I wonder if Children's publishing is the branch of literature most beset by trends. It certainly seems that way. Over the last decade a stream of themes and archetypes have burst onto the bookshelf only to be dropped in the 'No-no' box a few years later – the point at which only the very well-established can get away with writing something new about them.
By my reckoning the contents of that box is very rich and becoming richer by the year, but how long before those themes become fresh again? A generation?
New writers, looking for their first book deal, obviously need to be aware of the contents of the 'No-no' box, even as they also opt out of the fools game of trend-chasing. It's a fine line to tread, especially as tastes amongst editors, agents and readers (in that order) can change while you're still beavering away at the keyboard. And what do you do if your favourite subject has become deeply unfashionable? The answer to that, I'm afraid, is write about something else, or self-publish and hope.
So what's in that box right now? What should an aspiring children's writer, hoping to attract the attention of agents and editors in 2011 and 2012, be avoiding like a plague of vampires?
Well, boy wizards must be somewhere near the bottom. Along with anyone else who discovers they have powers and need to go away to a special school to learn how to use them. Unless, I suppose, they have powers we've never read about before.
Somewhere just above magic would be pirates. I learnt just how unpopular they had become the hard way. Alongside pirates are similar historical archetypes such as highwaymen and Vikings. In fact, historic themes as a whole are a hard sell now, precisely because they were rumoured to be the 'next big thing' about eight years ago and weren't.
Just above pirates are all those supernatural creatures we've been seeing so much of. If a supernatural creature isn't there, it's because we haven't been seeing much of it, so get writing quick! You're too late for werewolves or hunky fallen angels, but you might just get away with a yeti with dreamboat eyes.
Then -- and last to go into the box -- we have steampunk, partly because there’s been a splurge of it in the last 18 months (and there's still a lot more in the tube), but also because it’s a dead end. A glorious, wonder-filled dead end, but a no-through-road nonetheless. This airship sailed last year.
And then... well, I don't know. Can anyone think of anything else? My guess is that zombies and demons are due to be dropped in the 'No-no' box pretty soon, though to look at the bookshelves they are still enormously popular. But that's precisely the point.