I'm in nark mode, so brace yourselves. It must be something to do with the imminence of Christmas ...
First, in an interview Jacqueline Wilson reveals that her mother, who's in her eighties, has never read any of her books. 'Why would I want to read children's books?' she says. Well, there's so much wrong with this: first of all, why not read children's books, especially at this vibrant time for children's fiction? Several of the best books I've read in the past few years have been far more impressive than hyped 'literary' fiction, because children's fiction is a tough arena and anyone entering it has to remember that their readership will switch off quicker than any other if their interest hasn't been stimulated. And what turns them off quicker than anything - a lack of a story, a narrative that seizes them and carries them along to a fulfilling ending. (Congratulations, by the way, to S.F. Said for winning the Blue Peter prize for the Book I Couldn't Put Down for 'The Outlaw Varjak Paw'). Secondly, what about family loyalty? Can't JW's mother find it in her to read at least one of her highly-successful much-loved-by-the-public daughter's stories, if only to say 'Very nice, dear.'? Is this something you recognise? What is the attitude of your nearest and dearest to your writing? If you are unpublished, it might very well be that they have no interest in or respect for your 'scribbling' - and sadly, this adds to the loneliness of being a writer and reinforces the self-doubt which can all too easily stop you in your tracks. If you are published and have gained. to whatever degree, a public recognition of what you do, it's strange how important still it is to gain validation from those close to you. I speak from experience: I have a husband who is incredibly supportive in every way.
What else is pissing me off? Ah yes: apparently, health and safety, the Stalinist padded cell we are consigned to as a nation, has obliged certain publishers to take material out of children's books as being dangerous to the kiddies. This includes, in Lindsey Gardiner's book 'Who Wants a Dragon?' an illustration of a dragon toasting marshmallows while fire comes out of his nostrils! This ranks with the chap in Swindon who was forbidden to sell his book to his office colleagues for fear they might get paper cuts from handling it and then sue! What have we come to? My son went on a day visit to Southampton University on Wednesday, to fill him with the desire to attend university, which was a worthy aim. As his parent I had to fill in a health and safety form which included not only mentioning his allergies and when he last had a tetanus shot but also saying how far he could swim: were they afraid the bus would overshoot the campus and end up in the English Channel? So, go to your children's bookshelves and remove all those dangerous volumes involving adventures risky to life and limb and all those illustrations of ogres and dragons and towers and battles and spaceflights and boat trips and pet rats. That would mean .. oh, let me think. Yes: every book on the shelf.
Finally, an article in last weeks Times by Melissa Katsoulis, tells us that young writers are the best, and old writers are dried up has-beens with nothing to say about 'Revolution, revelation, challenge and unrest'. The whole thing is written in a bolshie attention-grabbing manner, and it certainly got my attention. 'The trajectory for most literary geniuses is down,' she announces. Well, in certain cases she's not wrong - and with the death of Norman Mailer there's been discussion of the dinosaurs of the literary scene, especially the male American ones, who seem to be going on well past their sell-by. Fine. I was extremely disappointed by the selection of books of the year in last week's Sunday Times - all the usual suspects were there: Ian McEwan for 'On Chesil Beach'. Oh please. Robert Harris for 'The Ghost' - it could be he's there because it's a satisfying twisty expose of our ex-prime-minister and his wife. Or is it because he's one of those writers who is in a crony relationship with the reviewers of reviewer-land? So, I'm not saying there aren't problems with our current literary scene. But to argue - and to reinforce your argument with examples drawn from the Romantic period, which is hardly news to us: that Keats did the right thing by dying and Wordsworth didn't - that youth is better because it's youth, because young people are, well, like, not jaundiced yet, and have lots to say about 'the hottest pies' and that fiction is written for young people and old people's 'furies and passions no longer spit and fizzle', that old writers write about sex because they can't get it anymore and this is 'so far from being fresh as to be yukky' - all of this is so simplistic. I remember bemoaning to my husband that I wasted my twenties, when I had far more time in which to write than I've ever had since and his reply was that I hadn't written anything because I hadn't anything to say. Some people need to live a little or a lot. Most of us need a long training in our craft. Of course, some writers become tired and predictable and set in their ways, some endlessly recycle the same old themes in the same old style. Some would have been better doing a Keats. But the thing about Keats, when you read through the brief but dazzling trajectory of his work, is that when he died he still had so much potential and had he lived to Wordsworth's age I fully believe he would still have been pushing the boundaries of what was poetically possible and he would still have been writing letters full of exploration of beauty, truth and time. Many modern youthful writers burn out after their first fine well-hyped rapture. To every thing its time and season. So, let's not have sweeping generalisations about writing not being a country for old men. Let the middle-aged and ageing continue to be nostalgic for their pasts, and explore experience, memory, time and death, along with the subjects Melissa claims are topics for the young: race, sex, politics, music. Let them go on raging against the dying of the light.