Launching the Rocketship
I visited the Rocketship for the first time today. It’s a new bookshop for children, though it has a shelf of Salisbury authors and, since I am a Salisbury author, I took some copies of Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium along. I think anyone who wants to write ought to start by reading to children, ideally between the ages of six and nine. That way you tune your ears to sentence rhythms, sense whether the narrative pace is right and whether the dialogue rings true. You get instant feedback from a young audience and you can learn a lot from it. The best children’s writers have, I am convinced, tested their work in this way.
Two series of books, which I loved reading to my children, are ideal for this purpose. The first are the Captain Najork books by Russell Hoban, beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake. There are, unfortunately, only two of them: How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen and A Near thing for Captain Najork. Hoban was a complete original. His books, whether for adults or children, are quite unlike anyone else’s. (The Mouse and His Child must be one of the darkest children’s books ever written, and his adult dystopia Ridley Walker is unforgettable.) The other fictions I want to commend are the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. There are four of them and all concern the adventures of the exuberant Frog and the melancholy Toad, who form a kind of Tigger/Eeyore pairing. (It may be heresy to say so, but I think Frog and Toad books are much better than Winnie the Pooh.) They are told with the utmost economy, with understated humour and with real delicacy of feeling. They are really the story of a friendship. As a fan of the BBC sitcom Detectorists, it struck me that the real subject of that, too, is friendship. In fact, the more I watch it, the more similarities I see between Andy and Lance and Frog and Toad. Did Mackenzie Crook, who wrote it, know the Frog and Toad books, I wonder? I like to think so. One of the Frog and Toad stories ends: ‘Then Frog and Toad ate a big breakfast. And after that they spent a fine long day together.’ Substitute Andy and Lance, and the last sentence could conclude many a Detectorist episode.
God bless the Rocketship and all who sail in her.