Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Call Me Irresponsible: Gillian Philip


I'm going to apologise in advance because this will be short, and much of it is based on this post from Pete Hautman, which is an incredibly interesting account of another author being 'uninvited' from a teen literary festival, and how Pete Hautman himself withdrew in solidarity. It isn't just the post that's interesting but the comment thread (I love it when a comment thread is smart and fascinating instead of just abusive).

The reason this is rushed and half-stolen (bear with me while I explain my tortuous train of thought) is because I've just arrived at the Edinburgh Book Festival, which is just as fabulous as always. Anyway, my new book FIREBRAND was published just in time to be on the shelves, and will be launched here at an event on the 27th, so I took the chance to vandalise some copies with a signature or ten. As I was doing this, along came a curious 9-year-old, who wanted to know if she could read the book. And since I won't let my own 9-year-olds read it, I said I didn't think that was a good idea. (Which wasn't that virtuous, actually. I sold one to her older brother and said she could read his copy in a few years.) But the point is that my (many would say underdeveloped) sense of responsibility did actually overcome my commercial instincts. I think all YA/teen authors would say the same. Wouldn't we?

This brings me back to Pete Hautman's post. I was uninvited once. I'd been asked to speak to primary pupils - just about the business of writing, and what was involved in doing it for a living, and how I went about it. I'd already explained that my work wasn't suitable for younger children, and they'd understood that, and agreed I'd simply talk about being a writer, and the invitation stood. But then they panicked. What would the parents say if they googled me? So the invitation was withdrawn at the last minute.

I'm still not sure how I feel about that, and I'd love to know what anyone else's perspective would be. I sympathise with the nervousness about a pack of angry parents; but I can't help feeling they were confusing me and the writing profession with my characters and storylines. Are we simply not trusted if we address certain issues in our work? Should organisers capitulate to a vocal minority (or even the prospect of them?)

Answers on a postcard, or possibly the comment box. And now I had better get this posted...

11 comments:

catdownunder said...

Well I will pounce right in and comment here because long ago, in another lifetime, I was briefly a librarian at a primary school. One of the new books on the shelves, chosen by the previous librarian, was "The Dolphin Crossing" (Jill Paton-Walsh). It has a death in it - and, back then, that death was considered confronting and unacceptable. I was told (not asked) by a parent to withdraw the book from the library. She was backed by several other parents. I refused. The matter went to the School Council and the minority view of these parents prevailed although I argued for a 'parental permission to read' status for the book.
I was only there in a very temporary capacity and left before the issue was fully resolved but I often wonder what I would eventually have done. Of course since then there have been books written about even more confronting issues!

Charmaine Clancy said...

Seems a shame to me, I think the kids could have received an invaluable experience speaking to a novelist about the art of writing. The classroom tends to teach children more about elements of style for narrative and what is considered wrong. From a novelist they could learn to write freely and understand that a lot of producing a novel happens in the editing stage. As a teacher, I love to see kids exposed to different sources of knowledge, and I think this would have been great for them.

kathryn evans said...

I can see this from both sides - I don't think it was an issue of trust regarding you, I think it was probably a case of the school knowing what some of its parents are like. In this instant I think the benefits of having you there were unquantifiable. They couldn't really measure the positive influence your visit could have made BUT they could well know from experience the negative influence of a few stupid, ill informed parents. Sorry if I sound biased been there, done that.

The terrible thing the school failed to do was to research you and assess the situation properly in the first place - they should never have booked you if they were nervous of their parents. I hope they paid up and grovelled.


The Firebrand issue is another thing entirely. I think you've done mightily good work here: The brother will know he holds something precious and mature and intended for him, the sister will long to be old enough to read it - and both of them will remember the author as some one who treated them with respect. Top marks all round.

Bill Kirton said...

Yep, no doubt about it, the kids were the losers in that particular deal. It's this implicit assumption that you are only what you write that's so insulting.

Katherine Roberts said...

It's quite a common mistake to assume authors are like their characters/work. Some are, but to me one of the best things about being an author is being able to "role play" as somebody completely different. After my last novel, I expect some people think I have four hooves and a tail and a massive willy... oops, better not invite me to a primary school!

And now I'm REALLY looking forward to reading Firebrand... there was a problem with supply when I ordered it, but apparently it is now on its way to me... yipee!

michelle lovric said...

Congratulations on Firebrand, Gillian!

I am going to post a little event announcement about Sassies at Edinburgh. Where and when exactly is your event?

Gillian Philip said...

Thanks for the comments everybody! Cat, your story is awful - must have been horrible.

Oh gosh Katherine, hope you enjoy the book! And thanks, Michelle! - my event's on the 27th but it's a schools programme one - I missed your post but I'll put a comment up. xx

Gillian Philip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gillian Philip said...

Bleh, how do I always manage to hit the button twice...

Gillian Philip said...

Oh, I didn't miss your post, you mentioned my event! Thanks Michelle. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone who'll be there.

Nicola Morgan said...

I think Kathryn makes a good point when she talks about the unquantifiable benefits versus the specific chances of a few misguided parents complaining. So, yes, a HUGE shame, and in most important ways wrong, but in practical risk-assessed (YUCK!) terms, a decision I understand, though dislike. I like to think I would have made the opposite decision and given a hard-hitting message about the importance of teenagers being able to explore dangerous ideas in the safe setting of a book, though...

Gillian - I think you should give yourself a big pat on the back for your advice to the 9-year-old to wait a while before reading Firebrand, if you felt it wasn't right for him. I have read it and think it's a brilliant book, and I don't think there's really anything in it to worry about for young readers - I think they'll stop if they feel uncomfortable - but I think he will enjoy it MORE later. And an average 9-year-old is very different from an average 12/13 year-old.

Pat on back!