The Spirit of Childhood - by Liz Carter

Come on, you totally did this, right?

The other day I read Nikki Salt's post about writers who inspire us. It got me thinking about some of my favourite books, and I quickly realised most of the ones that came to mind first were from childhood. I binged on Enid Blyton -- climbed the Faraway Tree, met Moonface and Silky and explored the lands in the sky, joined the children on the wishing chair, imagined the endless hot summers with all those lashings of ginger beer. I feasted on Narnia, dreamed of the Chalet School, went on adventures with the Three Investigators, went ice-skating with Noel Streatfield, found secret gardens in my soul and went on tramps through Tanglewood forests.

When I thought about all these things I got that feeling of freshness, the excitement I would feel when I picked up a book or sneaked one under the covers with my torch at night (my mum totally knew.) I even loved to take books to the table and read while eating, it wasn't allowed in general but we were allowed to on holiday and it was a treat. All five of us would sit there with our books, engrossed, while we ate. I sometimes think about how children today so love their iPads and phones at the table, but something seems missing, to me, despite my love for technology. What do you think?

It was those feelings I got from the books of my childhood which drew me into writing. I wanted to create characters just like Lucy and Edmund and George and Timmy. I wanted to craft worlds where you could go through a wardrobe and find a winter wonderland without the magic of Christmas, and where things got transformed. I wanted to wear the magic rings and enter new worlds and so I wrote them. I wrote C.S Lewis and Enid Blyton fan fiction. And it was pretty bad.

Books were my companions. I was often a bit of a lonely child. I felt a bit different, a bit odd, bullied for sickness and my slightly studious disposition. I escaped into books and they transported me. I occasionally get this with a book today, but somehow I can never quite recapture that awe and joy that I found in books as a child. 

Somehow, though, writing does delve into all of those old feelings. Sometimes when I'm writing something creatively I get the edges of that sense of wonder, as if it's all new again. And as I reflect on this today, I wonder if it's good for all of us, whatever we write, to think about that childlike wonder, to aim to harness it. When my own children were small, I loved sharing my favourite books from childhood with them. I will never forget my son's joy at the (non disneyfied) 101 Dalmatians, and my daughter's glee at Gobolino the Witch's Cat. Their joy inspired me yet again, and I made up worlds for them.

I think that our faith, too, plays a part in both childlike wonder and the urge towards capturing this kind of feeling in our creativity. We know that we are part of something greater. We know that there's a bigger story and it's a story that transforms lives. It's an overarching tale of love, betrayal, injustice and bringing the villains to justice. It's a story that goes through all the arcs of a good tale: a hook, an obstacle or two to overcome, a soaring and wonderful ending filled with hope that transports us. Maybe, as children, when we become immersed in good stories, we know somewhere deep down that they reflect a bigger reality.

And as writers, we want to capture something of that. Some of us write tales for children, some of us for young adults, some write adult fiction of all kinds of genres, some poetry, some narrative non fiction. All of these things can evoke that same wonder, in different ways. But how can we recapture the spirit of childhood when it comes to our writing? Here's a few off-the-cuff ideas -- and please do add your own!

  • Read your favourite childhood books. I recently dived back into some of the Narnia tales, and I was enthralled once again. Reading them sparked my own creativity.
  • Read to the children in your life. Mine are grown up, but I love to read to nieces, nephews, godchildren and other children of friends. Watch their wonder and grab hold of it. 
  • Waste a bit of time googling illustrations and maps from childhood stories. Have a look at some of the images for Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter et all -- it's easy to get lost in them and become wrapped up in their worlds.
  • Ask God to remind us of the huge narrative we are in, and the pot of gold at the end of our rainbow. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with the joy of being part of this great tale.
  • Watch films of childhood books and note down the things that captivate you most: setting, dialogue, characters?
  • And finally....write. Just do it! Here's a short story prompt: Write a story you wanted to write when you were ten...after all, why not? I mean, mine might be some weird mash up of Malory Towers and The Enchanted Castle, but hey, that could be kind of fun. It might even lead to something more...
Over to you -- what were your favourite childhood books? What did books mean to you as a child? If you could write any story when you were ten, what would it be?

Liz Carter is an author, poet and editor from Shropshire. She loves to write about the difficult and painful times in life, and how we can find gold in the mess. Her books Catching Contentment and Treasure in Dark Places are available in online bookstores. You can find her at www.greatadventure.carterclan.me.uk and she’s just signed a contract for her next book with The Good Book Company, coming 2023.


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