In terms of writing, the most important phase of my career was during my seven years as the Head of English at Pendleton Sixth Form College in Salford. We were a national pilot for the then newly-created English Language ‘A’ Level and for several years were the largest centre in the country. One important aspect of the new syllabus was Writing for Children. This was linked to the study of Child Language Acquisition.
I have always been guided by my knowledge of the stages of child language development but I have never been inhibited by it. This is partly because creativity has its own life and partly because it is important not to lock children into linguistic cells.
It is vital to find ways through to a child’s mind and imagination. Rhythm is central to this. Its music is so powerful that it can excite not just the emotions but also the intellect, leading children to an understanding of vocabularies beyond their notional range. Onomatopoeia has similar potency because sounds and meanings are so closely inter-linked; indeed, some linguists believe that early speech involved both speech and song, with no clear sense that the two were at all different.
Language also extends beyond the auditory range into other senses. Some words feel good in the mouth, having a ‘taste’ of their own so that quite sophisticated vocabulary stays with us and leads us to an understanding because we want to hold it in our mouths and savour it. This is most apparent to me in Mercator’s lines and in the section on the Four Horses of the Seasons. More tenuously, some words have a visual appeal – perhaps in Dawn’s creation of the rainbow spectrum but more for me in the orthography of multi-syllabled words such as ‘acquiesced’ ‘diaphanous’ ‘celandine’ ‘gyrations’ and ‘stalactites’.
I also believe in stretching children’s minds, not in the coercive sense of urging children to reach beyond their capabilities but in the belief that the mind is ever seeking greater understanding of itself and of the world at large. Language is the creative engagement of the individual with the mystery of life.
The Magic Makers is a myth. It doesn’t set out to tell the true story of creation but to weave a colourful tapestry and to sing its song in a beguiling language – thus drawing both the mind and the emotions into a response to its themes of the wonders of the world and the curiously distracting processes of change.
Reading can be a beautifully solitary experience: the individual mind stimulated by an engaging text. It can also be both social and educational. I have spoken with an outstanding local Head Teacher in Bradford and a leading regional specialist in literacy, who is currently in charge of Teaching & Learning at the second biggest Primary Training institution nationally. They are intent on adopting The Magic Makers as a transitional text for young people passing from Year 6 to Year 7, involving them in a shared linguistic experience of exploration and growing understanding.
Turning from school to home, my notional age group for The Magic Makers is ten years and beyond – ‘beyond’ meaning well into adulthood. The adults who have read the book have been intrigued and captivated by it, thus making it a text which they can share with their children and grandchildren in a creative and involving way.