Cerrie Burnell: 'We are all made of stories'
Published on: 05 November 2019 Author: Cerrie Burnell
Cerrie Burnell, our Writer in Residence, has launched a creative writing competition for schools and wants EVERY child to know that they're a storyteller, with inspiration all around them...
Illustration by Erika Meza
We’re all made of stories, the same way we are all made of stardust. And all our stories are unique and magical to us. Sometimes I think people imagine authors have a special dreamlike gift for creating fantastical adventures. But we’re all drawing continually on inspiration from our own lives, all the time. Often an extraordinary book will begin, with something any reader or listener of the story can understand.
Books that fill me with stories
From The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis
Take Philip Pullman's Northern Lights – my absolute favourite book – and its beloved, fearless protagonist Lyra. It starts with Lyra hiding in a cupboard, in a room she is not supposed to be in, overhearing things she’s not supposed to know.
How many of us have a memory of hiding in a stuffy cupboard? We might not be in Lyra’s world, nor have a talking daemon, but we know the cramped dark space behind a door, where it's musty and strange. We know all that edgy feeling of hoping we’re not discovered in a forbidden place.
On the theme of hiding in cupboards, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe begins with four children escaping the very real danger of the war and finding a doorway to a magical land, where they must face and defeat an equally ominous danger – the White Witch. We, as the reader, might not have had the experience of entering a wardrobe and discovering an astonishment of snow, but we’ve all played hide and seek, or not gotten along with our siblings, or felt the hurt of not being believed. We are sympathetic immediately to Lucy because we can relate to her predicament and we want to go on the journey with her.
A stunning book I read recently called The Tunnels Below by Nadine Wild-Palmer opens with a family taking a trip on the Circle Line in South London. When Cecelia drops her birthday marble on the tube, she leaps back on to grab it but the doors of the carriage close and she’s separated from her family and whisked away to a distant land below London.
Anyone who has travelled around London will know how busy the tube is and how alarming – or maybe even a little bit thrilling – it would be to suddenly get stuck on the wrong one with out your family. (Maybe it's happened to you?)
Your story is unique to you
Author and presenter Cerrie Burnell with her 2017 book, Fairy Magic
Writing a great story doesn’t need to be a magical act. We all have stories that have touched our hearts. This gorgeous world that we live in, and are own colourful memories and childhoods, are bubbling with brilliant tales. They don’t need to be enchanting or epic, they can be seemingly normal, mundane events that are brightly funny, or terribly sad. All that matters is that they are meaningful to you – the author.
Have you ever dreamed of writing a story that was all about you? Perhaps you remember the first time you ever saw a rainbow. Or the folktales your grandmother told you. Maybe the day you scored you first goal is marked in your mind forever. Or perhaps you’ve always longed to own a unicorn, and this is the moment to make it happen. This is your chance to write a sweeping fantasy, where you are the star and every character is someone you know. Someone important.
When we put ourselves in the story, fantastic things start to happen. When I was growing up, there were very few children in books who looked exactly like me. Blonde hair, blue eyes, one hand and a hook! So while every book I’ve written is a work of fiction, the people with in it reflect the real people in my life.
The same with the worlds I create – they are always based on a places or landscape I’ve visited on my travels or somewhere dreamed of travelling. My work is an imaginative reflection of memories or stories I’ve lived.
If you make your story unique to you, let the character look like you, live on your street, have a grumpy grandad just like yours, a big barking dog, like the one next door, or share a love of your favourite ice cream, sport, colour or song –it will be special.
Because only you can tell your story; that’s your gift.
Writer in Residence
Our current Illustrator in Residence is Onjali Q Raúf, who is writing blogs, running competitions and giving us her unique perspective on the world of children's books.