I’m glad the Julie Myerson furore has died down. Now I feel that I can creep out of hiding and say what I really think. Myerson wrote a book about her family’s experience of her son’s drug use. I have listened to a number of interviews that she gave and read various articles in which she has been criticised. I was amazed, frankly, at the level of abuse she received. I don’t know Julie Myerson, I’ve never met her and I’ve never read any of her books. I am a writer though like her and I have to say that when she got all this abuse I felt some solidarity with her.
Who has the right to tell writers what they should write about?
I don’t think anyone should feel that they can restrict the subject areas that writers should or should not cover. Writers themselves should make that judgement. Writers of fiction use autobiographical material all the time. They fictionalise it. I know I have. Indeed I would argue that this is what makes my writing successful. When people read my stories they recognise situations and emotions that they may have experienced. They empathise with things that I describe.
Some of the responses to Julie Myerson’s book suggested that she should have written a novel about a mother with a teenage son who was into drugs. That would have been OK, people said.
But she wanted it to be non fiction, a memoir, a piece of autobiography. She wanted to write about her life as it was being lived. She wanted to write some truths about being a mother. What’s wrong with that? Oh! Everyone said, but she shouldn’t have written about her son! That’s criminal. How could someone write a truthful account of being a mother of a teenage boy without mentioning the teenage boy? How could she describe, analyse, inform without giving the reader the whole picture?
She shouldn’t have written it at all, many people said.
But how are we ever to find out the truth about family life if people are discouraged from telling it? Most parents know about the grim teenage years, the years when one’s much loved golden boys and girls turn into strangers. Is this not something to be written about?
Or is it only possible for adolescence to be written about in medical terms or ridiculed in sketch shows or over dramatised in soaps? What’s wrong with an honest account?
Some people said that she should have written the account anonymously and changed the names. But my interest in those real life articles always flags when I know that the John or Sue that I’m reading about is a made up name. How much more powerful these accounts are if you feel that you are reading about real people.
Julie Myerson wanted to lay open her family for inspection warts and all. I wouldn’t have done it (I hide in fiction) but as a writer I think she has the absolute right to do it.
Julie Myerson seems to have paid a heavy emotional price for publishing this book as does her husband and her teenage son and her other children.
But there is a heavy price to pay if we, as writers, start to say what should or shouldn’t be written about