Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Martin Amis: A Response from a Children's Author - Lucy Coats

On Saturday night Martin Amis was talking about his antihero, John Self,  on the BBC's new book programme, Faulks on Fiction.  During his piece to camera, apropos of nothing the interviewer had said or indicated, he laid into children's books:

"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,' but [here he shakes his head] the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable."

Now, Amis is entitled to his opinion, (we live in a democracy after all) and he was, of course, speaking only for himself.  However, I too am entitled to an opinion, and my thoughts when I heard Amis spouting this arrogant twaddle from the rarefied upper reaches of  his ivory tower are unprintable here. No doubt he would consider that to be an intolerable restraint.  However, for the moment, I'm going to ignore the implicit insult to those of us who do write children's books (and, as far as I know, none of us have serious brain injuries, though I have often been told I am off my rocker) and concentrate on the last part of his sentence, because it made me ask myself some questions about how I write. 

Am I conscious of who I am directing my story to?  No.  At least not in the sense of 'writing down' to an audience that is obviously, by its very nature, younger than I am.  Children are astute observers of tone--they loathe adults who patronise them with a passion, adults who somehow assume they are not sentient beings because they are children.  When I write fiction, I research and plan just as (I assume) Amis does.  Then I sit down and let what comes, come. The story generally tells itself without any inner voice saying 'oh, but you're writing for children--you mustn't say this, or--oh goodness, certainly not that!'  Amis says of  the process of writing Self that, "I was writing about his subconscious thought--nothing he could have written down for himself...he's an ignorant brute."  Well, goodness.  Writing subconscious thought?  Does that never happen in children's fiction? We are all the amanuensis for our characters--and yes, often we do use language they never consciously would.  It's not a feat of the writer's art exclusive to highbrow literary fiction. When I write, I think about language, the richness and complexity and wonder of it, and I use it to hook the reader into my story, to ensnare them in my net of words, to take them so far that they forget that what they are seeing is only print on a page of dead tree.  I say the reader--and that means whoever is reading my book regardless of age.  Fiction is indeed freedom--and I have never felt constrained or restrained when writing it--though generally my work doesn't have as much swearing in it as Amis's does.  I don't find that a particularly intolerable restraint. 

Amis went on to say:
"I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write." Leaving aside the slightly questionable structure of this sentence--I have a nasty feeling that this is another dig at us brain-dead children's authors.  Not living up in the thin, sere air of an ivory tower, I am not quite sure what to make of this idea of a lower register. A lower register of what?  Intensity? Talent? Literary merit? For me, characters come, sometimes whether I want them to or not.  Would I choose not to write them if I somehow saw them as inferior to my 'great and shining talents' as an author?  No one forces any author to write anything or anyone--and if Amis thinks that children's books are somehow unworthy of the application of his own great and shining talents, without any of the kind of literary merit he recognises as such, beneath contempt, lower than the dust,  then he is welcome to do so.  But he would be quite wrong. 



Sebastian Faulks said at the end of his programme that "John Self looks like the end of the line for the hero...for literary novels, it's over. The hero is dead.  End of story." He also said something else.  He surmised that the hero hadn't vanished completely, but had just moved further afield into children's fiction.  In fact, "the modern novelistic hero is...well...Harry Potter."  Oh dear, Mr Amis.  Perhaps you'll have to write a children's book after all.  I dare you to try.

*Addendum* There's now been a lot of media comment on this article/subject.  I've added links to the various newspaper articles below. LC 12.2.2011

The Guardian
The Huffington Post
The Daily Telegraph
The Independent


• Lucy's new 12-book series Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books
• Lucy's website is at http://www.lucycoats.com/
• Lucy's blog is at http://www.scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com/
 (Shortlisted for the Author Blog Awards 2010)
• Lucy's Facebook Fanpage is at http://tinyurl.com/lucycoatsfacebook
• Lucy's Twitter page is at http://www.twitter.com/lucycoats

66 comments:

frances thomas said...

An excellent post, Lucy. I've written both for adults and children, and I don't think the register is either higher or lower, just different; just as the register of a book for ten year olds is different from that of one for fourteen year olds and the register of a detective story is different from that of a romance Part of the writer's skill is to find that appropriate register. If Martin Amis can't even contemplate that, he's less of a writer than he thinks he is.

catdownunder said...

Has that man no idea how difficult it is to write for the most demanding audience of all? It is most certainly not a lesser art Mr Amis!

Charmaine Clancy said...

I don't see anything wrong with knowing who you're writing for, I like thinking about my reader, it makes me feel a connection to them.

All I can think is, eh, that's how he does it, and this is how I do it. It's good we don't all think the same.
:-)

Jane Travers said...

Oh, very well said, Lucy!

Personally I think there's a far greater challenge in writing for children than for adults. Children don't care about "who" the writer is, they're not impressed by credentials; they care only about the story and the characters, and whether they are engaging and ring true to the reader, without patronising.

Now, what are the chances that Martin Amis could ever write such a book?

Lesley said...

I would imagine Mr Amis has not read a children's book since he was a child and has no idea of the quality of writing in the field these days. He probably thinks that reading children's books would be beneath him too. His loss!

Lucy Coats said...

I too would like to know when Mr Amis last read a children's book--and whether he has anything other than ill-informed preconceptions about the field of children's books as it stands today. Mr Amis? Can you tell us?

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

The saddest thing I got out of the whole sorry state of affairs is that the BBC has commissioned a new books programme (YAY!!) and then proceeded to waste it on the the usual suspects who haven't written a sentence of any note in the past 20 years. There was uproar in many circles last year when some people dared to say the media was unduly skewed towards a tiny coterie of literary fiction would-be-has-beens-if-they'd-ever-been-at-all. Yet the fact remains that if you're McEwan/Amis/Barnes/Rushdie/Faulks whatever you say about anything will be picked over in written/broadcast/online primetime whilst anyone else will have to fight for every column inch.

I wouldn't lay the fault here with Amis - we all know he's an unreconstructed snob who seems to have been stimulus-response trained like a lab rat to produce banal bile on cue the moment the media circles. The fault lies with the programme makers who thought it would be a good idea not to talk about the innumerable exciting things going on in modern fiction so they could reinforce the misconception that literature is a dirty word.

Lesley Cookman said...

I can't write children's books, but I read them regularly, as you know Lucy! I, too, was insulted by Amis' remarks because he seemed to dismiss any writer who wasn't, a Lucy puts it, up there in the ivory tower with him.

It confirms my opinion of hm as a prat, and I HATED Self. Well, the few pages I actually managed to read, anyway.

Anne Booth said...

What an arrogant and ignorant man. I would LOVE to be a published children's writer. I self-funded myself through an M.A. in Children's Literature and ended the course more in awe at the ingenuity and wit, the imagination and audacity of writers for children than when I began. There are some BRILLIANT stories out there, unselfconscious in their mastery of narrative, delightful, enchanting, disturbing, original. A writer has to want to communicate - Mr Amis chooses to put words on a page rather than grunt in the darkness - and the skill of writing for children is to communicate profound truth and life enhancing humour in a non-alienating way. A good children's writer is the opposite of brain-dead. I can't believe that man's pomposity.Thank you for your post, and I'm so glad I didn't see the original interview. Thank you to all writers and publishers of children's books - keep up the good work and pay no attention to that idiot.

John Dougherty said...

Don't worry, Martin. We can't all be imaginative and versatile.

Just stick to what you're good at, there's a love.

Katherine Langrish said...

Well said, Lucy. Incidentally, what puzzles me is the question of what, if anything, Mr Amis thinks children should read, since children's authors are clearly such a low life form in his opinion. Perhaps the dictionary, or works of non-fiction only, or protected from our puerile offerings till of an age suitable to be released upon his own books?

People who make shoes or clothes, or who prepare food for children aren't generally considered less skilful than those who do the same things for adults - why is the opposite so oftem assumed to be true of books?

Book Maven said...

Why are you all giving him a courtesy title? Is it a new form of discourtesy?

The man is a f***wit, as I have said elsewhere and I would never be drawn into reading any of his books. But I rejoice that he said this stupid thing because it means there will be one "adult" writer the fewer thinking "I know - I'll write a children's book" and then getting a contract, healthy advance and even some sales based on their "fame."

Personally, I think it's time to put up the bunting!

Kathleen Jones said...

I watched the programme and am still grinding my teeth! I'm well over the age of consent and still reading children's fiction alongside a wide range of 'adult' books. I even write them (for adults) but know that I'm simply not clever enough to write for children. Being able to hold open that inner eye - the one that sees as a child sees - is a gift. Martin Amis will never write a children's book because he might actually have to address the idea of 'story' instead of pages and pages of self-concious lit/psycho/macho/post-modernist twaddle.
There! I feel better already. :)

Steve Feasey said...

I think you're argument is wonderfully put, Lucy. And I think it's a great shame that the likes of Amis are chosen as the voice of literature in so many programmes. I agree with Agnieszgas Shoes when they say that the same-old-same-old is invariably dragged out by the producers of these shows when they could be letting a host of new, vibrant (and perhaps more considered) authors have their say.
It still makes me smile whenever I'm asked, "Are you going to write adults books next?" After all, we all know that we're really only writing children's fiction to hone our skills so that we too can one day join the ranks of the literati and look down our noses at those wretches who turn out works for children or, heaven forbid, genre fiction.

Love the blog.

Steve

Lynn said...

Fantastic post and comments.

What jaw-dropping, unabashed arrogance.

It's unfortunate that there's still the notion that writing for children is somehow less of a literary feat than writing for adults. (A few times, I've noticed an instant loss of interest in hearing about my current writing project, when I mention to someone that it's a work for middle-grade readers.)

Amis has obviously neither read any of the fabulous children's literature that is being created these days (and he's really missing out on a lot of terrific books there), nor has he tried to write any.

Were he to accept the challenge and try his hand at it, I shudder to think what the attempt might look like.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

The point about patronising children is spot on, Lucy - children can spot it a mile off and recoil at once. If Amis did write a children's book, it would obviously be as patronising as anything, because he clearly thinks children are brain dead too.
I agree with Mary, too - thank goodness that's one less adult author who could be tempted into writing for children!

Keren David said...

He's shown himself to be extraordinarily arrogant and small-minded...and that doesn't make me want to read his books one bit. The question of how much one thinks about one's reader is interesting - I can't see what's wrong with thinking about readers (of all ages) a great deal. Writing a book for publication is all about the audience, isn't it?

Girl Friday said...

I have to confess my initial reaction to his saying 'I would only write a children's book if I had a serious brain injury' was - I'm sure that could be arranged. Muahaha. *summons the Kraken*

I think it's hilarious that he brought it up apropos of nothing - the day must finally be here when people ask adult authors 'When are you going to write a children's book?' as opposed to the other way round :)
He's clearly just jealous that he hasn't had JK Rowling's sales or written anything as deep or rich as His Dark Materials.

Gillian Philip said...

I'm entirely in agreement with the Book Maven on this, right down to the asterisked epithet. How good to know that he'll never make the attempt.

Also, I'd dearly love to know what Philip Pullman thinks.

MG said...

Well, not that I saw the programme but from the comments quoted, surely all Amis is saying is that HE couldn't write for kids unless there was some kind of artificial brain limitation because he himself isn't able to exercise the required control of any author who wishes to communicate with anyone who doesn't have a similar level of age, education and experience.

I certainly DO have to make a conscious effort to write for a specific age group. I don't use words that I know my own 13-year old daughter, niece and nephew wouldn't have known or used. I try to tell the story from the POV of a teenage boy, when I am actually a middle-aged mother. It does require effort and control and for my to use a voice that isn't my everyday one.

Amis is simply saying that he isn't currently capable of writing with restrictions like that. Maybe if part of his brain were damaged...well that just shows a lack of understanding of how the brain works. I suppose you might conceivable have a gain-of-function with loss of brain. It's been known - people who suddenly speak in weird accents etc. Mainly though, I think brain damage leads to LESS ability to control how you communicate, not more.

Also, surely he's not suggesting that his writing is suitable for youngsters? Therefore some kind of children's books are still necessary. But he can't write them.

We shouldn't take offence. He's saying he can't do what we do. And as Girl Friday suggests, maybe a tiny part of him wishes he could.

Nicky Schmidt (Absolute Vanilla) said...

Ditto what Gillian said, I'd also love a view from Philip Pullman.

I honestly have to wonder how 'conscious' Amis was when he said this - I mean, was he really thinking? Did he genuinely intend to be insulting? Why would he bother to be so deliberately offensive, what's the point? I'd like to believe that he really wasn't thinking and I'd be curious to know what he might say if pressed on the subject.

Anyone who applies their mind realises that writing for children and young adults is the toughest kind of writing, you have to be aware when you do it - and no, that's not about talking down or thinking "I'm writing for a child" it's about ensuring that you constant hold the child's attention and interest. I think some of the best literature around today comes from children's authors - I rate it way above the quality of much adult literature.

So yes, perhaps Martin Amis should try his hand at a children's novel. It would be interesting to see how he fares - and how he finds the process.

Tam said...

As I've said elsewhere, I'd love it if Amis tried his hand at a children's book because he would die on his arse.

His comments weren't only insulting to an amazing and talented plethora of children's writers but also to children themselves, who are apparently to be considered a lower life form incapable of taste and discernment. It would appear Martin Amis hates children; it's just as well he never was one.

beccabrown said...

Brilliant post Lucy. I was fuming when I saw that part of the programme. I had actually been enjoying it until that point; I know it was "familiar faces" but I thought it had some good points, sparked some interesting questions and if it encouraged only one person in the country to pick up a book, isn't that a good thing? But Amis actually made me recoil. It has certainly ensured that I NEVER read one if his books. I'd far rather go and lose myself in one of the amazing children's books I love or find a new and exciting children's author to be inspired by. And if one day I work hard enough to join the ranks of children's authors I shall count myself as honoured.

kathryn evans said...

Please don't dare him to write a children's book Lucy, a child might read it an that thought makes me feel all peculiar.

Anna Wilson said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly, Lucy, and with all the comments above. Amis is rather restricted in his writing after all, as he can only manage to convey the point of view of an arrogant white male, so we shouldn't feel too upset at his comments, poor dear. As for the people who say, "When are you going to move on to writing for adults?", depending on how facetious I am feeling on the day, I either reply, "When I become one", or "Would you ask a primary school teacher when they are going to move on to lecturing at university?" As other people have posted, Amis has clearly read nothing in children's literature in the past 50 years. The trouble is, Faulks is the same - take a look at his pathetic caricature in A Week in December of the children's author, Sally Higgs, who is awarded the "Pizza Palace" literary prize for her book, "Alfie the Humble Engine" (for goodness sake...) He describes her as "old Sally, a much-loved toiler in the garden of that humble genre, the children's picture book". As you say, Lucy, my true thoughts are unprintable here.

Candy Gourlay said...

children are such a tough sell. i always care what my reader thinks - but then i think adult writers ought to do so too. it would certainly improve what's out there at the moment.

Nick Cross said...

Who writes without thinking of their audience? Only someone too bound up in proof of their own "genius" I would say.

A great riposte Lucy - you seem to have a singular talent for the puncturing of prigs.

Steve Feasey said...

To those of you who wondered if Amis just glibly threw the line out there without thought - 'fraid not. He said the same thing to Will Self in an interview in 2009. So at least he's a consistent a***hole.

Nicola Morgan said...

Charmaine - you said "I don't see anything wrong with knowing who you're writing for, I like thinking about my reader, it makes me feel a connection to them." I completely agree. I think very carefully and very consciously of whoever I imagine and hope my readers will be. Each of my books is different and tries to speak to different readers. Of course, I hope that lots and lots of others will read it, but i always have a particular group / mindset / need in mind.

Candy - hear, hear.

MG - I did watch it and that was what I thought, too. So did the people I was watching it with, but they weren't children's writers.

And re the idea of him trying to write a children's book, perhaps he knows he couldn't do it - bit like me saying, "Oh, I'd never bother with running a marathon / climbing a mountain - I've got far far better things to do..."

John Dougherty said...

Nicky Schmidt (Absolute Vanilla) said...
"I honestly have to wonder how 'conscious' Amis was when he said this - I mean, was he really thinking?"

Perhaps he'd had a serious brain injury. Let's hope not, obviously.

Sulci Collective said...

Have you read Amis' "London Fields"? It IS a kids book, or at least a book written by a child with a stubby crayon as far as characterisation and patronising cliche goes. Martin Amis demonstrates that he is terrified of the lower classes in the book and by his comment here, maybe he is running scared of children as well.

The hero point is far more interesting. That it may well have moved exclusively into children's & YA literature may represent the fractured home life that demands a need for fictional heroes and heroines for kids to identify with. As a writer of litfic myself, I celebrate the end of the hero in my realm, maybe we can start writing some books with emotional intelligence now that we don't have to fret over redemption and triumphs over adversity, or tragic ends. Maybe we can get on with trying to portray the complexity of the human mind, in a way I have yet to find Martin Amis grapple with in any meaningful way.

Give me Will Self's sneer over John Self's any day.

Marc Nash

Lucy Coats said...

Thanks to all for your variations on my theme and for your support of children's writing. I agree with Agnieszkas Shoes about the unremitting recycling of these literati pundits by the media--I too wish they would rethink and freshen their contacts book. However, I do lay the fault with Amis in this case--he is responsible for his own words--if he had been asked directly about children's books rather than just lobbing his bile pell-mell into a totally unconnected interview about the hero in literary fiction, I might be more forgiving (though not much). As Steve says, he has said this before, so it's clearly something he's thought about more than once.

MG and Nicola--As I said--Amis is entitled to his own opinion both of children's books and of his own ability to write one. I still object mightily to his patronising and dismissive tone. I would not be able to run a marathon/climb a mountain either (too fat, too unfit, too crocked in general!)--but I hope that, like Nicola, I have the generosity of spirit to recognise those who can, and who work incredibly hard to get to the stage where they can. Amis doesn't seem to afford children's writing any such recognition.

The debate about how authors think about readers when they are writing gives some excellent proof that each of us works differently. Perhaps I didn't make my own methods clear enough. When I'm doing the plotting and planning and researching stage, that's when I think about which audience each particular book is going to be for. By the time I've got to the stage of writing, I am already deeply involved with the audience in my head--and so the whole thing evolves onto the page without my having constantly to hold up a particular set of readers in front of my eyes, because it's already been downloaded onto the hard drive of my brain and is part of the whole organic process of the writing itself. I hope that makes some kind of sense!

Carole Anne Carr said...

He reminds me very much of Richard Dawkins, both blinkered and only half alive.

Jackie Marchant said...

In order to write for children, you have to be a child. For some poor souls that is impossible, but for some of us it's the biggest pleasure of being a children's writer. Poor Martin Amis will never understand this.

Now, I'm going to throw my toys out of the pram and see how many I can get to hit Martin Amis.

Neezes said...

Amazing, but then I wouldn't expect much sense from Amis. I suppose he takes the same approach when speaking to children, does he? lol Maybe he just doesn't communicate with such lesser beings.

It seems to me, the idea that children's writing is just a simple or limited version of adult fiction is pretty idiotic.

Trish Campbell said...

The words, pompous, ignorant and prig come to mind.

Nicola Morgan said...

Lucy - I wasn't disagreeing, btw, just saying that my method feels very consciously thinking of the specific readers. I know that many many authors don't - it's a method thing, not a judgement thing. Joanne Harris and Ian rankin have both been on my blog as interviewees and both said they don't think about the reader when they're writing - and I would be a bit foolish if i were to say they were wrong!! :)

And yes, I (obviously) can't tstand the way that many adult writers (and non-writers) look down on the art we practise. The Amis snippet felt very out of place in the programme actually. It was supposed to be about heroes; to make a point about heroes in children's books is fine, but he wasn't at that point (I didn't think), which is why I wonder why it had to be left in, so irrelevant was it.

Thomas Taylor said...

Ah! We all need someone to loathe, so it was nice of Amis to serve himself up on a plate.

all this reminds me of a brilliant cartoon that I once saw but can't find right now. It shows two people at a literary party. The woman says, 'I write children's books. I address issues of identity and whether or not there is such a thing as inate evil'. To which the man replies, 'I'm an adult's author. I write about going bald and getting off with younger women'.

jane.stemp said...

I have brain damage (cerebral palsy) and my second book was shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Award, so Amis couldn't have insulted me harder if he'd sat down and thought about it for a year.

Superglueing him to a wheelchair and piping children's fiction into his auditory canal suddenly seems like a good idea...

Marjorie said...

Couldn't agree more with your post ( and comments) as an adult who often reads children's and YA books because they are so often so much better.

I recently came across this article by Diana Wynne Jones talking about the restrictions of writing for adults. Fascinating!

catdownunder said...

I was insulted too Jane and contemplated writing him a letter. Then I thought he might think I was writing him a fan letter and decided against it. The "brain injury" comments were way out of line.
My father, retired school principal,says Amis apparently has no idea that the younger the age group the more teaching skill is required. My father then added, "And of course the same applies to writing. It is much harder to write for children."
Are listening Martin Amis?

Savita Kalhan said...

Brilliant post, Lucy, and I wholeheartedly agree with you! It seems I don't have to say much as the previous comments pretty much cover it all!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Great post. Agree about Amis, (have tried, but have never managed to finish one of his novels) agree too about the media trotting out the Usual Suspects. (We have our own brand of them here in Scotland, as well.) I've written for children, written for schools radio, way back when, and it was one of the most challenging but rewarding things I ever did. You've only to tutor a creative writing group to realise that those who self consciously attempt to talk down to children produce rubbish. Which is, of course, quite different from having a certain awareness of who you are writing for. But if he believes that the likes of Pullman and so many other fine writers, some of them on this comment thread, are constantly and self consciously aware of 'writing in a lower register' it says a great deal about his own incompetence and prejudice.

Bryony Pearce said...

Given the choice in the library, I will pick up a high quality YA fiction novel in preference to so called 'adult literary fiction' and, that's what I write too, because I write what I enjoy. No I don't have a brain injury, Mr Amis, I do however, have a degree in English literature from Cambridge University, where, incidentally, I did not study anything at all by your good self.

Nick Cross said...

I'm fascinated (and appalled) by Amis's assertion that he writes without restraints. Here's my take on that: http://www.whoatemybrain.com/2011/02/creative-restrictions.html

Ellen Renner said...

Hey ho, nothing ever changes and self-important fools have always been with us.

Literary fiction is merely another genre, and fairly recent one at that. It was invented because of the masculine desire to control through categorization, but it doesn't really exist. There are good books, indifferent books and bad books. It doesn't matter for whom they were written ... women, men, children, adults ... or in what 'style'.

The great danger with literary fiction is exactly the sort of self-indulgence typified here. In the hands of idiots like Amis, art loses validity because its only concern becomes looking up its own backside. Forget your audience and they will soon forget you. Art is about creating structure from chaos and communicating that experience. 'Only connect', as Forster said.

If Amis wishes to write only for himself, he should then keep the masturbatory result for his sole contemplation.

Thanks, Lucy, for a great post, and another thanks to the Book Maven and Agnieszkas Shoes for brilliant comments that had me cheering.

sophiabennett said...

What did Amis first read (at the undoubtedly precocious age his untainted brain enabled him to devour fiction)? Who inspired him? How did he first learn about the art of narrative and characterisation? How did he form a view of his moral universe? Did he skip straight to his dad? I think we ought to be told. Great post, Lucy.

Eithne said...

This from the man who wrote The Pregant Widow, which a ten year old would find puerile!

jane.stemp said...

Okay, who told the Guardian? ;->

They lifted half my post without asking...

Lucy Coats said...

Jane--so sorry the Guardian lifted your comment without asking...The Telegraph (books) and the Huffington Post have quoted you too. Hope you are ok with this--I think they can quote stuff published on the internet without any permission. This all seems to have got a lot of publicity for Amis (he was even trending on Twitter at one point)and not sure that is a good thing. However, I'd say most of the comment is pro-children's books, though not all (wouldn't be a proper debate if everyone agreed, would it?). The papers have quoted, variously, Kath Langrish and John Dougherty too, and the Independent pulled in Charlie Higson, Anthony Horowitz and Roger McGough. I'm feeling a bit like the pebble who started the avalanche at the moment!

susan.irwin said...

HI Lucy, Jane, everyone,
I came here from Robin McKinleys site (totally agree with everyone, and would quite happily arrange for MA to have a brain injury, except for the fore-warned danger that he might start writing things which would end up on the YA shelves...*shudder*) I wanted to say that quotes should always be acknowledged - even from the internet. In university it's called plagiarism. I guess it's called journalism in the 'real world'... But then it seems that standards in everything but kids/YA writing are falling... Just saying.

Nicola Morgan said...

Jane - the Guardian also lifted an online comment of mine regarding World Book Night and quoted it. What I took from that was what I already knew: that none of us can or should say anything on any internet forum that we wouldn't be happy for anyone to read. (Inlcuding, btw, what seems like a relatively private Facebook conversation.) It changes the nature of conversation - the internet is so permanent and we can feel we're having a conversation and debate but aspects of what we said might be used at any time in the future. Yes, journalists should ask permission, I think, and in my case she tried to but I wasn't available during the few hours before her deadline...

Anthony said...

I only caught up with Martin Amis's remarks and some responses this morning. And now Lucy's powerful piece and this 'conversation'. I found myself wondering how the great adult and children's historical novelist and writer for children Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) might have responded to Matin Amis had she had the misfortune to encounter him, maybe in a TV studio or interview.

Her tone I think might have been the same as the resigned, pitying one she reserved for those who should have known better when they made 'does she take sugar' remarks. (Rosemary, a relative of mine, spent much time in a wheelchair, especially when out and about).

By way of comment on the content, perhaps she would have repeated her oft made remark that she wrote for children aged 8 to 88; and recalled something she said to esteemed critic John Rowe Townsend: “The themes of my children’s books are mostly quite adult, and in fact the difference between writing for children and for adults is, to me at any rate, only a quite small gear change.” The gear change, in whichever direction, is clearly beyond Martin Amis. (See www.rosemarysutcliff.com)

jane.stemp said...

Anthony, hallo! Rosemary Sutcliff is my heroine and my inspiration, you moght like to know...

I know that in law conversations on social neworking sites are deemed to be in the public domain, and I have no problem with being quoted, but law is one thing and courtesy another. (it's not as if a quick Google wouldn't have enabled them to trace my agent - and get the title of the book 100% right... )

Anthony said...

(Everyone, forgive me using this comment to write to Jane; I cannot easily find her email!)

Everyone: Now that my dander is up, albeit way behind all of you, and having returned to find Jane's post, I am recalling a little item on my blog which recalls that around 1980 Rosemary Sutcliff was one of The Times 'top twenty' writers (of all sorts) of the centtury. The thing was, she beat inter alia Martin's father Kingsley Amis to the group. Silly, I know, but most satisfying!

Jane, hello! I am of course delighted to learn that Romie (as I knew Rosemary Sutcliff - my godmother and first-cousin-once-removed who I grew in knowing well, and spent my pre-teen years pushing into bushes in her wheelchair ...) is your "heroine and inspiration".

Can I entice you to post some writing about that inspiration at the You Write! tab at www.rosemarysutcliff.com (and indeed the same goes for anyone else as inspired by Rosemary as your are uninspired by Mr Amis)

Louiz said...

Thank you for that Lucy. I personally will be exercising my freedom by not reading any more of his books (somehow I don't think he'll actually notice though). I feel that children's books are actually more important than adult books, as they're new to the whole reading thing and should have fabulous fiction to read to set the habit!

(Followed the link from Robin McKinley).

catdownunder said...

I sometimes get quoted without permission or acknowledgment in the editorials of our state newspaper. The first time it happened I asked a journalist what was going on and he said, "Once you write a letter to us we can do what we like with it." I suspect they view anything that comes up on the internet in just the same way.
I suppose we should just be grateful they think we are worth quoting!

Steve said...

Thank you to Lucy, Jane et al for calling Amis to task. Special mention to the ever-brilliant Dan Holloway (aka Agnieszkas Shoes) for his typically wise remarks. :)

Steve said...

Ps Some quite wonderful Amis cartoons from BookLust:

http://storms.typepad.com/booklust/2011/02/only-a-brain-injury-could-make-me-draw-martin-amis.html

Steve J.
http://spauljensen.wordpress.com/

Lucy Coats said...

Delighted to see all the visitors and commenters from Robin McKinley's blog! Susan--I entirely agree with you and Nicola that journalists should ask permission. To be fair, the Guardian et al did acknowledge Jane as the author of the quoted bits (though I wish they'd got the title of your book right, Jane--that's just lazy journalism. Still, the Huff Post called MA 'Marcus Amis' which made me laugh.).

Anthony--thank you for your support on Twitter too! I love that 'gear change' quote. How brilliant RS was--she was my staple reading as a child (I suppose in large part she is responsible for my love of all that Roman and Greek stuff), and I had huge pleasure in introducing her to my son a few years ago. He enjoyed her just as much as I did.

Steve--those cartoons did make me howl with laughter. Do go and have a look, everyone. Amis as Moomin, Grinch, and, most priceless of all, in a skirt as 'Madeline'.

If you'd like the publisher's point of view, Kate Wilson, MD of new children's publisher Nosy Crow has written a very good piece here: http://tiny.cc/6089p

Steve said...

Condescending piece from Vanity Fair:

'Like any ace reporter, I Google Martin's name and find that a fatwa has been declared against him over shock-horror comments he made an interview that have inflamed fine-feeling people everywhere and could easily be interpreted as an insult to the unborn, if they knew how to read.'

More:
http://www.vanityfair.com/online/wolcott/2011/02/a-dismaying-development.html

Steve J.
http://spauljensen.wordpress.com

patricia storms said...

Unfortunately, this is the kind of support we get over here in Canada:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/russell-smith/kid-lit-authors-get-over-yourselves-amis-has-a-point/article1910155/

allanbard said...

Good post, indeed! I couldn't refrain from posting some of my advices... I think no one would say to a writer he or she's insane writing for kids if his/her works could be read by both adults and children? And the best evidence of sanity for an author are the good writing skills, which include the good imagination too? So, I guess every author should strive to create new creatures, the classical, öld like vampires, elves, dwarfs, wizards with sharp hats, fairies, etc. are too ordinary already? I try some new in some of my books too (Tale Of The Rock Pieces, The Opposite Of Magic, Kids'Funny Business, etc (weightless korks, glowing, living balls, Brown faces, fiery men, one-eyeds, night fruit, rock pieces, fish-keepers, etc...).

Swan Artworks said...

Hi there,
I didn't see the offending programme in question but have read your post and all these comments with great interest...
For me the power and quality of the books I read as a child had a profound influence on the way I write as an adult, whether that be for adults or children. (Not that I claim to anything more than amateur!)
I still have strong memories of the way the language and storylines immersed me into complex, sometimes dark, many layered compelling worlds.
I still enjoy reading children's novels now of great thought, depth and quality. In many ways children's books have to be all the more exceptional, making as they will such profound impressions on young open minds.
Who doesn't have a memory of the stories that shaped their childhood?
Writing for children is NOT a lesser artform than writing for adults, I'd say quite the opposite...

kaka said...

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Logical Thinking said...

Considering that you are all well-versed in English I am surprised how many of you misconstrued what he wrote just so you could jump on the bandwagon and show some righteous indignation.

Let us parse what he said, shall we?

"the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me ..."

MA does not target any specific demographic because he does not want to (for very good reasons) and that is him at his normal. Now if he is brain damaged obviously his judgement could be affected, he could, possibly, think in different ways in which case he could start writing for specific demographics. Basically if he is not himself (as of now) he would not write the way he does.

What is so controversial about this? Where has he said that to write for children one (obviously excluding himself) has to be brain damaged?

Sheesh people!!