I am in the process of refining my thesis topic - apparently melancholy and childhood is a wee bit expansive. So I've decided to concentrate on Neil Gaiman's kid's books (Coraline, Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish), probably also talking about The New Mother and Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass because Gaiman recognises them as influences, and well, because I love them. It feels like a good approach because I wanted to write about books I admire and an author I thought I could learn from. As a baby writer many years ago, I was often thwarted by a quest for atmosphere. I would have some fantastic idea for a story but in the early stages I would become frustrated about not being able to permeate my writing with a particular mood (and that mood was probably always melancholy). I love that Gaiman writes melancholy books but not melancholy characters, his main characters act fueled by their own spirit and agency. He is also great with humour and has a nice light touch with the absurd and the surreal.
I am having a rest from my junior novel (aka Seed or Rosie) and concentrating on my YA chick lit, working title is The Indigo Girls. I've been using a book called Odd Girl out: the hidden culture of aggression in girls to help get into my character's heads (recommended by Kate Constable), since my three main characters are all on different rungs of the social ladder and the construct of "popularity" and desirability is something that comes up. I highly recommend the book. It's a) a fantastic vicarious read because it uses a lot of case studies; b) I found myself remembering all sorts of things from school and just feelings of being a teenager (not in a negative way, although they weren't all good memories); c) it reframes a lot of stuff that people assume is 'normal girl behaviour' as bullying, which is actually very reassuring and d) it does give you some sense of how to deal with it in your own kids as a parent or teacher. I actually also think the book is also relevant to boys and the nuances of their relationships, more than the author gives credence to - or certainly the mixed group of friends I had as a teenager, though of course there is a different potency in boy-girl relationships. Frankly, boys are capable of being as bitchy and underhanded and clandestine as girls, but because its 'girlish' behaviour I bet it's really underestimated as a form of boy bullying both in terms of the act and the consequences (ie boys feeling threatened and damaged by it - I'd argue that boys are just as scared of social isolation as girls, even if they don't quite crave the same intensity of closeness). I'd love to see the study expanded.
Anyway, it was a good read for me at the moment because Fred's peer group have started with the 'You're not my friend' and 'you can't play with us' stuff. I know Fred is occasionally a perpetrator aswell as a victim, since she does it with Una (from what I've observed she doesn't do it with other kids her own age yet but who knows what happens at creche. But I get the feeling she is rehearsing these fluid notions of friendship at home in a safe environment with Una and us and that it will be a few months before she brings it into her peer environment). The book doesn't really talk about how to deal with it at this level, which I think is an oversight as patterns of friendship and therefore bullying start here. We found a lovely book at the library called Together by Jane Simmons who also writes books about a duck called Daisy. I love her soft illustrations and the way she conveys character and movement. The book deals with the issue in a lovely, gentle way (two dogs are best friends, till they realise that the like different things and they say those terrible words, 'You're not my best friend any more', then learn that their friendship is more important than their differences and being friends isn't about being the same).
I tell ya, one of the best things about being an adult is not being scared of your friends anymore. And speaking of which, I'm off to Kate's to