Tag Archives: Lionel Shriver

Crazier by the day

We might as well give up.

I ought to say I’m grateful to my friend who sent me the link to this article (which you really must read) in The Spectator, but considering how awful its subject matter is, am I really grateful? It’s an interesting read; I’ll say that much. But it seems YA literature is in as much of a pickle as world politics. (I hope things will get better, but probably not before it’s got a lot worse.)

Do you remember what I had to say about sensitivity readers a while back? It’s OK, I had no recollection of it myself until I went digging for those occasions when I am in agreement with Lionel Shriver. (Seems I’ve agreed at least twice.)

Apparently you have to be politically correct in fantasy writing, as much as you do in ‘normal’ fiction. If not, you’ll be accused of cultural appropriation. And much as I’d like authors – new and old – to have a spine, I suspect that’s a lot easier to say than to practise.

As for those publishers who withdraw or apologise for causing offence, they really should have more spine. Or at the very least, they could think three times as much before accepting a work for publication, if all that will happen is that braying idiots on Twitter will cause them to take far too many steps backwards.

Some years ago I was visited here by someone looking out for Native Americans. She had many unpleasant things to say about authors who dare write about them without being one of them. I gather she isn’t one herself.

Where to draw the line? Lionel felt that memoirs would be all that was left, but who’s to say that won’t cause offence as well?

I discussed this with the Resident IT Consultant, who brought up Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series. It turned out we had different ideas about where it might be set. If the books are set somewhere vaguely real, that is. But she writes about both black and white characters. So far, as I understand it, people have been pleased that they are about black characters, and written by someone black, too. I don’t think I’ve come across the idea that there should be no white characters in the book. I have no objection to any of the white people in the story.

But what do I know?

Angie Thomas, who has been praised for writing amazing YA books, with mostly black characters, does have white people in her stories as well. You sort of have to, don’t you? I have no experience of life in Mississippi, either as black or white. I have no objection to Angie’s white characters. She mentioned at her event in March that one of the girls was based on a ‘friend’ at school. I can believe that. Not all whites are like her, but some probably are.

The book I reviewed yesterday, Dreamwalker, is fantasy, and features dragons and humans. James Oswald is human. So the question is did he describe the dragons correctly? Does he even have the right to write about dragons?

In Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina we have mixed characters; half human, half dragon. Who, here, has the moral right to be offended for what Rachel did to one of them?

What many authors say to the common question – how do you know about xxx? – is to mention research, and ‘it’s fiction; I make it up.’

I don’t know where this will end, but I am ashamed of the YA bloggers, etc, who feel they have the right to ruin the lives of so many people by being so bloody rude. And insensitive. And other words I could list here but won’t.

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Sensitivity readers?

Honestly. This might well be the last nail in the coffin; the one that makes me hang up my broom.

I read the article with some interest, but in the end it left me both furious and dismayed, as well as once again agreeing with Lionel Shriver, which is something I cannot take lightly.

We should have editors who find language issues in a manuscript. If they are generally wise they might also point out certain other things that could do with changing or adding or leaving out.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of peer reading/editing either. Many authors have a trusted friend/colleague or two who read through and comment on their work. I myself have done a little of this.

But I have never done it as the elderly fat Swede, pointing out where the young and slim English author got it wrong [in his novel about grey and overweight Scandinavians]. Life doesn’t work like that. If we’re going to have ‘lay’ readers who charge for sensitivity reading of novels to make sure that everything about a particular type of person in a work of fiction satisfies them (not necessarily everyone else), and making the poor author write and rewrite until their fingers bleed, there is something seriously wrong in the publishing world.

There is something so smug about the censor who understands ‘sensitivity’ so much better than anyone else, and there is something so sad about the author who is made to believe they must listen to this.

As I said, I wanted to give up, there and then.

It’s fine. You can write about me if you like.

You’ll probably get it wrong. But as long as you don’t insult me – and by that I mean say unkind things about my size, age or intelligence [I prefer to cover this myself] – you can write about me. If I were to review you, I’d most likely point out how wrong you were, while trying not to insult your intelligence.

But I can’t see how writing about me, the Swede, if you are not one yourself, can be wrong, or that it should be forbidden.

I wondered a bit where all this upset over cultural appropriation went while I was away. It was all over the place as I left, and I was in the very odd position of having to agree with Lionel Shriver; something I generally take steps to avoid. The Guardian printed her whole Australian speech from a few weeks ago, and I could find fault with nothing.

How can we not ‘appropriate’ someone else’s culture? It’s everywhere, and if I were to write a novel, say, it’d be pretty boring if it only featured 60-something females from Sweden.

Never mind the sombreros. If we must write only about what we ourselves are, I need to leave the men alone. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man. If I tried, he might be insulted. Or an 85-year-old Englishwoman. Or just about anyone.

It is, of course, possible to outlaw all this. There could be a legal requirement not to write about other people, not to make things up. I hope we never get there, but the way things are going it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. As for asking permission first; how can you find everyone who owns a particular kind of culture? What if they don’t agree – with each other – and some say yes and others say no?

I believe I actually complained about someone getting things wrong, and having missed the point of the life of a Swede like me, earlier this year. I didn’t feel the person responsible for the rather attractive book cover in question shouldn’t have done it. I just would have preferred my ‘correct’ view of what things looked like to have been used. In fact, Seacrow Island is a good example of this thorny issue, because I do have strong feelings and opinions on the matter. But I really don’t feel that ‘foreigners’ should leave my childhood dream alone. It’s there for anyone to use.

And if you are of an age to have been around when the Famous Five were written, I apologise for thinking everyone in England was like that. And then there’s the belief that Wales is in England.

We can all be so very wrong about so much. But many of us mean well.

While I was away a book arrived in the post. It’s about Prince George and his potty-training. It’s a cute book and a cute subject, and I can see how potty-training is a good topic for young readers to become enthused about. But it suddenly struck me that this was about the supposed problems of getting used to a potty, as experienced by a real person. A Prince, yes, but still a small child with the right to privacy.

The never ever books

Almost exactly seven years ago – when I was a brand new little Bookwitch – I blogged about which book from a list of 100 I would never read. Today the challenge has been upped somewhat, in that I’m supposed to find 100 books I would never read. I blame the Guardian. They started it. Then Maria Nikolajeva picked up the gauntlet and in turn got Clémentine Beauvais to pick hers.

And here I am, copying them, while having no clue what I am about to claim I will never read. So that is fine. I so know what I’m doing.

Anyway, the Guardian’s idea is that what is not on your shelves is more revealing than what is. Although that relies on you giving shelf space only to what you read and like. Some of us have books to show off with, or books we hope to read one day. Some of our best books might not be there at all. We could be in love with novels borrowed from friends and libraries, and actually returned to them again. We are not all shady types who steal what we can’t get hold of by any other means. Tempting, but …

Clémentine seems to agree with me on Martin Amis, so I was more topical than I realised the other day. Between them, she and Maria disagree on John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Clémentine won’t read it and Maria loved it. Well, I have read half, and am more than satisfied not to be taking it any further.

It’s almost impossible to know for certain what you won’t ever read (again). But I do feel very strongly I won’t be going near anything by G P Taylor.

Sitting here and squirming won’t get me to even ten, let alone 100. But I really don’t like saying negative things about books and authors. OK, I have severe reservations about Lionel Shriver and Jeanette Winterson.

Am in agreement with Clémentine on not wanting to read sequels to some books, whether I enjoyed the first one or not. I also have several more than TFIOS as a half-read-but-no-further book. Disagree about The Knife of Never Letting Go, which just got better and better.

It’s a relief to see that one is allowed to have no intention of reading certain classics or the big iconic books. You know, the kind that people you admire swear by, claiming it made them who they are, and all that. On that basis I honestly still don’t expect to read Hilary Mantel, however much Meg Rosoff likes her.

I unpack books from jiffy-bags every week that I will never read. Either because I don’t want to, or because time is limited. And that’s interesting in itself, since whatever people send me, it does tend to be children’s books or crime, which are my favourites. Just think how much worse it would be if my letterbox suddenly started spitting literary novels.

No, I give up. It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t know, and when I do know, I don’t always want to put it in print.

To G P Taylor: I want my wasted week back!

What authors say

Just as I expect Francesca Simon’s guests on Thursday evening could manage to be both happy for her success and envious that their own sales aren’t quite as good, it’s interesting to observe authors and see and hear what they say, or don’t say.

Some only talk about their own work, and don’t even seem to be too modest to say how good they believe they are. Thankfully not many are like this. And there’s Henning Mankell, who as I pointed out the other day, doesn’t even recognise his own work when he sees it.

Many authors go out of their way to suggest other writers and books that they think I’d like. Sometimes they are wrong, but often they are quite right and I’m grateful for ideas. Linda Newbery has been known to send emails with suggestions.

Tim Bowler spent ages during a school talk some years ago “selling” Melvin Burgess’ book Doing It. I think Tim almost forgot his own books while explaining quite how hilariously funny and worthwhile this controversial book of Melvin’s is.

Adele Geras is also very helpful and recommends books she likes in her website newsletter. Meg Rosoff is forever pointing me in the direction of her friends’ books. Do you people think I have unlimited time for reading?

Then we have Son’s “party trick” of asking every author he meets what they think of Philip Pullman. He even has me do it for him if he’s not there. Whether the authors he asks are always honest I don’t know, but they tend to have good manners, so will usually say something positive. And I’d say that most of the time it sounds as if they mean it.

When Lionel Shriver got the Pullman question, her answer was of the more unusual variety. She said “Who?”