As all writers for young people know, we not only have to get our books to our intended readers: we have to get past the gate-keepers - adults. Now, adults are some of my favourite people but let me have a little rant about certain members of that group, specifically certain parents. I am a parent myself, so I know how parenty brains work and I’m sympathetic, but sometimes … HONESTLY.
Yes, I know there’s some pretty tough stuff goes on in my teenage books. I’m up front about that and I would totally understand if a parent of a 10 year old (eg) got a bit cautious about some of it. (Though I still think they should worry less about reading choices and more about some other things - like whether their child is reading at all ...) But anyway, I just had a librarian say that she wouldn’t stock Mondays are Red “because of the swearing” and she’d had a parent complain when a book had a rude word in it. Well, I didn’t remember any swearing in Mondays are Red until it occurred to me that I did say “Piss off!” once, when a character was really really really really ANGRY. Frankly, I think piss off was pretty restrained in the circs. And it was a teenage book and a teenage character. And the character didn’t say it to an adult or anything really terrible like that …
OK, I respect people’s views and I hate bad language myself - only ever use it when I’m bloody furious - but let’s see things in context here. Tell me how it’s fine that my books contain a mastectomy without anaesthetic in front of an audience of men (Fleshmarket opening chapter), death by blood-poisoning, trepanning (when a drill is twisted through someone’s skull), drowning, stabbing, snake-bite and the subsequent cutting of the flesh above the bite, a throat being cut, drinks being spiked, a massacre, drug use (without condoning it, btw), a horse being shot … I could go on but I’m actually starting to feel quite bad about all this. Am I really a horrible and dangerous person? No, I write stories, stories that aim to challenge and grip and provide a safe environment for fictional danger and risk.
Anyway, my point is, I can do all that death and worse, but I can’t say piss off? When I’m really really really angry? And when children and teenagers hear far worse every day in the playground and on TV and the cinema? (Which is not to say it's right, but then nor are half the other horrible things about the real world.) So, I should perhaps have had my teenage character say, “O bother!” Yeah, right. That’s really going to work.
Parents need to understand about fiction and its ability to prepare kids in the best possible way for the real world. They need, frankly, to get a bit real and decide which things are really worth protecting them from. Either that, or wrap their offspring in cotton wool, don’t allow them to go to school / watch TV / travel /go to the cinema / go on the internet / phone their friends, or read anything other than Enid Blyton. Oh, except that if they read EB, they’ll learn that girls are pathetic and boys are just the greatest leaders and that taking boats on stormy water across a sea with no adults is an OK thing to do.
Compared with which, the odd piss off seems like a very small risk to take.