I was spending some time with my eight year-old niece on Saturday. We'd gone into town to get some belated birthday presents for her and then we were playing games on the Wii and generally looking stupid in the living room. Now, the living room doubles as my office. The desk's piled high with PhD materials, I've got three novel manuscripts in clear folders hanging around and notes all over. Growing bored of the Wii, she picked up the nearest thing and asked what it was.
Fortunately for me, she hadn't picked up one of the novels. That would've been tricky to explain in a few words. No, she'd picked up a notebook open at a page with a short play plan sketched out. So I told her it was a short play. She asked what it was about! I started off as vague as I could - it's about two women who meet on a railway platform when the trains are running late. She seemed to gaze at me expectantly so I added that one of them was upset. Of course, she then asked why. I got as close to the truth as I could - I said she'd lost someone she cares about. Then I distracted her with something else before she asked me who that was! The truth is, the woman had lost her son in an accident and I didn't want to explain that concept to an eight year-old if I could help it.
How upfront should you be with children when it comes to discussing what you're writing? Even more everyday than that, how you do explain to a child something they see on the news or overhear you talking about? I never know whether I'm doing the right thing when I speak to my niece as honestly as I can. I get the feeling that she (and probably a lot of kids) know when they're being either lied to or mollycoddled. They ask questions for a reason - they want to know the answers. If you can't give them the full answer then I suppose they deserve at least the PG answer. These are the things that you need to learn as an aunt as well as a parent - and I'm a little behind in my lessons.