I remember once as a child, heading up to my bedroom to discover that it had completely disappeared. In its place, I found the rolling hills of Middle Earth, the mischievous magic of Gandalf the Grey, bands of grumpy dwarves and a gold-hoarding dragon. Little did I know it at the time, but I was suffering the consequences of reading fantasy.
I had all the symptoms: treating chores as quests to be solved; spending hours working out which blanket would make the best invisibility cloak and, of course, uttering the famous words, “One more chapter,” each night as I disappeared into The Shire.
I’ve always said that The Hobbit was my first exposure to fantasy, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’d been reading on and off for a few years by then, although without much enthusiasm. The Famous Five were my favourites before The Hobbit; are they any less fantasy because they take place on Earth and aren’t filled with magic? If the joy of fantasy is its ability to make bedrooms disappear, does it really matter if those adventures are to Mordor or to Dorset?
As I grew up, I consumed as much fantasy as I could get my hands on. My advice to budding writers is always the same: write as much as you can, and read everything you can get your hands on. If an artist only looks at one style of painting, that’s all they’ll paint: it’s the same with writing.
In life, there aren’t many new words. Every word an author will ever write will have been used by millions of other people already. What makes a story unique, what will transform a bedroom into a world behind a wardrobe, is the tapestry those words create. The best fantasy authors have a way of taking familiar ideas and passing them through the corkscrew of their mind.
This is what I tried to achieve with my Monstacademy chapter book series. The idea of a child starting a new, magical school isn’t new. Harry Potter does it brilliantly, but long before that there was The Worst Witch. A quick internet search will reveal dozens of books on a similar theme. What I wanted to do was to take the idea and pass it through my own corkscrew. So we end up with a school populated entirely by children who are monsters: vampires, werewolves, trolls and the like.
My twist was to drop a wholly non-magical girl into the school. She has no powers and isn’t a monster. I wanted to see how that dynamic would play out. Hopefully, a few bedrooms have disappeared and been replaced with a school for monsters.
The fact that my first case of fantasy has stayed with me for so long shows the impact that immersive world-building and believable characters can have on children. It’s very easy to get carried away with fantasy and hang the “Closed” sign on the door of reality. But you do that at your peril. When I wrote The Spyglass and the Cherry Tree for The Shadowland Chronicles, I was very aware that reality needed to be…real.
If my character is on another world, there needs to be at least some reference to the fact that the atmosphere might be different. If somebody gets stabbed with a sword, they are most likely going to die. A towering, woody structure covered with green things will always be a tree.
These are realities that children know from their own world, they are anchors to a reality that they can understand. If a magic wand can solve all the world’s problems with one swish, where is the peril? What drives the character forward? There need to be limits to any power and consequences for actions. The risk of failure must balance the possibility of success.
Death is the biggest consequence in fantasy – indeed, in life - and to avoid it would be dishonest. As my literary hero, Terry Pratchett, once said, “You need tragic relief. And you need to let people know that when a lot of frightened people are running around with edged weaponry, there are deaths.”
A character with nothing to fear would be two-dimensional at best. Fear gives a character purpose, and purpose is the driving force of fantasy. It might be the fear of not fitting in, as in the Monstacademy series, or the fear of dying or never making it home, as with The Shadowland Chronicles.
But without fear, bedrooms will only ever be bedrooms.
About the Author:
Matt Beighton is a full-time writer, born somewhere in the midlands in England during the heady days of the 1980s. He is happily married with two young daughters who keep him very busy and suffer through the endless early drafts of his stories. He believes that transporting children to somewhere else is one of the greatest achievements an author can aim for.
Matt's books have been read around the world and awarded the LoveReading4Kids "Indie Books We Love" and Readers' Favorite 5 Star Awards.
Having spent many years as a primary-school teacher, Matt Beighton knows how to bring stories to life. He regularly visits schools and runs creative workshops that ignite a passion for words.
To learn more about Matt and to find his books visit:
Website: https://www.mattbeighton.co.uk Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Bookings: email@example.com Amazon Author: https://geni.us/mattbeighton Twitter: https://twitter.com/mattbeighton Instagram: https://instagram.com/mattbeightonauthor