When I interviewed Natasha Farrant for issue #241 20 Jan 2022 of Writers’ Forum, she explained how she ensures there is a message of hope in her books for children.
At a fundamental level, The Girl Who Talked To Trees is about our relationship to nature and about finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in. The inspiration for the book was born of a conversation with her publisher at Zephyr. They had worked together on another collection of stories, Eight Princesses And A Magic Mirror and were thinking of ideas for a new book along a similar format. For a long time she had been thinking about how to respond creatively to the climate and ecological crisis.
She said it is so difficult to know how to do this for children – at an existential level, how do you balance the magnitude of the crisis with hope for the future? One of Natasha’s publishing friends suggested to do it through myth and fairy tale, and that really struck a chord with Natasha.
“I knew I wanted to write about the crisis but I also knew I wanted a book that would give hope for the future. I’m not saying trees are going to get us out of this mess, but they are a key part of the jigsaw – and such a relatively simple part.”Natasha Farrant
She continued there are two elements to the book: the major element is the stories themselves, but each story is introduced by a number of science facts. Natasha feels stories are such a powerful force in bringing about change, but without the science we’ll get nowhere.
As with all her books, though the themes are serious and the starting point in this case was so huge, the overall aim remained the same: to tell stories which would captivate and transport. She spent a long time thinking about Olive and getting to know her, wondering what traits I could give her that children could identify with.
‘She was clever and kind and intensely shy and her best friend was a four-hundred-year-old oak.’Extract from The Girl Who Talked To Trees
Which fits, because:
‘When you are so shy you dare not even look at anyone in case they want to talk to you – or worse, want you to talk to them – a tree is a very sensible choice for a friend.’Extract from The Girl Who Talked To Trees
From the moment they decided on the theme of the book, Natasha was on the look-out for trees which captured her imagination, like the baobab plane in our local park, famous because after World War Two it was struck by lightning. Everyone thought it was dead, but then it came back to life and became known as the Tree of Hope. Then there were the box trees in the woods near one of her friend’s homes. Once part of a formal planting scheme on a grand estate, they were now growing wild. Natasha liked the idea of a tree that had escaped.
Natasha revealed she prefers to write long hand, using a refillable fountain pen (no throwaway plastic) her husband bought her as a gift twenty years ago. She uses extra-large Moleskine notebooks because she likes their paper, and few things give her greater pleasure than the sensation of ink gliding across those smooth pages.
“This is a serious point: writing is hard, so it’s important to make those bits I can control as pleasurable as possible.”Natasha Farrant
The notebook writing is for doodling, or as a fellow writer calls it, noodling. Natasha sets herself a goal of three pages a day for a first draft, and tries not to think too much about what she is writing so it is more like exploring, free to go in any direction she desires. She writes on the right-hand page, leaving the left-hand page free for notes, observations or actual doodles. She allows herself absolute creative freedom.
At a later point she starts to type everything up. Natasha claims this is where the more rigorous work begins, of trying to shape all that noodling into a story. This can be a hard slog, with many, many different versions printed and scribbled over and retyped until it’s just right.
For Natasha, the key to get anyone turning the pages is to make sure they really care about the characters and understand what is motivating them. For this, your characters must have a clear goal, that really matters to them personally and – because they care about the character – also matters to the reader. There should also be a sense that your characters are growing.
In the case of The Girl Who Talked To Trees, Olive’s goal is to save her tree. As she strives towards this goal, she also learns to overcome her shyness and to speak up. Natasha stressed this question of motivation and growth should apply to every character, not just the main protagonists.
Natasha said, if you want to write for children, it’s important that you read other children’s authors as widely as possible. And also that you acquaint yourself with some children. We all to an extent write for the child reader that we once were, but unless you are very, very young, tastes may have evolved since that time. Without losing sense of your own voice, do bear in mind trends and mindsets which may have changed since you were a child.
You can find out more about Natasha Farrant at www.natashafarrant.com, @NatashaFarrant1 (Twitter) and @natasha_farrant (Instagram)
To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #241 20 Jan 2022 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.
To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.