I'm now very pleased to welcome Helen to Teenage Fiction For All Ages and she has kindly written a guest post on safety in fiction:
Don’t Forget your Life Jacket!
When I first showed a shiny new hot-off-the-press copy of The Mystery of the Whistling Caves to my mum, her first comment (after saying well done, that’s wonderful) was ‘Shouldn’t they have their life jackets on?’
With the utmost restraint and maturity, I managed to suppress an eye-roll. Isn’t that just what a Mum would say!
I should know! I say it to my boys every day. Well, not exactly that, because we live miles from the sea and the only body of water they encounter on a daily basis is a large puddle on the drive. But I’m forever reciting the land-lubbers’ equivalent; don’t forget your bike helmet/shin pads/gumshield/bullet proof vest (okay, I made that last one up, but you get my point?)
Sometimes I feel like a One Woman Health and Safety Inspection.
So, when writing an adventure series featuring twelve and thirteen year old heroes, I knew I had to be careful not to wrap the characters in cotton wool. After all, they are fictional and their raison d’etre is to have adventures.
An adventure book without heaps of peril would be about as exciting as reading those one of those swimming pool warning signs (No running, no jumping, no laughing, no splashing, no petting - until the age of eight, I thought that last one meant you weren’t allowed to take your cat in with you!)
J K Rowling is famously quoted as saying “I’m not writing to make anyone’s children feel safe.” I agree. Of course, it’s more straightforward when the book is set in a fantasy world. When you’re single-handedly fighting off six dragons and a giant serpent with nothing but the sword of doom, no one’s going to worry about elbow-pads. Especially when broken bones can be fixed with a healing potion or magic spell.
Adventure Island is not a fantasy world, so it’s important that the young heroes aren’t seen as doing things that are totally reckless or irresponsible. On the other hand, it’s not gritty realism either. It’s clearly a fictional island, and although the characters are (I hope) identifiable as believable people in believable situations, there is an element of "suspended disbelief". For a start, if there were really that many serious crimes per head of the population in one summer, surely the government would have declared a state of emergency by now? I’m sure that even the youngest readers understand this is not real life, but are happy to go along with it for the sake of a good adventure.
So I didn’t dwell on life jackets and bike helmets. They were left unmentioned so that readers could imagine the characters wearing them if they wanted. However, in one of the later books (which I’m currently writing) I have made a point of mentioning bike helmets when the friends cycle into the busy town on the mainland, rather than the quiet moorland roads of the island, and also life jackets when they have to venture into dangerous rocks in their rowing boat.
Other than that, I’ve come up with a couple of guidelines I try to follow in the safety/peril stakes (in conjunction with my wonderful editor at Orion, Amber Caraveo. We’ve had many a long discussion on the life jacket issue!)
The young heroes never deliberately walk into a dangerous situation without a very good reason. However, if it’s necessary to save someone from danger or avert disaster, they don’t shy away. So, when the vanishing skeleton is dashing into the disused tin mine to blow it up, the boys follow to try to stop her. When a film star is dangling from a cliff, about to plunge to certain death, Jack rescues her with ropes (making sure he has a safety line attached!). When Drift, the dog, runs under the fence of the old quarry, the friends go in after him.
Danger can also arise through situations beyond their control. In The Mystery of the Whistling Caves, Emily knows how long they have in the caves before the tide rises and cuts off the exit – and the friends are very careful to make sure that they can get out in time; they’re not to know that a violent storm would make the sea levels rise higher than usual.
One thing I do insist on – as a Mum and as an author - is that both my real and fictional kids always let someone know where they are going. Emily and Scott roam Castle Key island, but they do say where they’re going (it’s not spelled out every time, of course; that would get a bit boring. But there’s a reminder now and then.) So for example, in The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece, Emily creeps out into the night to follow a suspect, but she leaves her parents a note to say that she is taking the dog out for a few minutes’ walk.
This lesson came home to me as a child when I copied an idea I’d seen, not in a book, but on a TV programme called, Why don’t you switch off the TV and do something more useful instead? I’m sure anyone over a certain age will remember it well!
The brilliant idea was to take a Random Walk. Go out of your front door, and at every choice point, flip a coin to turn left or right and see where you end up! I longed to try this out and finally bullied my friend, Jackie, into joining me.
I think we must have lost track of time. I don’t remember much about where we ended up. Only a lot of relieved-slash-furious recriminations from my Mum when she eventually found us in a wood far from home – this was well before the era of mobile phones, of course. What were you thinking! Wherever have you been? It’s dark! You could have been killed!
I probably said something flippant at the time, (accompanied by an eye-roll, of course!) like; “Oh yeah, killed? What by? A rogue badger?” (we lived in the middle of the countryside.) But deep down, I must have got the message that it hadn’t been one of my better ideas.
For the next few weeks my mum was suddenly very keen to let me stay at home and watch telly all day though!
Many thanks to Helen and Orion Childrens.
There are currently six books available in the Adventure Island series (with four more planned for 2012). You can read about them at the official Adventure Island website which includes a map of Castle Key Island and blogs from the main characters.
Helen Moss's own website is here.
The blog tour began on 19th at Book Angel Booktopia and day two was at Serendipity Reviews.