Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Right to Write Anne Cassidy

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


Lee said...


Anne Rooney said...

I agree that we need books about this - as about every other - aspect of life. But I'm not sure your point about using real names: if the book had been published with false names, and it had not been revealed that they were false, would you not have read the book in the same way? It would have prevented the damaging fall-out for the family, though of course she could not have done lots of publicity and spinning. (Perhaps she wanted the damaging fall-out in order to shame her son.)

I'm sure she thought long and hard about the implications of the book for her family, and whether or not any of us agrees with her decision or would have made the same one, I am with you in believing it was hers - or oher family's - to make.

Col said...

I agree wholly.
I think families living through similar hells will agree too.

catherine johnson said...

Hello all. I disagree. I would hate someone close to me to write a coruscating expose of all my failings. Of course JM has a choice here and of course writers often do mine their own experiences but everyone's truth is different and while we all may agrue and fall out with close family members having it set out and printed for all time so the issues can be raked over and over again cannot do those relationships any good in the long term.
So JM has chosen to write about her son, fine. I am sure he can make some money writing back about her. But I would hate that to happen to me so I wouldn't do it. I think one of the best 'writer's virtues' we have is empathy, and I think JM has shown very little if she thinks what she has written can do anything but damage a fragile relationship.

Nick Green said...

I think Myerson's book is the ultimate in 'tough love'. To change names or fictionalise would have been to soften it. In fact, in fictionalising she could have been accused of exploitation. As it is, she opened herself up to attack by being open with names. Does anyone imagine that she didn't know she'd be vilified for doing this? But she did it anyway. I'm not quite sure what she's hoping to achieve, but I do believe it's an act of maternal love, however strange. It would have been so much easier not to write it.

Brian Keaney said...

What about her duty as a parent? Doesn't that come before her urge to write? It's not tough love to tell everyone about your son's drug problems. It's just bad parenting and exploitation.

Nicky said...

I can see why she wrote it. I can't see why she published it - except to fulfil a contractual obligation. I agree there should be no limits on what writers write about, but as a Mum I think what she did in publishing this while she and her son are not reconciled, while he still has jobs to get and people to impress, was in her best interests (financially)at the expense of his.

Penny said...

Hi all. My feeling on this Julie Myerson is entitled to write about whatever she wants to write about, but that she shouldn't complain if people voice & write their own opinions back! Personally, with books having so short a shelf life - ie nothing being thought of as an immortal volume any more - I don't think I'd risk my relationship with my children for the sake of a book. Though, I suppose, if you start by writing autobiographical columns as a young single woman, highlighting amusing tales of your love-life and career problems and so on, it must be difficult to change just because you become a parent with little children, and then you suddenly find that you are writing about children/teenagers old enough to have their own opinions back.

Geetha Gopal said...

First of all I thank you very much for following my blog. I am of the opinion that a writer should have full freedom to share their views through their writing. It is so painful to hear that yongsters are falling prey to drugs. Lack of emotional attachment among parents are children may be one of the reasons for this drug abuse. Hope you agree with me.