Lemony Snicket On Childhood


The author on the childhood confusion that follows us into adulthood (and why we should embrace it)

School Of Life shopfront

Image courtesy of The School Of Life


American author Daniel Handler, perhaps better known by his pseudonym Lemony Snicket, is no stranger to enigmatic subject matter. He penned a thirteen-part children’s series A Series of Unfortunate Events that dealt with some perplexing (and oftentimes dark) themes not often seen in children’s books, but having sold 60 million copies worldwide, the mock Gothic books were hugely successful.

“I have been utterly bewildered since childhood,” the author admits. “And have begun to recognise that perhaps bewilderment is the truest way of looking at the world.”

We caught up with Daniel while he was in Melbourne as a guest of The School Of Life, where the wordsmith will be hosting a sermon about embracing the confusion and questions from our youth. Here he reveals his own childhood memories, habits that still haunt him and his fail-safe cure for writer’s block.

You’ve written books for both children and adults. Does one writing style come more naturally to you than the other?

The secret is that they both have the same style. Children’s literature is a genre, and so there is a small handful of things that must be addressed, and a handful of things that shouldn’t be. But otherwise it is just all storytelling, and storytelling seems to be my natural state.

What’s your earliest childhood memory?

Waking up from a nap in preschool and looking out the window to see another child who needed to tie his shoes.

Has your 10-year-old, Otto, ever uttered or asked anything that’s made you do a double-take?

He utters little else. He recently told me he wanted to study robotany – that is, the science of robot plants.

Have any childish habits or beliefs followed you into adulthood?

Reading for hours and having someone come into the room and ask me a question and I blink away from the book and stare at them and wonder: where in the world am I?

Can you describe your typical workspace for us? What can you see/hear/smell?

My office is small. I face a blank wall, away from a window, and sit at a large desk that I’m told was once a doctor’s examining table. There is usually music playing, tailored to the mood of the book I am working on. And sometimes one can smell the dinner I am simmering, which I will go to check on as soon as I finish this paragraph.

Where do you look for inspiration when you’re feeling particularly uninspired?

A large body of water. When I am home, it is the Pacific Ocean, easily reachable from my house. The crashing waves’ utter indifference to literature is an enormous inspiration.

You’ve said “bewilderment is the truest way of looking at the world.” What do you mean by this exactly?

I find that accepting – rather than battling – confusion is a strong first step at making one’s way on a bewildering planet.

What advice would you share with people wanting to make a career out of writing?

“Do something else.”

We have two double passes to giveaway see Daniel Handler speak at The School Of Life on Sunday 30 August in Melbourne! Comment below with your favourite childhood memory and your email to be in the running. Entries close 5pm Friday 28th August AEST.


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