In defence of fiction: Why I became a children’s author
Facts speak to our minds; a story speaks to our heart. I want to help people engage with God through fiction, writes Heather Cursham
Becoming a writer of children’s fiction has long been a dream of mine. Perhaps my journey started way back when I was trying to find an escape from the crèche rota. As a mother of four children, I found myself unavoidably conscripted, and ironically, my ticket out was into Sunday School proper. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, you may think, for now I was leading the children’s work in our local church. I had inherited a room full of primary school aged children and a blank page. I needed ideas – and good ones.
To me, teaching adults appears relatively easy, at least on the face of it. Take an abstract concept like love, for example. If I explain to an adult that ‘God is love’, they nod in agreement and file the information in their databank. Job done!
But what did they understand by what I just told them? Did I even know what I meant? Yet we can both let it lie, playing our game of bluff.
However, with children, it’s a whole different matter. If you make an abstract statement to a child, very likely they will ask you to explain yourself. How many times have we parents been put on the spot by awkward questions from our children? Brilliantly, they take us right to the point where we realise we are not exactly sure if we know, or why it’s even important!
The biblical challenge to be more childlike veers in an interesting direction here. To know and understand something as profound as ‘God is love’ must be approached first with an awareness of just how mysterious and curious and wonderful truth is. It’s easy to think of truth as a tidy list of facts and propositions. Yet Jesus said, ‘I am the truth.’ There is meant to be something profoundly relational about our interaction with truth. It impacts our mind, but also our heart and sometimes even all our senses.
God is not limited to factual exchanges with us. I remember once experiencing a sunrise over Derwentwater in the Lake District. My memory of the event is technicoloured, and the revelation imprinted in me very clearly that day was that God made this world. Of course, I already knew this truth in my head, but on that day it was as if I had met that truth personally in a 4D moment made just for me.
So back to the room full of children. How was I to do justice to truth, especially being so aware of my own limited handle of it? The answer I settled on was stories. Look at Jesus. Here was the Son of God, walking around on the planet with a mission to communicate truth and rescue humanity. Surely it would have been sensible for Him to lay out all the facts.
Yet He often chose simple parables about pearls and sheep and lost sons. Why? Because if we hear the facts, they speak to our minds, but if we hear a story, it speaks to our heart. Look at the Bible. It would be a whole lot shorter if we were to take out all the stories, and the poetry and the prophetic visions… Children love stories, as do we adults if we take a moment to think about it. Nobody outgrows stories.
Fast forward to the present day and I find myself unexpectedly the champion of fiction. I want to help people engage with God through fiction, and I am beginning to realise my dream to write children’s stories – my own parables. I am especially inspired by C S Lewis and the genius way in which he unassumingly dropped truth like sticks of dynamite into his heart-warming tales. Suddenly you find yourself face to face. BAM! KAPOW! And his stories are read by any and all, Christian or not. Yet he seems to stand almost alone as a Christian writer of children’s stories.
I watched my own children as they grew up devouring books, and I felt stirred to add my voice. After all, should all the storytellers that impact our nation’s children be people who don’t know Him? Of course, that’s not to say that many of the great stories don’t carry hints of eternal themes – yes, God can even speak through Cinderella, if we are listening.
And so I have written the Lucy Butterfly series. My hero is an ordinary nine-year-old girl who falls into a fairy-tale adventure while asleep and dreaming. In her first adventure, Lucy discovers that she is born to be extraordinary and purposeful. There is much more to her life than meets the eye, and she will never see herself in the same way again.
I would love to inspire children to believe in themselves, but I would also love to inspire you to believe in fiction. We need more books that are wonderfully fun and adventurous, yet full of truth and light. Let’s get writing them. Let’s get reading them to our children. Let’s get a hold of God’s multifaceted wisdom and experience it expressed in creative ways. Remember, just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Heather Cursham is the author of Lucy Butterfly: A Dream Tale, published by Instant Apostle (for children aged 8-12, ISBN 978-1-909728-37-0, RRP £6.99), which is available from bookshops and online retailers