Hal’s appreciation of books that make you ‘see what is going on’ has coincided with a new interest in creative writing. His father, psychodynamic counsellor Roger Mills, ponders on the connection.
Over the last few weeks I have been reading the first volume of Chris Wooding’s Broken Sky series with Hal. The series looks like it is a hefty one – there are at least nine volumes listed for sale on Amazon – and we are only at the very beginning, but they appear to have had an immediate impact on Hal.
It isn’t just that there is the usual begging for another chapter when I close up the book and tell him that it is time to go to sleep. That is normal stuff for Hal. He would try to get more of pretty much any story if the choice was between it and the lights being turned out. No, what I’ve noticed about the Broken Sky books is that Hal really seems to appreciate the way they are written.
He commented on this when we were a short way through volume one. I had put the book down and was just settling Hal in his bed when he looked at me and said. ‘I really like that book. It’s full of “wow” words.’ Though I had an inkling, I asked Hal to tell me more about ‘wow’ words. ‘They are words that are really powerful. You can see what is going on. Wow words are cool,’ was his response.
Until this moment I had not heard Hal make a comment on writing style before. This is not to say that he hadn’t been affected by it. Many times I’ve noticed how vivid writing grips his interest, while more plodding prose – for example a childhood favourite of mine, Henry Treece’s Legions of the Eagle which I tried to interest Hal in – leaves him looking around the room, bored and uninterested. But I had never heard him actually make a remark about style before.
This may appear to be a relatively trivial point. But I think it marks an important cognitive shift. In recognising that style makes a difference, you are recognising that words aren’t just simple, dispassionate conveyers of meaning, but that they vary in power. You are recognising that vividly expressive writing conveys meaning differently, more potently than matter-of-fact, unimaginative words can do. And you are recognising that it is important which words you yourself choose to use.
It is probably no accident that alongside this shift in understanding of how words work, Hal seems to be developing an interest in creative writing. Just before Christmas, inspired by the school play, he penned a couple of scenes of a play of his own (a ghoulish affair in which an army of skeleton soldiers kidnap a princess). Tenacity isn’t Hal’s strong suit, and work on the play petered out, but more recently at school they have been writing fables and Hal, clearly thoroughly into this, told us with great pride of the fable of the Dog and Frog which he co-authored with another child. Hal’s school are brilliant at commendations and he got a certificate of achievement for his fable. I expect something similar happened in T S Eliot’s boyhood.
The Broken Sky series by Chris Wooding is published by Scholastic.