Monday 24 September 2012

Jonathan Stroud: The F Word is Fantasy

By Candy Gourlay

My trophy photo with Jonathan when we met at last year's
Hay Festival
A year ago, I attended a brilliant Patrick Hardy Lecture* on The F Word: Writing Fantasy for Children by Jonathan Stroud (of Bartimaeus Trilogy fame).

I meant to blog about it then, but couldn't for lack of notes (my shorthand just couldn't keep up with the speed of Jonathan's delivery. Just saying).

It was a terrific lecture and I've always regretted not managing to report on it here. Googling around recently, I discovered that Jonathan's lecture has been posted in its entirety here. Hurray!

I would urge fans and writers of Fantasy to click over to the link. Jonathan covers a lot of ground, ultimately asking the question: is Fantasy relevant? What's the point of writing fantasy?

Just to give you a taster of the lecture, here are some choice cuts:

Big things are going on. Real things. Real issues. And here I am pondering about fantasy books. How do you make that relevant to anything? ... What’s the point of fantasy? What’s the point of writing it now?

... the word (Fantasy) is not necessarily a compliment. It has connotations. It has a track record. It has previous. To them it basically boils down to something involving hairy dwarfs, dragons, orcs, wizards with big hats and, if you’re really unlucky, roaming gangs of singing elves. 

All writing is, at heart, a response to other stories – to ones that you’ve been told. It’s a desire to fill in the gaps they’ve left, to add your voice to the long, unbroken chain of tales stretching back into the dark. Above all, it’s about recreating the magic: you’re looking to ensnare other people the way that you’ve just been ensnared.

... all those Tolkienesque epic fantasies are the literary equivalent of inter-railing. They give you thrills aplenty, and they lead you off to obscure and exciting regions, but they do so in a way that’s fundamentally pretty safe.

For me, this dual process is an essential component of good fantasy writing. You’re employing two opposite sensibilities – the improvised and the rational – two opposing  methods of creating. And this collision echoes the themes of the subject, which is about the collision of the imaginary with the everyday ...

Read The F Word: Writing Fantasy for Children (Patrick Hardy Lecture 2011)

I have very personal reasons for admiring Jonathan's writing. It was his Bartimaeus trilogy that cracked reading for my reading-averse son.

Any mother who experiences the moment her child falls in love with reading can't help but feel forever in the debt of the wizard who performed the magic.

Here is Jonathan Stroud's Tumblr blog and you can also follow him on Twitter.

*Tomorrow, Tuesday, 25 September 2012, the Children's Book Circle is hosting another Patrick Hardy Lecture, this time featuring editor Marion Lloyd. 


  1. I can't go to the Marion Llloyd lecture tomorrow but if you did and you're blogging about it, please post the link in the comments below - I would LOVE to hear what she says!

  2. I remember his talk last year, it was great. And I lugged a first edition hardback of The Amulet of Samarkand for him to sign. My kids loved those books.

  3. Oh thanks for commenting, Jackie. I don't usually expect comments when I'm pointing people away - like the last one I wrote trumpetting wonderful post by Julie Bertagna. Tried to turn off the comments to spare the readers but turning it off made Blogger turn off our 'Wot We Said' feed.

    I have a feeling you will be at the event I'm going to later ... don't suppose you're going to the Marion Llloyd talk?

  4. Hii there Candy, I did go to the Marion Lloyd talk, but I don't blog (yet?) I can tell you that it was a fascinating 75 minute, full of humour and passion, and the list of people she has worked with was arose call of the best writers of the past 4 decades in the UK (and Sharon Creech who is US I believe) The Invisibility cloak she refers to in her title sums up her voyage from the anonymity of being an editor and bookseller into the limelight of running her own imprint. I have to say I am sad she is retiring, she seems so young! I hope there are other like her (a hard act to follow) in the business now for all aspiring writers to look to. I'm sorry to have missed the social, but it was well worth going to hear ML talk. PS There's a piece bybJulia Eccleshare on line in Publishers Weekly from April this year about her.
    Eden Endfield

    1. Thanks, Eden! I hope Marion or the CBC will post the full lecture up somewhere, someday.

  5. Hi Candy, I've just written about Marion's lovely lecture here.


  6. Oooh just found this wonderful post about Marion Lloyd's lecture at the ever excellent Nosy Crow blog.

    "She spoke about the satisfaction she derived from being completely behind the scenes, acknowledging that one of the challenges of setting up Marion Lloyd Books was that it required her to throw off her invisibility cloak to be the face of the imprint. She said she liked it that the reader of the books she edited gave no thought to the editorial work that had been done to shape and change a book" Read it


Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom