Iron out the storyline

18th April 1997 at 01:00
Geraldine Brennan picks up writing tips at the conference of a booklovers' charity

The shower at Bates Motel is not the obvious place to look for parallels with writing stories for children. It took Philip Ridley, who has written the screenplay for The Krays as well as seven razor-sharp children's novels, to point them out.

His lecture provided an electrifying closing session at the conference of the Federation of Children's Book Groups. The booklovers' charity, 30 years old next year, works through a nationwide network to increase children's enjoyment of books.

The delegates in Plymouth had just heard author and illustrator Simon James on Jungian polarities in fairy tales, and the deeper layers of meaning in his own picture books. The aim, he says, is "not just a beginning, middle and end in a straight line, but the end remembering the beginning - a circle which is held up by some hands".

The day before, the novelist Philip Pullman speculated on playing with narratives in The Story Game- "try Cinderella with a fairy godmother who hinders rather than helps". Another Carnegie Medal winner, Theresa Breslin, put in a plea for stories which "help children unwrap the parcel layer by layer", with invisible research rather than "lists and lectures and slabs of history".

Teachers are well represented in the FCBG which gives them a chance to explore books away from curriculum constraints. Although some schools have their own groups which teachers and parents can join, others' knowledge about what the local groups can do for them remains patchy. The retiring chairman, storyteller Penny Dolan, is used to being mistaken for "something to do with the BFG" or a bookseller's rep.

The groups are more likely to have something to give away than something to sell - some donate books to school libraries or help organise author and illustrator visits or other book-related events both in and out of school.

Because most local groups are started by parents of young children, activities are slightly geared to the primary age range although the booklists which the federation produces and major events such as the conference cover all ages.

Back to Philip Ridley and Hitchcock's Psycho. The shower scene, he says, "breaks all the storytelling conventions - from that point it stops being a story about whether Janet Leigh will give the money back". The narrative upheaval is ever-present in his own work-in-progress, which he compares to "a blob of gunge or a shirt that needs ironing".

Meanwhile, a pile of freshly ironed stories is waiting for the federation's National Tell a Story Week (see box for details).


* The federation's next event is the annual National Tell A Story Week, which opens on April 28. Events "celebrating the power of story" have been organised by groups around the country, many of them in schools, playgroups and libraries.

* An all-day launch event in Oxford on the opening day will feature writers including Grace Hallworth, Mary Hoffman and Ifeoma Onyefulu. The week has a multicultural theme and the federation has produced an accompanying "Patchwork Panorama" book list. Send a large SAE plus four first-class stamps to NSTW Booklist, 4O Barrow Green Road, Oxted, Surrey RH8 ONJ.

* The Children's Book Award, also organised annually by the FCBG will be presented on May 24. The "top 10" shortlist in three categories was recently chosen by a network of young readers. The shortlisted books are: (picture books) Mr Bear to the Rescue by Debi Gliori (Orchard), Winnie in Winter by Korky Paul and Valerie Thomas (Oxford), The Snow Whale by Caroline Pitcher, illustrated by Jackie Morris (Frances Lincoln); (short novels) The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog by Jeremy Strong (Viking), The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo (Collins), Secret Friends by Elizabeth Laird (Hodder) and Frances Fairweather - Demon Striker by Derek Smith (Faber); (longer novels) The Demon Headmaster Strikes Again by Gillian Cross (Oxford); Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday) and Which Way Home? by lan Strachan (Methuen).

For membership details, send a large SAE to the Secretary FCBG 9 Westroyd Pudsey, West Yorkshire LS28 8HZ

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today