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JJ Barnes

JJ Barnes writes about parenting, feminism, current affairs and writing

By - JJBarnes

My daughter, the six year old author.

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My daughter, Rose, asked me if we could write a book together. She didn’t want to write one of the books she makes with felt tipped pens and held together with Sellotape, she wanted to write a REAL book. The kind of book I write.

I told her it would take work, and it would take time, but if she was committed to it then we could give it a go, and see what she comes up with.

As it turns out, she was really, really committed to it. She knew the protagonist immediately, Nature-Girl, because it was the super-hero she’d made up for playground games. Nature-Girl who could talk to plants and make them move, could put her arms around trees and listen to what they said.

I could see immediately her inspiration, The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton was in there, as well as the DC Super hero girl cartoons she watches on TV. As she worked out the elements she wanted I saw more and more, the things she loved from stories that inspired her, woven together in her own tale. A school for magical children, like Hogwarts, friends learning and having adventures together, like My Little Pony.

As we talked, she fleshed out the world. Named the teachers for her own teachers, and children in the class for her friends. One of Nature-Girl’s best friends was named Boo for her baby sister, and she liked to whack things with sticks… like her baby sister. She came up with the antagonist, Worst Nightmare, and his army of minions, the Bad Dreams.

She’d sit it at my laptop, earnestly typing away, getting offended by the number of red wriggly lines she got under her efforts at spelling. She’d walk to school detailing exactly what was supposed to happen in the story next so I could go home and write it up. When she got home she’d ask what I’d written and make sure it all matched her ideas. She came up with every character name, every event. As we worked, I soon realised this was actually shaping up to be a pretty good little story.

I sent it for proof reading and, because she’s a legend, my proof-reader Steph of Bookshine and Readbows read it to her children as part of her editing process, and after every chapter she filmed them talking about it, and sent me the videos. We got to see in real time how children responded to her ideas combined with my writing experience, and, for Rose, it was magical.

On Friday night, we got the first copy. I got a text that the delivery was nearly with us, so I took her to the front door. We watched as the van pulled up in front of the house, and the man with the package got out. Rose was bobbing up and down, so excited and so nervous, as he handed it to her. We opened it and she got to see for the first time her book. Her face on the cover, her character she created, and her name. She hugged that book, she jumped up and down with it, she examined the cover and the back, turned the pages inside seeing her ideas in there and so overwhelmed that I was crying too.

I remember having the dream that one day I’d see a book I wrote as a real thing, my name on the cover, and I remember the first time I got to see it, when I held my first book, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit. I remember how I’d cried, how I’d examined it with overwhelming joy, and watching Rose go through those same motions, those same feelings, was incredible.

On Monday morning we took it into school. I hadn’t told her teachers it was happening, and I assume they’d put Rose’s chatter about writing a book down to childish dreams, so it was a bit of a surprise. She was so proud when she took it out of the little green bag she had carefully carried it to school in. Her teachers are special and wonderful people, and how they reacted to her is something I will never forget. The care and love they showed her was beautiful to witness.

In the playground, her best friend came running over and took her hand, delightedly telling Rose that her dad had bought the book for her and they’d started reading it the night before. I think that was the moment Rose realised properly that what she had wasn’t just a one off book that she got to see, but that other children were going to be reading it too. She looked stunned for a moment then the most enormous smile broke out on her face.

I’ve been sent photos of other children with her book and each time I show her she does a dance. She is so happy, and so excited, and so proud. And she’s earned these feelings. She worked hard, she was creative and dedicated, and she’s getting to see that effort paying off. Because what she came up with was genuinely interesting and fun.

Of course, we are in the YouTube kids era and I’ve always been concerned about children thrust into the public eye with no understanding of what’s going on, and I’ve always sworn I would never exploit my own children in that way. But I truly believe this is different. I’m not filming her every moment for one thing, it’s a book. It’s a celebration of her intelligence and creativity, rather than a constant intrusion on her life. But I’m conscious of it.

When we first realised we had something that was real, her father and I talked about the impact it could have on her to put her face and her name out there. Whether the risk was worth it. I don’t want to let this happen without being actively aware of what can happen to children in the public eye if they’re not protected and guided. But seeing her getting to experience this dream come true, and for something intelligent that deserves recognition and respect, is glorious.

I can’t teach her much. I’m not good with numbers, I can’t get my head around sciences, I’m not musical. But I can tell a story, and if I can develop her creativity and love of stories and it brings her the happiness it brings me, then I feel I’ve done something positive in her life. Creativity is a beautiful gift to have, and an active imagination can create wonderful things, and I’m helping my daughter to live a life that celebrates those things.

She may not want to do this for a job, and that’s fine, but she’s already planning books two and three of Nature-Girl so we’ll be going for a while. But even she doesn’t carry it on into adulthood, she’ll always have this time and the evidence of what we created together. She’ll always know that her mother respected her enough to put the time and effort into creating a book based on her ideas. She’ll always remember the time and the laughter and the joy. And I hope that will help her hold the knowledge in her heart that I love her and she matters. My little Nature-Girl.

No matter where her life takes her, we’ll always have this. Nature-Girl Vs Worst Nightmare, by Rose McKinney and J.J. Barnes.

Books by JJ Barnes
Click the picture for books written by JJ Barnes. All available in paperback, kindle, and free to read on kindle unlimited.

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