This weekend, it was the school fête at my children’s school, with wellie wanging (who can throw the wellie the furthest) and bouncy castles (complete with slides) and a tombola (raffle) to win all sorts of grand prizes. This, of course, made me think of these wonderful yet simple things enjoyed in childhood and then again in adulthood (usually with a gap in the middle!). There’s a lot of fiction out there that nods gently to these simple pleasures. But why?
Let’s start with children’s fiction. The things we enjoyed as children, including the stories and fairy-tales, are inevitably going to act as inspiration for the things that children enjoy in fiction. While the media and toys change, many of the simple things (such as school fêtes, summer camps and fairy-tales) have remained the same for generations. This allows a common thread for both children and adults to enjoy the same piece of writing. Which is what Artifacts by Pete Catalano, a book I recently reviewed here, does so well.
But it’s not just children’s fiction. Fantasy and science fiction often use the simple traditions as tent pegs with which to tether otherwise unbelievable realms and beings into relatable characters and settings. They may be aliens with a blatant disregard for a planet like Earth, but they still send one of their own to pose as a human and befriend a boring man from Guildford (yes, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or an academic (Matt Haig’s The Humans). Going back in time is more believable if it’s explained in terms of simple (if erroneous in real-life terms) technology (The Time Machine by HG Wells or The Realignment Case by RJ Dearden). And strange powers somehow seem more realistic when they are combined with rustic living, walks in nature, and (albeit wooden) battleships (The A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin).
Then there’s dystopian fiction (I know I’m quoting genres here – please forgive me, I’m just trying to show the range of uses), which still maintains elements of culture, such as competitive sport and weddings, after the destruction of the world as we know it (The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins).
Even horror and crime manage to ratchet up tension by combining simple things (an empty swing, branches swaying in the breeze, children giggling happily as they skip down the road) with the reader’s expectation of something bad about to happen. And that, really, is the beauty of simplicity, and its importance in writing.