When I was a kid I memorised — don’t laugh — the Bene Gesserit ‘Litany Against Fear’, and used to repeat it quietly to myself when I was in a place of terror. I was eleven or twelve, and my family had moved to Canterbury in Kent, from London SE23. Where we lived was about a mile’s walk into town, and the only way was down the narrow pavement alongside the Dover Road, on which enormous lorries and trucks would hurtle at incredible, terrifying speeds, on their ways to and from the port at Dover and London town — nowadays the city has built a ring-road to relieve its city centre of this burden of traffic, but that postdates me. Walking along this road as these T.I.R’s roared and howled inches from me was scary. Repeating the litany helped me cope with that fear.
I mean, sure: by all means laugh at me if you like … I was a massive SF nerd, not skilled at making friends, quite inward and withdrawn. I can see this little story has its ridiculous side. Then again, if I’m honest, when I look back at my younger self I find something touching and even, in its miniscule way, heroic about it, actually. I made it into town. I went to the Albion bookshop and spent my pocket-money on yet another pulp SF book. I got home again without being swallowed or consumed by my fear, although the fear, which perhaps looks trivial to you, was, inside me, vast and pressing and lupine, and was given prodigious materiality by the howling hundred-ton trucks speeding inches past me and whipping their trailing winds about me. I wasn’t really scared of the lorries; the lorries only gave temporary physical shape to something more pervasively in me and my relationship to life. I was a much and deeply frightened kid, as, in many ways, I still am, as an adult. Stories for kids should be beautiful and moving, but they should also furnish kids with the psychological wherewithal to understand and navigate the world and their own feelings about it.