15 August 2012

Play It Again, Psammead

The success of various latter-day sequels to classic (i.e., public-domain or licensed-by-heirs) children’s novels prompted Puffin to invite Jacqueline Wilson to write such a book. After initially declining, she chose to follow on a childhood favorite, E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, as she described in the Guardian. Her column answers many of the questions I had about this project last year.

Wilson also found that she couldn’t write in the same mode as the original book.
Nesbit had written her book in the third person [in fact, as a delightfully intrusive narrator], but I much prefer writing in the first person, and I thought it would be easier and more involving for my readers if I chose a child narrator again. I invented Rosalind, a quiet, shy, intense girl. She's a very keen reader – and so, naturally enough, when the story opens she's been reading Five Children and It. She has a younger brother, Robbie, a delicate, timid boy who loves playing with his toy zoo animals. Their parents have divorced – no surprise there, this is a Jacqueline Wilson novel.

The children have gone to spend part of their summer holiday with their dad, while their mum goes to an Open University summer school. He is now married to Alice, and they have a toddler called Maudie. Alice also has a daughter from a former relationship. She's named Samantha, but she's always called Smash. She’s a fierce, opinionated, streetwise child, who’s a royal pain most of the time. Smash is staying with her mother for the holidays because her dad is on honeymoon with his new young wife.

So I have a very modern jigsaw family. But this isn’t a dark, angst-ridden book about emotionally neglected children. It’s a fantasy story – and as soon as the children dig up the Psammead in the sandpit at Oxshott Woods, the fun starts.

I knew that one of the first wishes would be the obvious one: Smash wants them all to be rich and famous. I had great fun with this one. I let Rosalind be a bestselling child author, turned Robbie into a mini TV chef, and had Maudie as the star of a sitcom. Smash herself is like a little Lady Gaga, with a sell-out gig at the O2 Arena.

I think the most challenging wish for me was when bookish Rosalind asks if they can meet all the Edwardian children in Five Children and It. I had to work hard to get Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane to sound natural, and not just silly caricatures. The Edwardian children seem very immature to my modern children and yet they boss the family’s adult servants around without a second thought. They also have extraordinary freedom, roaming about the countryside on a whim.
Wilson’s article also makes one mention of Nesbit’s own sequels, The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet, and one of another latter-day continuation, Helen Cresswell’s 1992 The Return of the Psammead.

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