Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Friday 16 July 2021

The Words That Set Us Free

This week Lyndon Riggall reflects on the importance of writers adding their personal stories to enrich the lives of others.

When I was Tasmanian judge for the Children’s Book Council—a role which seems a lifetime ago now—I noticed an interesting pattern that I still think about to this day. It seemed to me that books followed a sequence in which trust and security were gradually eroded over the years of life… parents, doctors, teachers and friends were—in early childhood reading—almost universally kind, reliable and to be depended-upon implicitly, but by the time readers hit the senior-secondary years, contributions to literature seemed to feel it necessary that even the most outwardly-trustworthy figure was a contradiction of secrets, complications and dangers. The certainty and safety of younger years of reading was—in a manner that I’m sure is both thrilling and frightening—systematically torn away.

Life, of course, is a mixture of good and bad, but this configuration raises some interesting questions about the nature of writing itself. Many of us seek escapism and safety from our reading, and I know a number of adults (and I count myself as one of their number) who even crawl back to children’s literature throughout their lives to bring comfort, solace and hope to their hearts in times of hardship. Yet Richard Flanagan wrote in the Monthly recently that “what is at stake – what is always at stake – is finally not being free to write but being free to write the unsayable, the thing not allowed to be said, to tear aside the shrouds of power and wealth and their accompanying conventions and orthodoxies, to describe what is.” Ultimately, it seems to me, it is through the evolving stories that we explore and experience that we learn such truths. As a growing raft of children’s books points to the relevance of such topics as climate change, the refugee experience, racism and gender diversity, we must remember that, as Lemony Snicket puts it, “All of the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.” Words set ideas free, but more importantly they set people free, and the moment when we recognise our world or our-selves in a narrative—a thought or truth that we had previously considered unknowable, or even unsayable—is the moment that writers and readers live for. Nevertheless, this takes courage in both the construction and the publishing… A courage, I hope, that we will continue to have, and to foster.

Everyone of us has a book inside us (or at least that’s what they tell us) and yet so many of us will take these unpublished tomes to our graves with us—another memento to line our coffin, another item on the bucket list that never gets scratched off. Imagine, now, all of those untold tales that pulse and rush under our skin like the blood in our veins; the letters flushing through us as if they are alphabet soup down a drainpipe, begging to be rescued and strung into words, into sentences, into stories.

Of course, they are our stories, and they deserve to be shared, and we should be proud of anyone brave enough to share them. And so, I send my love and gratitude and encouragement to all of our brave writers and storytellers—those who write for children, adults and everyone in-between—and I say thank you. Because you show us the way forward, the way that takes us from each new beginning to “The End,” simply by being brave enough to dare to set those stories free… and, in doing so, sometimes… 

... Even setting us free too.

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher from Launceston. He can be found on his personal blog at http://www.lyndonriggall.com and on Twitter @lyndonriggall.

1 comment:

  1. Reading gives me vicarious experiences that weren't within my reach. From reading horse and dog stories in my pre teens, to learning empathy for 'other' through my teens and adult years: books like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Michelle Magorian's Goodnight Mister Tom and Boor Pryor's Maybe Tomorrow, to name a few.