It’s Book Week Scotland this week, and like many Scottish-based authors, I’ve spent the whole week (and this weekend too) rushing around Scotland sharing stories and chatting about my books.
But I’ve done other things too. I spent one of my Book Week Scotland days travelling to the northeast of Scotland, to the town where I was brought up, to take part in the campaign to keep local libraries open. (Moray council have recently relented, very reluctantly, to keep my home town Dufftown library open, but are still planning to close four others. So I visited one of them too, a lovely wee library in Rothes, where I met 50 local school kids and we all talked about stories and how libraries help inspire us. The kids were all familiar with and passionate about their library, and were gutted at the proposed closure. Here’s the notice. It’s closing TODAY. But the campaign to save it and other libraries continues.)
So, I went up north, and I told stories to kids in libraries because that’s what I do in libraries, and I got my photo taken and was interviewed by the press. And I hope that was helpful.
And this week, I’ve also started investigating a rumour about a proposal to cut the number of secondary school librarians in the city I now live in. If it’s true, then I’ll be getting stuck into that next week…
But I’m not just political about books and libraries. I campaign for a Yes vote in the independence referendum next year. I put out leaflets and knock on doors, but I also take part in debates as “a writer”, like one on Scotland’s future at this year's Edinburgh International Book Festival.
So, should I? Should I try to change the world around me, should I get involved in politics, when I’m just a children’s writer?
Why should my opinions be any more important than anyone else’s?
Why should what I think about Moray closing libraries be of any interest to anyone, given that I moved away more than 20 years ago? Why should my opinions on school librarians be any more important than those of any other local parent? Why would anyone pay any attention to my opinions on Scotland’s future, any more than any other person living here?
My job is to make things up and invent happy endings. Why should anyone trust anything I have to say about the real world?
The answer is that of course my opinions are not more important or valid than anyone else's. However it might be easier for me with my “writer” hat on, to express those opinions and get them heard.
And perhaps a deeper answer is that artists of all kinds are experienced at “what if”s and imagining outcomes and creative original thinking, so maybe on big political issues we can lift the debate out of shallow ‘what’s in it for me’ waters and give a wider vision to the debate.
But here’s another question I rarely ask myself, but I thought I’d ask you: does a writer trying to change the world annoy or offend readers?
Most people might think writers have a professional knowledge of the value of libraries, so might forgive writers for being passionate about libraries, even if they don’t agree with us. But on more contentious political issues, where readers, publishers, booksellers, teachers and parents might have their own very different views, does going public with our opinions damage us as writers? Does it undermine our books and our relationships with readers?
Should I just shut up?
Personally I think that writers can do a huge amount of good – look at the money raised last week by the amazing Authors for Philippines auction – and that if we care passionately about something and if we can help raise awareness and get a bit of media coverage to help out other people who care passionately too, then it probably is justified.
But I still don’t think my opinions matter more than anyone else.
And bizarrely I’m careful not to be blatantly political in my books! I suspect the underlying feminism of my collection of heroine myths, Girls Goddesses and Giants, is fairly obvious, but despite the Scottish setting of all my adventure novels so far, I've never mentioned Scottish Independence in any of them. I wouldn’t feel right using my characters (and readers) like that, in an artificial way that wasn’t part of the story.
So what do other writers, and indeed readers, think? Should writers try to change the world, or should we stick to creating fictional worlds?
And has anyone ever been put off a book by the writer’s political opinions?
I’m off now, to draft a letter about school librarians while on a bus to another Book Week Scotland event. Happy Book Week Scotland, whereever you are, and please support your local library! (See, I just can’t shut up…)
Lari Don is the award-winning author of 20 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.
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