My first two books were published for adults (Observatory Mansions and Alva and Irva), my third is for young adults (Heap House). Along the way my protagonists have gotten younger, they move a great deal more quickly, worry less (though still worry a bit), cogitate but run while cogitating, have problematic relatives (true of all three, who doesn’t?), fall in love with greater urgency (as if this was the only time it could ever happen), inhabit a fictitious part of a real city (London) where before they had existed only in cities that never existed, and are historical (they must be long dead by now).
Moving from adult’s books to children’s books did not feel for me an enormous shift. It seemed to me that I might have the best of all possible worlds writing a young adult trilogy. I could set it in London, whilst I was living a long way away in Texas and that gave me a sense of freedom, almost as if London was a fictitious place; I could grow new parts of London whilst knowing that the view out of the window (cacti, the occasional hummingbird) would in no way contradict it. You can be dark, very dark in children’s literature, a sense of hope is helpful perhaps, a sense that things may get better. Reading Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy I suddenly realised quite how far you could go, those books gave me a huge sense of freedom. I do think you can do anything, as long as there’s a sense of movement, a real sense of danger, a real story. I’m fascinated by the current argument about how dark and dangerous children’s books can be or whether authors have gone too far, I think they can delve very dark. The scene in The Northern Lights when we see the child wandering confused without his daemon is as disturbing and extraordinary as anything written by Kafka, the brutality and danger of Grimms’ tales, like The Juniper Tree, is both appalling and exhilarating, and there are times when the unsettling upturned domestic world of Coraline seems close to Beckett. At times so-called children’s writers can be crueler than so-called adult writers, just look at Hans Christian Andersen, at how he makes his heroes suffer, sometimes without any hope of salvation, but that tackling, and overcoming, of darkness seems to me to be very urgent in children’s literature.
I have always loved the monsters and dark things that can inhabit children’s works; mean and miserable relatives that seem related to Dickens’ glorious mollusks, the magic (not necessarily wizards), the slipping into new worlds in order to better understand our own. Young adult fiction is alive with new ideas and excitement, more books are being read and being written, writers are experimenting, there are so many great new worlds. And more and more there are those books that are both for young adults and adults and so, at times, the classification can seem cumbersome and misleading. Writing and illustrating a children’s trilogy was always something I had dreamed about doing, but I could never quite make the leap. Teaching creative writing at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and at the Michener Centre at the University of Texas (both so, so far away from my native England) and teaching writers about fairy tales and how they can inspire writers, going back to so many old texts, perhaps for children perhaps for adults, at last gave me the courage, because I felt I needed more courage to write for children than for adults. I felt I might have a stab at it last, by writing about a fictitious borough of London where all the enormous amount of waste, all the tons of rubbish, were collected and sorted, and centering my book on the unhappy, sprawling, possessed family that is in charge of farming the garbage, a grim Victorian family, who have been working so hard with objects that they have, in certain cases, began to turn into them. As a writer writing for young adults, I suddenly felt set free.
Heap House, the first novel in the IREMONGER trilogy by Edward Carey, was published in September 2013 by Hot Key Books with illustrations by the author.