Am I risking my daughter’s safety to help her follow her dream?
Sometimes our children will love things and want things that we know are bad for them. We guide them, advise them, keep them as safe as possible because we love them and its our job. But what if they want something that is good for them in so many ways, but carries a risk that makes you feel sick. What then? Do you pull the plug and prioritise their safety, or let them take the chance and just fight to keep them from getting hurt in the process?
My six year old daughter loves stories. She has always created stories to act out with her toys, loves to try writing stories in brightly coloured felt tip pens complete with illustrations, and has piles of books by her bed to read under the covers by torchlight.
As a writer myself, and a bookworm from childhood too, I have always encouraged and supported this love. So much so, that when she came to me to ask if we could co-write a book of her creation, I agreed.
We sat with her fluffy notepad and a pen, wrote down her character names, key plot points, and conflicts. She had clear ideas and I realised we could actually write a pretty good children’s story with what she’d come up with. From there we had to start. Sometimes she’d sit at my computer carefully typing, tongue sticking out of her earnest little face. Other times she’d sit on my lap as I typed, telling me what she wanted me to write next. The rest of the time she’d spend the morning before school telling me what was going to happen next, and whilst she was there I translated it to the page ready for when she got home.
We’ve ended up with about twelve thousand words and a story to be proud of. Obviously the book has my hand in it; I’m an adult and an experienced writer, and she’s a six year old who can’t spell “author”. But every character, every event, and every concept has come from her. And it’s good. So good that it’s worthy of going out into the world to be read by people other than she and I. Indeed, the editor who I’ve worked with for many years now has taken it on, and has given excellent feedback, much to my daughter’s delight.
This leaves me at a quandary. Whilst for many years I have written about my children, shared their exploits on social media and in articles, I have been careful to avoid using their full names or their faces in public posts. I am horribly aware of the evils of the world, and I don’t want them to be exposed to it. I want to protect them.
However, this book changes things. There will be a book release party. There will be publicity photos. She’ll be exposed to the life of an author, and whilst it has many obvious blessings, it comes with risk. By letting her take her love of creating stories to a new level, I am agreeing to expose her to a world I have so wanted to shield her from.
I could, of course, keep her identity private. The book could still go out without her name on the cover. She could still receive any earnings we make for herself, as I promised her. But she is proud of it, and she should be. She has seen me at book parties, seen me signing books and posing for photos, and doing the glamorous side of writing that happens so rarely, but is an exciting novelty that makes a glorious change from working in your pyjamas at all hours, sweating over a keyboard.
In short, I have inspired her to commit herself to this work, and I don’t want her to miss out on the opportunity to show off what she did. This book is not a JJ Barnes book. It is the first, possibly of many, Rose McKinney and JJ Barnes book.
So I made the choice to let her face and her name go out into the world. Because I remember the first time I held a book with my name on the cover. I remember the first time someone read my book because they wanted to, not because they were my family and felt obliged. I remember standing at my first book release party and being handed a massive bunch of flowers and how proud and overwhelmed I felt. And I don’t want to deny her what she has worked for because I’m scared.
I have to keep her safe even if she has her face on Instagram . I have to make sure I’m able to keep her life quiet and safe, even if people on Twitter know her name. It’ll be harder than it is now, but you damn well know I’m going to do it.
She may grow to love writing in the way I do. She may want to learn how to write and create worlds without me to guide her, to understand story structure and characterisation. She may become a writer far more successful than I could hope to be. Or she might decide it’s not the life for her, and it’s a great experience and memory to hold, but nothing more. I’ll just have to wait and see who she becomes and what she loves, but for now I’ll focus on making this experience as positive and fun as possible, because ultimately it’s not about reviews or sales or opinions from strangers, she’ll just be a little girl going to a party thrown in her honour. She doesn’t need to worry about anything more than what she wants to wear, who she wants to play with, and what she wants to eat. She can leave the worrying to me. I’m very good at it.