Home > children's book, fiction, short stories > As They Grow Older: S M Cashmore

As They Grow Older: S M Cashmore

November 19, 2009

Witch Street is paved with stories for children. Strange stories. Spooky stories. Halloween stories.

This collection, AS THEY GROW OLDER, has a life of its own. Starting with The Toyman and The Grumpy Browns to fascinate the very young, the stories themselves grow older, stranger and spookier, until the almost adult Last and Longest Story at the very end.

AS THEY GROW OLDER should be read with the lights dimmed, read aloud at Halloween. It doesn’t matter how old your children are, there is a spooky story in this collection written especially for them to listen to…..

If they dare.

This collection of short, spooky stories is cleaner than most, with a mercifully-low error-count. The writer has a fluent, if rather naive style; and he has a good grasp of grammar, too. These things count strongly in his favour and were I reading this as a slush-pile submission rather than a published book, those good points would mean that he was automatically in the top ten per cent of the work before me.

He would still receive a rejection, though. His tone is at times a little patronising and while that might have worked a few decades ago it’s no longer acceptable in children’s fiction; and his stories, while perfectly pleasant, are neither convincing nor compelling. The story Nearly Nine describes a monster which lives in the narrow space behind the wardrobe: consequently, it’s shaped like a bath mat (and I quite liked that idea). The bath mat monster ripples across the bedroom floor one night, creeps up onto the bed where a child lies sleeping and—here’s the punchline—wishes him a happy birthday. And that’s the end of the story. This could have been done so much better: had the monster approached the child a few times but been thwarted, and had the reader had known that the monster felt the time was running out, the reader would have wondered why it wanted to reach the boy and there would have been some real tension to the story. As it is, we have some funny description of the monster, a brief moment of tension—and then it’s over, and nothing much has happened.

I’d advise this writer to work more on the structure of his stories, to consider developing their narrative arcs a little more fully, and to update his tone just a little. I read a respectable forty-nine pages out of a total of 369, and feel that this writer has plenty of unrealised potential.

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  1. November 20, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    JaneThank you for your comments. Much appreciated.I hear what you are saying about Nearly Nine, but in fact this story has worked very well over the years (I’ve read it out to dozens of children at home and at schools). The early stories in the book have a very plain “structure” as they’re written for very young children and much more would just confuse them. The later stories have much more shape to them, and the characters are drawn more fully, until (in my opinion anyway) the last couple of stories wouldn’t leave an adult dissatisfied.I’m a bit puzzled by your comment about being patronising – can you explain more? I’d certainly try to put that right if I can.I was interested to read your “slush pile” comments too. Glad you didn’t find too many grammatical or punctuation errors! But in fact I’ve never submitted these stories anywhere, for the simple reason I can’t find where to send them. I’ve checked the internet and various editions of Writers and Artists Yearbook, without finding any agent or publisher who looks as if they’d be interested. Maybe I’m being too picky, or maybe I’m just the world’s worst marketer.Finally, you might be interested to know I went on a Halloween tour of schools last month, reading out stories to classes. I read out Nearly Nine, Christmas Wishes, Wheelybins and Here Be Giants, depending on the age of the children I was asked to read to, and they all seemed to go down well (yes, including Nearly Nine ). And the schools all bought one or two copies for their libraries, which gives me a sense of satisfaction and perhaps covers my petrol costs!Thanks again. I’ll keep reading your reviews, as they often raise interesting points. It will be interesting to see where the self-publishing boom eventually leads, will it not?stephen

  2. November 21, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Stephen,Anonymous children's book author checking in here. You want to be careful of using children's reactions to you reading your stories as an indicator of literary quality. It does mean that you relate well to children and that you read aloud well, which are great things. But they're also what the children are reacting to.If I were you I'd join a critique group and try to get some feedback from other writers about the writing… and keep an open mind about what you're hearing and try (as much as possible, and believe me I know it's not easy) not to get too defensive.

  3. November 23, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    AnonymousThanks for joining in! I agree with one of your comments, but the other seems plain daft.I agree it's tough not to get defensive, and that it's a good idea to use writers groups and so forth. In fact, I have. Almost all of the stories in this book have been critted by either a writing group (belong to two) or an on-line forum; some minor niggles but pretty positive in the main.But as for ignoring children's reactions – whatever for? The stories are designed to be read aloud to children, so if children enjoy hearing them, why on earth would I disregard that feedback? Seemeth to make no sense.Allow me to put my money where my mouth is. My website stephencashmore.com has one of the stories available as a teaser. Not the best, not the worst, just one from the middle somewhere. Would you care to check it out?stephen

  4. November 24, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Stephen,It's not a question of ignoring children's reactions but of the actual weight you give them– you shouldn't, for example, equate them with the reaction you've gotten from a publishing insider. I thought this was crazy too when my first editor told it to me, but her reasoning was pretty simple: reading-wise, children pretty much like whatever you give them. Editors, at least here in the US, are much more concerned with how the critics will react, because unless the book receives positive reviews, libraries won't acquire it and the publisher will lose money.Last weekend I met with a kids' book club that had just read one of my books. They were all hugely enthusiastic about it. You wouldn't get that kind of reaction from adults. An adult group would've been more critical. (Although, just possibly: not to my face.)I looked at your website and found a story that was a pdf download, but when I read the first graf it didn't look like it was for children. Wrong story, probably.

  5. November 24, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Stephen wrote, "I’m a bit puzzled by your comment about being patronising – can you explain more? I’d certainly try to put that right if I can.Stephen, you might find it useful to read your stories next to some good current children's fiction: it might help you here. I did get the impression, several times, that you were talking down to your audience, rather than trying to engage and entertain them. I'm glad that you've been well-received whenever you've read your stories out to children: but has already been pointed out, children usually do enjoy being read to and that often has far less to do with the story than the process. For example: my boys used to love finding odd things for me to read to them: one of their favourite read-aloud books was the Yellow Pages. I'd find the most obscure entries I could find, then put on accents and make funny faces as I read out the names and numbers: they laughed so hard they could hardly speak. They loved it. But the Yellow Pages hardly counts as great children's literature.I think Anon makes a great point when he or she advises you to join a crit group: but I'd go further, and advise you to join a GOOD crit group: one populated by successful writers. There's little point taking advice from people without the expertise to advise you well, after all.(Thanks, Anon, for your input, by the way. I agree with all you've said, even if Stephen doesn't: I think I can see the fingerprints of a publishing professional in your comments, and I'm grateful that you took the time.)

  6. April 6, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Hi,I just wondering,if your kids never asked you to write spooky stories every halloween would you have still wrote thoose stories.From, Charlotte Anne RussellPS:you might remenber my name from barassie primary school.

  7. April 26, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Stephen,I do think that referring to perfectly logical advice from Anonymous as "daft" speaks volumes about your blinkered attitude and this is what has prompted me to write more than anything else.I have read a selection of the stories from your book and, in comparison with some of the current children's literature, find it quite lacking. I also agree that it would be foolhardy to take children's reactions as an accurate barometer of your stories, particularly on school visits. As someone who has witnessed many author visits to schools I have seen the warnings and coaching that goes on before an author visit to ensure a positive reaction from the pupils.I do think you should take excellent advice when it's being given for free!

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