The label of the VHS cassettes my dad used to rent for us when we were little had a little graph informing you of any inappropriate content. It was succinct (and colour-coded) and twenty years later I still remember this phrase -
CONTAINS MILD PERIL
Peril's a great word. I think about peril a lot when I'm writing because when you're a kid the word has a very specific meaning. For a child, peril means thrilling. Peril means eavesdropping on the villain from behind his spiked throne. Peril is a daring rooftop duel or abseiling down a cliff-face using a hastily purloined school tie.
Peril, in short, means adventure.
Parents know, however, that the world is a dark and complicated place. There are no real nick-of-time rescues, no famous last stands. Peril is, at heart, just one more word for danger, a word best kept far away.
As a children's author, (admittedly with no kids of my own) this presents a problem - what do you do with parents? You could make them adventurers as well, but then it's just Bring-Your-Child-To-Peril Day. They could constantly misplace their child like a set of house keys but, no more than making your protagonist the kind of kid who sneaks out all the time, it can make them a little hard to like.
Some of my favourite fiction comes from answering this question. Eoin Colfer's young criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl's only tender moments are with his sick mother. Sarah Griffin's YA debut Spare & Found Parts reveals the tragic story of Nell Crane's mother in fractured second-person. Every parent-child relationship is unique, in fiction and real life.
We put peril in children's fiction because they live it every day. The shadow cast by a chair back, the creak outside the lamplight - these are real are the turn of midnight. I have an overactive imagination, I always have. I populated the darkness of my bedroom with horrors, and I took great comfort in the fact that if I needed him, my father was only thirty feet away.
And I know this will not always be the case, but I learned my lessons well. Harry Potter never truly lost his parents. He saw them in mirrors and he saw them in dreams, and at the moment of most peril they were there to tell him they loved him. Batman lives in a world where villains use their tragedies to justify all sorts of terrible deeds, and he uses his to do good.
Every child thinks about their parents. They're our models and our makers, and they're always with us, because we wouldn't be who we are without them. But every child learns to stand on their own two feet, and children's fiction is a part of that. It tells them yes, there's peril in the world… but no matter how dark things get, the lessons and the love of your parents are only at the end of the hall.
Knights of the Borrowed Dark By Dave Rudden is Published by Puffin (Penguin Random House Children's books) in paperback and ebook on 7th April 2016, priced at £6.99