Tuesday, 15 February 2011
It's That Man Again... Celia Rees
Lucy Coats has already blogged (Wednesday, 9th Feb) about the remarks that Martin Amis made when he was interviewed by Sebastian Faulks for the BBC 2 programme, Faulks on Fiction. Her blog has attracted 60 comments and the outrage felt has resonated as far as the national press and the Huffington Post. Martin Amis, as the Guardian on Saturday pointed out, is no stranger to controversy.
I, too, saw the programme and after the first dropping of the jaw, I thought that he actually had a point. Just in case anybody doesn't know, or does not want to scroll down the page and see his words in purple 18 point type, he said:
'People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say: "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book."'
So far, so insulting. He then went on to say:
'The idea of being conscious of who you are directing the story to is anathema to me because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.'
Once I heard that, I could see where he was coming from. I did not think he was saying 'all children's writers have half a brain', that would be false logic. He was just explaining his own writing stance and he is entitled to do that. He writes literary fiction for adults, as such he sees it as his task to write to the top of his register and would not, could not accept any restraints on that.
The disregard for the reader that Amis expresses is just not possible when one is writing for children. Children's writers, and I include writers of Young Adult fiction, are ALWAYS aware of what their readers will and will not tolerate, or will or will not understand. Anyone who denies this is being disingenuous. Quite apart from the target readers themselves, there are other agencies involved. We have to worry about things that would not trouble writers of adult fiction in the least - see Leslie Wilson's blog below. How many writers for adults would feel the need to explain and justify their use of swear words or the incidence of sex in a novel? How much we take these factors into consideration, how much we allow them to limit our fiction, is up to us, but those limitations are there. We do not use our full palate, as Patrick Ness would say. How can we? We have to write at a lower register because we are adults and our readers are children.
There are other pressures on us, too. Pressures that have nothing to do with our writing but everything to do with the market place. In a squeezed market, there is more and more demand from publishers for novels that will sell. Books that fit into an obvious, popular genre - action, dark romance, whatever. A book that is perceived as 'too literary' is seen as problematic. The equivalent of the literary novel is a rare beast, and becoming more endangered by the minute. If one or two do sneak through, they usually turn out to have been written for adults in the first place and tweaked a bit in a bid to capture that holy grail, the crossover market.
In an interview in the Observer Review (13th February, 2011)) Nicole Krauss attests that the comment she heard most frequently on a U.S. book tour for her novel, The History of Love, was: 'this book is difficult'. Krauss worries that 'we are moving towards the end of effort'. Readers don't want to have to think too hard, it appears, whatever their age. That is the spectre that frightens me. In the hope of keeping that at bay, I actually want Martin Amis to write to the limit.