The Oxford Dictionary international word of the year is 'post-truth', apparently reflecting the highly politicised events of the last 12 months. Facts are no longer a factor - in a political post-truth world it's all about tapping into emotions and beliefs, with facts being sidelined to the dustbin in favour of what people WANT to believe. The politician or party or movement who promises that will win, however outrageous their statements or personalities. We have all seen the evidence of this recently.
So where does this leave us as writers? Of course, we make things up for a living. We are, if you like, consummate liars, creating worlds and characters that we, at least, believe in. We show the world not as it actually is, but through a filtered lens, reflected in a mirror. How are our lies different from those of the politicians, then? Are we not touching people's lives? As writers for children, are we not shaping the thoughts of our readers?
Yes, we are. And I think that's something to be thankful for. Unlike most of the current crop of politicians (with a scant few honourable exceptions), we are not seeking to herd people into narrow boxes, to drive them by fear into putting up walls, into rejecting people 'other' than themselves. Writing for children is about opening doors, not closing them. It's about showing children other times, other places, other ways to be, other people. It's about helping our readers to understand that other is not bad or scary, that other is just like us, that other is human. Of course we show darkness in our work - it's the other side of light, but I think that as a general rule writers for children try to show at least a sliver of the positive, the redemptive, even in our darkest characters. If we don't, we risk them becoming cardboard cartoon cutouts, who are not at all believable.
I'm not saying children's books are all about being jolly and gung-ho. Quite the reverse. Children's books (and in that I include YA) cover some of the darkest topics and situations in life, and that's why what we do is so important. Because, in this post-truth world, we are, through fiction, through our 'lies', trying to shine a light to illuminate the truth of how things are, how they make people feel, how they can deal with them. I think it's some of the most important work there is, and right now, it's more important than ever.
Yesterday I read 'A Declaration in Support of Children' on the Brown Bookshelf blog, signed by over six hundred writers and illustrators for children. I'd like to quote from it here (you can read the whole piece via the link):
"We... do publicly affirm our commitment to using our talents and varied forms of artistic expression to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death.
For our young readers, we will create stories that offer authentic and recognizable reflections of themselves, as well as relatable insight into experiences which on the surface appear markedly different. We will use our books to affect a world brimming with too many instances of hostility and injustice. We will plant seeds of empathy, fairness and empowerment through words and pictures. We will do so with candor and honesty, but also in the spirit of hope and love."
I think that's something worth signing up to. I hope you do too. Because we, as writers and illustrators need to stand up and be counted. Whoever originally said it, the following remains true. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing. As creators, we do have power. Let's use it.
OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out: Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review