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Katharine Quarmby

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Writing hard stuff for children

Posted: 11/16/10 05:41 AM ET

I'm nearly at the end of nine months hard slog on my first non-fiction book for adults, - the secret history of disability hate crime. It's not a cheery subject, as my children keep telling me. They want me to write something cheerful next and return to children's literature - and I don't blame them.

But they have read the odd extract, including a poem by a disabled woman, who, as a child, saw a friend of her being drowned by nurses, like an unwanted kitten. And they've been with me on some of my on-location trips too. And I don't apologise, either, for sharing this story with them - children of their age, who I met when I was filming in Rwanda, had seen torture and genocide. Indeed, when I was translating testimonies for a Rwandan charity after the genocide the one that struck me most was of a woman who had witnessed the Hutu militia strew chilli pepper in the houses of the wanted, so that children, hiding behind furniture and under beds, could be hauled out and murdered.

We can't shield our children from violence, evil and bloodshed, not for ever, not in a networked world where the concept of the watershed has all but gone, but we can teach them how to live with it, understand it and be part of the generation that says: "never again".

So I'm looking forward to writing something cheerful next, and going out filming again instead of putting pen to paper and writing from the heart, every day on a subject that lays bare something deep and dark within our society.

But I'm also wondering how we show children, in our prose, our poetry, our fiction and our non-fiction, a vision of how the world ought to be, as well as how it is. A modern utopia, so that when they read about the everyday harassment of disabled people they can also see a world beyond that, a world where people are taking down walls and ceilings rather than putting them up - shaking hands, rather than striking each other.