Posted: April 20, 2013 in Editing, Kikimora, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

As discussed yesterday, I had to add in a new scene to the gutted opening chapter of Kikimora.

Kikimora is a monster, created for the purpose of terrorising humans. But she has been raised by a natural philosopher type of magician, and so her education is intellectual as well as practical. In order to give a flavour of her peculiar upbringing I wanted to mention some of the obscure texts she is required to read, and the words she doesn’t understand and has to ask to be explained to her.

These texts are largely concerned with the nature of evil, with death, horror and torture. What kind of strange words might she encounter in them?

This has brought me back to a perennial issue of how you decide what age group you are writing for. It’s such a big topic that it deserves a post of its own (and will get one shortly). But for the time being, I’m veering towards the middle-grade camp, (9-12 year olds), rather than young adult.

The Stora Hammars stone from Gotland

The Stora Hammars stone from Gotland, demonstrating ‘The blood-eagle’ [Source: Wikipedia]

One of the terms I’m thinking of using is ‘Blood-eagle.’ The passage in question reads,

“Blood-eagle: a method of execution practised by the Norse-men, in which the ribs are severed from the spine, and splayed out like wings, followed by the lungs.”

You might think: that is far too gruesome for children! Are you insane?

But although it was long ago, I kind of remember being ten. What I recall is that although real death and misery upset me greatly (I remember running away from the TV news and locking myself in the bathroom to cry) I was fascinated by abstract horror. I loved visiting medieval castles, and was always most interested in the torture devices.

Of course, that horror was once visited on real people, but at the age of ten, medieval times seemed as far away and as unreal as myths and fairy tales.

Another reason I’m uncertain about it is that it occurs on the first page or so. I wouldn’t want anyone to read that and be put off, thinking the whole book is going to be gruesome and sensationalist.

It is so hard to get the correct balance in the opening pages of your story, and there are so many subtle little ways you can screw it up.

I suspect that the deciding factor in whether or not it’s acceptable is not so much how graphic the description is, but whether it is an abstract idea (like the definition of blood-eagle), or whether it’s an actual event happening in the story.

Thoughts, anyone? What’s the most gruesome thing you’ve read in a children’s book? And did you think it was too much, or was it okay? More importantly did the kids think it was upsetting? Or did they laugh gleefully and tell all their pals?

  1. MishaBurnett says:

    I think the blood eagle is over the top for middle grade. If I read that in the first chapter of a novel I would not recommend it for that age group. I agree with you that kid’s books are often violent (I suspect Rohl Dahl’s career body count rivals Robert Ludlam’s) but that seems too graphic a description.

    Actually, it kind of grosses me out, and I am a 50 year old horror writer.

  2. Pete Denton says:

    I don’t remember reading much at that age, but I was becoming fascinated with horror films. It’s difficult to tell these days, but they seem a lot older than kids used to be, if you know what I mean.

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