I’ve no idea whether anyone’s going to buy or read the Stanley stories but, for me, he’s taken on a life of his own. I ought to be treating him as a commercial proposition, and I will, of course, but even as I do so, he’ll be there as a presence, casting a sceptical eye over and shaking his head at my efforts.
I’ve mentioned before how some ideas have been generated by the early morning arrival in my bed of grandchildren, bright, wide-awake and wanting to be entertained. When I’m clever, I can get them to do their own inventing (such as when Tracey the lion took the part of Goldilocks in Tracey the Lion and the Three Giraffes), but sometimes, a riff starts and it’s easy for me to pursue it.
Stanley started as one of these. It was about the same time as I started describing the life and family of a giant about whom I can’t remember much now except that his wife played rugby. That family and more importantly, Stanley, grew from a technique I’ve mentioned in other contexts – that is, putting together things that are not normally associated with one another. My blog Searching for something other than the grooves expanded on this idea – blackbirds with vertigo, and so on.
So that morning, we were talking about fairies and, in order to provoke my two listeners, I said that some of them were different from the dingly dell, sparkly, Disneyesque creatures which were so familiar in their books. They wanted examples and, starting from the premise that not even the greatest optimist in the world can be happy ALL the time, I suggested that there were miserable, grumpy fairies. And, as the demands for more detailed explanations continued, the figure of Stanley began to form. He was everything fairies aren’t – male, with an unfairy name, a predisposition towards melancholy and a pathological dislike of every normal fairy association. Being such an outsider, he was also pretty aggressive in defending his chosen status, and, as a result, the person in whose bedroom he lived (i.e. me, in the persona of Jack Rosse), had to be extra-tolerant and all the things Stanley wasn’t, and the two became a double-act.
This all sounds too analytical and too deliberate. In fact, it was just me answering questions about this Stanley creature who, as more details emerged, took over so much that it was obvious that he would refuse to tick any of the usual fairy boxes. But why, when I got back home, did I bother to write a story about him? I’ve no idea. Tracey the Lion and the rugby-playing giant’s wife didn’t get their stories written down, so why Stanley? Maybe it’s because, having established him as a ‘person’, I was tempted to put him into various contexts to demonstrate his differences. And, once the first story was told, several others suggested themselves. So far, there are seven of them. The first, Stanley Moves In, is in fact the most recent one. I wrote it in response to the publisher’s query (based on what she knew her two young sons would ask), about how Stanley came to be living in my bedroom. And, so far, there are six more.
But who are they for? What’s the age range of the target readership? That should be easy, but Stanley makes sure that it’s not. It’s obviously for kids from maybe 4 to 10, but friends who’ve read them suggest that, in a lightweight way, he’s attractive (if that’s the right word) to adults, too. (And it’s true that, when he goes on holiday to France, a French counterpart does ‘explain’ his condition to him in ‘philosophical’ terms.)
But all this ‘explaining’ does nothing but make the whole thing sound pretentious and planned. I haven’t written this way about any of my other books, so why write about a kids’ story? I think because, the ‘reality’ for me of such an unreal character demonstrates again what a strange business writing is and what a perverse pleasure we get out of it. It doesn’t matter that it’s a ‘trivial’ story for ‘kids’ – for me it’s as absorbing to get involved in as any ‘serious’ stories. We make our worlds, we make other people and other things, and they’re as much part of our reality as the feel of the keyboard under my fingers now or the irritating beauty of the deep snow I see through the window. Stanley, like my figurehead carver, my policeman, or my murder victims, is a fact. Of course I don’t believe in fairies, but I believe in Stanley.