Sunday 23 February 2014

Why JKR (And Everyone Else) SHOULD Keep Writing Books

If you haven't seen the latest Twitter outrage, crime novelist Lynn Shepherd has just written a controversy-baiting article entitled If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.   (Linked using Do Not Link to avoid rewarding clickbait tactics by increasing their pagerank. Thanks to bibliogato on Twitter for the tip!)

In it, she says to JKR "when it comes to the adult market you've had your turn." Apparently Rowling's success "sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere". Brilliantly, she also attacks adults reading YA, saying "I've never read a I can't comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent" before doing just that. "I did think it a shame that adults were reading them... mainly because there's so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds."

I'm not quite sure how you can judge how 'stimulating' something is without reading it, for a start. For me, I wouldn't say the Harry Potter books were the most 'stimulating' books I've ever read but they're more so than an awful lot of stuff out there (for kids, teens AND adults.) They raise points about love, compassion, bravery, forgiveness, and a whole host of other topics.

The other thing that really winds me up, though, is the thought that reading NEEDS to be stimulating. There are action thrillers (for adults and teens) that I don't personally find 'stimulating' but that I look forward to massively. Similarly with a few comic authors (again for teens and adults) that I enjoy; I may not necessarily find them massively thought-provoking but they can cheer me up when I'm down. Sometimes, you just want to kick back, relax, and enjoy a book.

The suggestion that any author has 'had their turn' is equally abhorrent to me. Given the current issues with bookshops and libraries closing - we're down to less than 1000 indie bookshops in the UK for the first time since records began - I think ANYONE who gets a whole heap of people reading is someone to be treasured. JKR has probably done more to get people reading than pretty much any recent author I can think of. (As a side note, this is one reason I find it hard to get too upset about celebrities getting publishing deals. Yes, they sometimes - although not always - result in books I don't enjoy and don't think would have got published without the author's name value. However they get people into bookshops and libraries who might not normally go there, and they help support publishers to allow them to bring out other books which may be more to my own tastes.)

At the same time, there are a few views floating around from people I generally agree with which are disturbing me a little bit as well. The suggestion that YA is necessarily 'worse' than adult fiction annoys the hell out of me, but the suggestion that it's necessarily 'better' doesn't actually do all that much more for me. Yes, there is a huge amount of great YA out there, but there's also a huge amount of great adult fiction. (I'll be honest, I focus so strongly on stuff I can review for the blog that I don't read anywhere near as much adult stuff, but having read The Other Typist, Chinaman, What The Day Owes The Night, and Daniel Abraham's Dagger and the Coin sequence in recent years and thinking all of them were incredible, you can't just dismiss stuff for adults.) Surely it's better to accept that different people find different books enjoyable?

Similarly, if you've read Lynn Shepherd's books and think they're dreadful, fair enough to pass comment on them. However to look down on her because she's writing 'fanfic' seems misguided to me, especially if you haven't read them. There are a ton of books, plays, films and musicals out there which could be described as 'fanfic', taking existing characters and building on them, which have become well known in their own right. Shakespeare wasn't the first person to write about Romeo and Juliet, Jean Rhys achieved huge success with Wide Sargasso Sea, Gregory Maguire's Oz spin-offs have legions of fans. For myself, I've loved dozens of Sherlock Holmes stories nearly as much as the originals (Tracy Revels is a massive recommendation as a wonderful author, while David Ruffle does an amazing job of capturing the relationship between Holmes and Watson.) I haven't been awake long enough to come up with anywhere near a full list of wonderful books I've read building on existing characters, but a handful of other recommendations. Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence is a majestic addition to the ranks of books including Arthurian characters; Will Hill's Department 19 is a phenomenal exploration of what happened after Dracula, and Ten Things I Hate About You is a brilliant update of Taming of the Shrew. (I'm not a fan of the original; one of the only Shakespeare plays I've ever felt disappointed in.)

So, in closing, read what you want - whether that's YA or adult, 'fanfic' or completely original books, fiction or non-fiction... just have the courtesy to at least read it BEFORE you write a Huff Post article moaning about it. I know it's getting Lynn Shepherd a lot of publicity today; I'm just not convinced it'll translate into book sales.


  1. Great response Jim. I think that JK Rowling's story must be an inspiration for a lot of other writers trying to sell books or get published so why on earth would they want to see her get penalised for this success?

    And I love your point about not always wanting a stimulating read - sometimes life is stimulating and challenging enough and all the brain needs is an escape!

  2. What a fair and balanced response, Jim.