to write for children on this far from jolly subject was surprisingly easy. Children have always enjoyed immersing themselves in dark stories; think back to our own childhoods and classic children’s literature is alive with sad stories, gritty themes and animals suffering: Black Beauty, Watership Down, War Horse, I could list many more. Children care about animals and I knew that if I could find a way to write about dogs in puppy farms that would appeal to them, they will care about the millions of them in puppy breeding facilities around the world. If I could write it well enough, they wouldn’t forget that behind the sweet puppies for sale today lies a lot of suffering parent dogs.
In the words of Roald Dahl,
You can write about anything for children as long as you’ve got humour.
Deciding to write was the easy bit, starting to scribble it out was much harder. I soon realised that as someone who doesn’t have children, or much regular contact with any, getting the pitch right was going to be a challenge. But, as my writing is my campaigning, I wasn’t to be deterred by the small detail of never having written for this readership before. I decided I needed help and although I didn’t know Annabel well at that stage, I asked her if she’d like to illustrate my new book.
At the time I first approached Annabel to illustrate what eventually became ‘Saving Maya’ it was a mere fledgling idea. There was no proper storyline beyond me wanting to contrast the lives of dogs in puppy farms, and those that live happily in regular homes, normal dogs in other words. But I knew I needed drawings, quite what I had no idea. I also knew I needed more than an illustrator and Annabel, as well as being a skilled artist is a mother and teacher. I planned to pick her brains beyond ideas for drawings. Thankfully Annabel liked the kernel of an idea and jumped on board. I was relieved, she was excited.
Early on, Annabel helped me see the full potential of writing a book on this subject for a younger audience. I’d grown up in a household where reading was encouraged but I’d forgotten how I’d talk about whatever I was reading with my mum. Annabel reminded me how children do this. In my focus on writing for children, I’d completely overlooked the potential of them educating their parents having read the book. I’d invited Annabel to illustrate and knew she’d be invaluable in helping me pitch it right. But more than this, she’d provided an insight which galvanised me to use the story to influence a broader audience than my immediate target readership.
Once I realised that ‘Saving Maya’ could influence parents in discussions and decisions made about getting a family dog, I was well away. The story came, the words flowed and the book steadily took shape. I wrote what I would have liked to read as a child, knowing what I do now about puppy farming. I tried to forget I was writing for children. I wrote for the dogs which kept me writing honestly and passionately.
As well as educating on the stark reality of what life is like for dogs in the breeding industry, a major aim for me with all my writing is to encourage pet adoption. By adopting dogs, it takes the market away from the puppy farmers. The story includes several doggy characters with back stories heard daily in rescues everywhere: dogs abandoned because they’re old, or the novelty has worn off, or a baby comes along. Children learn from loveable, engaging characters within gripping stories and the additional rescue dogs in the story enhance the book’s central message.
Reader feedback, early reviews and talking with children who have read it, confirm that what Annabel and I have produced brings deep engagement with the issues. After reading ‘Saving Maya’ children are explaining why it’s wrong to treat dogs in the way depicted in the story. There’s a real sense that they want to right the wrongs done to animals who they closely relate to as friends.
And it’s not just children who are engaged, the book is appealing to readers of all ages, something not quite accidental, and entirely pleasing as I strive to impact puppy buyers thoughts and actions through all written means possible.
Please get in touch and let me know what you think about ‘Saving Maya’ and how it’s impacting you and anyone you share it with, whatever your age.