Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Skipper's Child: Education or Entertainment?

In the recent months since the Skipper's Child, my first venture into fiction, was published, I've spent some moments wondering about whether I had any intention of making it educational when I wrote it. The answer is, actually,

Still, judging by the response I've had recently, and to the reviews my friend, Anne Marie, and another reader have written, it seems to come across as having some kind of educational value. When I first read the reviews, I was surprised, and now, I am even rather pleased. Even though I never set out to make it so.

As many of my friends and blogger pals will know already, the story just sort of emerged out of my fascination with Koos's childhood. He was the example on whom the adventures of Arie were built, and the Kornet family are, in a sense, Koos's father, mother and two sisters. The story itself is pure fiction, the product of what my mother used to call my over active imagination, but the setting in the early 1960's, the barge life, the route the family take from Zelzate in Belgium through to Lille in France, these are all real.

Did I do any research? Absolutely. I spent quite some time reading about what was happening in the news at the time. I also researched the building of the Gent 'ringvaart', the canal that was being built around Gent to stop all the shipping congestion I describe in the city centre. Koos and I walked the route the Kornets took through the city, so I knew what was there, then and now. And of course, all this time, Koos was filling me in with anecdotes and snippets about what life was really like for a child on a commercial barge - boring, routine, cold in winter, hot in summer, and nowhere, just nowhere for a child to run and play.

The mother's deafness was real too, as was the loss of not one, but two siblings to drowning before Koos was born. This was a common occurrence among skippers' families. Children had a tough time in many respects, as only the very brightest stayed at school longer than was necessary - all hands were needed on deck, and if there were too many children - well, it was quite accepted for skippers to offer a spare child to other short-handed skippers, pass them over mid-stream, wave goodbye and sail on. A solution they simply regarded as being practical, not abusive.

So, yes, in hindsight, the Skipper's Child might be said to be educational. It is based on a very real lifestyle that has everything to do with being Dutch. It's even true to say that practically everyone you speak to in the Netherlands has some connection with the skippers' world somewhere in their family - so you could call it historically relevant too.

For myself, I wrote it because I loved the stories and wanted some way of recording them, but while I wrote it, I got caught up in Arie's world myself. It was a tale I had so much fun writing that I hope that's what really comes through when people read it. And if it has some value in the classroom or library, well I'm very happy about that too. For now, though, I am busy dreaming up his next adventure. The activity in my imagination has never stopped. I just need more time to write it all down!


Anne-Marie said...

Hi Val,
I think all stories have an educational value in the sense that you learn about that world. For me, the best novels are the ones that give you a great adventure and also teach you a bit about what life in that specific time and/or location was like. When I read stories to my class, I try to find a great story that they will love, but also one that will bring them an experience they wouldn't already have, and that's the "educational" component, and one of the reasons why I like historical fiction so much.

Koos F said...

It's a rollicking story but yes, what a great insight in the skipper's life of a few years ago the children would get. Definitively educational! And a bit of Cold War info too!

June's World said...

Hi Val,
I have not read your book. But what you describe here about it, it most definitely holds an Educational value.

Hans said...

From my point of view definitely educational as well as thrilling fiction.
A mix that seems to be your brand as to say. The same applies to your Breeding Eccentrics - blog!

VallyP said...

Anne Marie, you are so right, and how lovely to be able to read to your class. I think I would have liked primary level teaching for that reason, but it's too late now. I am stuck with the big ones!

Koosje, thank you for your continued faith in what is essentially your story :)

Thank you, Grace! If you ever feel you have time and would like to read it, I'll send you a copy.

Hans, that is the nicest comment! May I quote you on that? :))

alegni said...

i (gladly) cannot but agree with hubby here. it's one of those books i definitely will read again to get the most of it. keep up the good work (which you naturally will do)!

Fran said...

Now I am definitely going to read it. It certainly sounds educational. Wouldn't that be something if it got on to the school syllabus, you could be rolling in it! xxx

Anne-Marie said...

I actually gave a copy to my sister and her beau, she who is a grade 4 teacher and he of Fries (almost Dutch) ancestry but has been allowed to drive Koos' barge. ;)

I am planning to reading it when I return to work in my grade 5/6 class next year, and might buy myself another copy to add to the classroom. The problem with the books I read to the class is this- my copy almost inevitably disappears from my special cupboard sometime during the school year and never returns. This might be good for Val, as I will be ordering books for years to come. It is an annoyance to have thieves in the room, but I often think, wow, some student has stolen a book. How's that for an impression? It's still annoying, mind you, when I decide I want to start reading a particular one and find I need to re-order it.


Anne-Marie said...

Oh, and unrelated to this, Val, I don't know if I ever told you that my principal originally thought I was writing a children's book and had requested I come in and read a selection to classes last month. That is, until she started reading her copy... I never laughed so hard.


VallyP said...

Ingela, thanks so much to you too! You know, Hans was one of the faithfuls like Anne Marie when I was writing it and that support was really special to me. xx

Anne Marie, now you've made me hoot. Did your principal's hair stand on end? A great story BBE is (I'm reading it again now, by the way) but a children's book it absolutely isn't!!! :)) xx

Fran, I sort of have the feeling you might indeed like it, although that's always hard to predict. People's tastes are individual and I always respect that, but it's got barges and canals and a bit of history thrown in to give a setting to the adventure, not to mention Koos's dad's stories so....xx

Dale said...

I find every story I read as educational!
How can we not learn something from every tale?
From my fascination with the American Civil War to digging deep into the Arthurian Legend to re-reading My Friend Flicka last summer - there is something to be learned in and between all those lines.
I had an epiphany last summer while reading a long-lost childhood story about a boy and his filly living in Wyoming. I did not realise, until then, how much of an impact that book had on the rest of my life.
I still think about Arie and his family.

Oh, and my mind's eye sees that tale in black and white ...


Dan L. said...

Very honest, and very neat stuff, Val...

Anne-Marie said...

Val, I'm not sure if her hair stood on end, but she did send me an email later commenting on how racy it was and how she was enjoying it. She suggested the grade 8 boys might like it, but that we weren't going to test the hypothesis!

i also know that the 11 year-old child on a school-parent friend picked it up out of curiosity, started to read it, and then quickly put it down and said, "This isn't for me, is it?" Maybe a pen name would have been a good idea...