Many readers are stupid. A disproportionate number of non-readers are even stupider. (Point in case: Goodreads.) I've already done my take on how to handle criticism, so I've been hesitating to write yet another article on why you should stick to your own balls (or ovaries) in the face of internet confrontation. This whole phenomenon just confounds me, and I'm way behind on making these darn blog posts, anyways, so I might as well double down on it. Anyhow, if you don't know, and you already do, publishers have been pulling books from their line-ups due to pre-release criticism of the materials yet unseen. It seems to be caused by professional reviews that paint the word as all our favorite -isms. And why question that? Surely, a critic would never have a bias, especially not one so esteemed as a critic of YA fiction. Think Plato's cave but rather than seeing shadows on the wall, they're having the shadows described to them by others. (Did they go over that in the theory? Secondhand information and ears and hearing noises? Probably. I don't remember.)
See, here's my main frustration. I don't believe these are samaritans trying to call out manifestos of bigotry. If I actually gave a fuck, I'd love to read the (un?)shelved manuscripts to see how they add up to the allegations. Something tells me that Mein Kampf, they are not. (Although, wouldn't I look like a fool if they were?) Likening this to #metoo would be a false equivalence. You see, when you accuse someone of something, you don't purposefully attempt to hide the evidence, especially not if you're confident in your statements. What these people are doing is saying, “Don't look! It's so evil, so racist, so hateful that you might not even notice if you read it for yourself! Don't come up with your own opinion. Let me protect you.” I don't find these to be good or even very confident people. If nobody reads the book they're calling out, then how can anyone disprove their claims? Ironically, many of these dimwits also tend to be the type who boast about reading “banned books” one month every calendar year. It appears to be a cabal of progressive puritans who enjoy the power of "canceling" those who accomplish what they are incapable of. You can bend over backwards to suck their collective dick but that doesn't mean they won't kick you in the face when your time comes. Whether or not you've truly done anything wrong, you're done away with. Apologies will only confirm their suspicions.
So, authors, what the fuck? On one hand, I understand. You're afraid; they've got you up against the wall. You put years into this book, have all your hopes and dreams stitched into the pages, other unnecessary metaphors. You don't want to come off unprofessional or get caught with your foot in the mouth. Here's the bad news: You're already fucked. Once they've sunk their fangs into you, you've got moments to act. I truly believe that most, if not all these authors mean well. I would be astonished if a single one of them tried sneaking some covert racism into their young adult book on the sly. If your book isn't what they claim it is, then why shy away from proving them wrong? You know what you've written, probably better than anyone (barring maybe your editor). Talk some sense into the situation. Are you digging your own grave? Maybe, but it's better than to submit to the entertainment police. People are divided on outspoken artists; nobody respects a push-over.
Publishers, you're probably not actually reading this article, so this paragraph is essentially useless. Imaginary publishers that I pretend read my posts, you're shooting yourselves in the foot. On one hand, there is a potential loss. On the other hand, you're missing out on an opportunity. I understand playing it safe is the game but outspoken Twitter profiles don't speak for the majority of readers. In many cases, controversy stirs interest in the general populace, especially when the claims turn out to be false. Look at the fan outrage towards Suicide Squad. That shit still made money. How many Transformers movies has Michael Bay cashed in on, now? (Particularly decent example, being that they are often accused of being racist, sexist, smartophobic.) I'm not here to argue the quality of these movies. My point is that despite negative reception, they still made bank. This boils down to the free market. Let consumers decide what you publish, not tweets. If an author's making money, why cut them off? I get that many of the authors I'm referring to aren't established writers, but why not give them one chance? I'm more sympathetic in this case, because I totally get how each book release is a major gamble and a financial liability. I'd still love to see a publisher give the literati the finger, though, and stand up with for the authors they were willing to sign on.
Ultimately, my point is why let others cancel your dreams? If a single bad review is going to light their torches, then fuck 'em. Who wants a fanbase like that in the first place? I think everyone whose written has been misunderstood on some level. I can say that a lot of my older writing and even my current writing could be misconstrued in such a fashion, in part due to my inefficiency as a storyteller. Thing is, if you're well-intentioned, the least you can do is have some faith in yourselves. I know this is easier said than done but you need to take this misfortune as an opportunity. The spotlight's on you and you need to take your fifteen seconds of infamy to prove yourself innocent before they move on to the next target.
It is very late and I’m sitting on the bed typing away on my Mac because I can’t sleep. I’m sitting cross-legged with the duvet wrapped around my shoulders, like some kind of narcoleptic Batman. I am also wearing a pair of Christmas pyjamas with a giant T-Rex dinosaur wrapped in Christmas tree lights on the front of the T-Shirt.
Why, I hear you ask? He’s a Tree Rex!
Okay, that’s enough setting the scene for now!
Basically, I came to bed early tonight with the idea of catching up on some much-needed sleep. The problem is that, as soon as I turned off the light at 8:42 pm, my mind revved up, buried it’s foot on the throttle and yelled, ‘What do you think you’re doing? We’re just warming up!’ I normally get all stroppy and flounce around in bed, getting more and more wound up at the fact I can’t get over to sleep but, this time, I didn’t. I was cool, calm and collected.
I simply got my laptop and started to write.
This, my dear reader, is the result of my over-heated, over-caffeinated brain and I just thought I would pose the question – does anyone else feel they have their most productive times either at night or really early in the morning?
When I sit at night, hearing nothing but a mixture of my heart beat, my nasally breathing, the click of the keyboard and the snoring of my four-year-old son in the next room I like to think I allow my mind to open up.
At times like this, I feel I am able to listen to the shy, quietest, inner-most voices of characters buried deep within my conscious or unconscious mind. Sometimes these characters are the best craic (fun in Irish slang) and I giggle like a schoolgirl as they give me what I feel at the time is pure literary gold! Other times, I feel like turning to them and giving them both barrel of verbal abuse, yelling, ‘And you woke me up for this?!’
The problem is that I, someone who is a Twilight Writers (#TwiWriter), has no idea what could come out of our sometimes tired, overworked minds. It can be amazing, but it can also be pure trash that should be filed under ‘Bin’.
When writing this, I looked up the internet to see if many other writers, who were actually famous, wrote at night. It seems that I, and any other #TwiWriters out there could be in some good, and pretty lofty, company:
* Robert Frost;
* Sylvia Plath;
* Tennessee Williams;
* TS Elliot;
* James Joyce;
* Franz Kafka;
* And endless others, friends!
The list of Twilight Writers appears to be endless and I, now learning that I am not a unique little snowflake, feel glad to know that what I am doing is seen to be something of an accepted practice in the world of writing. Times may have changed. The topics we write about also may have evolved, from the nineteenth through into the twenty-first century, but are we that different?
Some writers in Victorian England may have been huddling next to a dull light while scrawling onto paper by hand, while we, in the technological age, can call on a plethora of aids to help us regurgitate our ideas from our minds onto the ‘page’ and into the world via email. These tools may differ but we, as writers who sit up to all hours of the night listening for howls of those characters inside our minds, are the same. We call upon the inspiration that naturally comes about when we are sleepy, asleep or simply tired after a hard day’s work and putting the kids to bed!
I know I am a TwiWriter, I know I will be exhausted in the morning, I know I may need to take a little nap tomorrow, but I know I will have something concrete to show for my efforts. If, like me, you roll over to get your phone, open the ‘Notes’ app and start typing ideas before we forget them, accept that this is part of your process! Remember that we are not alone and, somewhere out there in the darkness, another TwiWriter will be dancing their fingers across a keyboard just like you.
Author of Inside Iris
Available on from Amazon on Kindle and Paperback
Like this article? Read more here.
Scott Gilmore, author of Inside Iris, is a pretty cool guy who wrote this equally cool article. Check it out:
As a child, when I sat behind a desk with an opened textbook in front of me, I often felt daunted and even sometimes frightened of the educators who taught me the ABC’s, 123’s and everything in between. These gargoyles would often have low expectations of us and, being from a working class, inner city area, can be forgiven for shouting and being stressed considering my class were what you could call ‘lively’ to say the least.
I remember these teachers as being glum, run down women who could find the thirty ankle-biters they were in charge of from the hours of nine am to three pm, and I can understand why they may have acted and behaved the way they did with my particular class.
Now that I am in my mid-thirties, have grown to be over six-feet tall, have a beard and am a teacher myself, I often look back at those days and wonder how that little boy would feel sitting in my classroom in 2018. Being a Primary 6 (or Year 5 in England) teacher, I was faced with my usual AQE Transfer Test chaos from April through to June. This is an extremely stressful testing procedure in Northern Ireland to determine whether a child at the age of ten or eleven is ‘smart enough’ to get into a particular grade of school.
Every year, the children in the class can find the time challenging and I regularly have a plethora of emotions from the dizzying highs to the gut-wrenching lows but, no matter what, I would always maintain an air of positivity and encourage the children as much as possible. Last academic year, I had one girl in particular who had a real issue with confidence, was getting upset and was considering not doing the AQE. I sat with this girl and discussed her worries at length, calming her down and ensuring she was able to go out to lunch with even the slightest silver lining on that particular cloud.
That evening, as I was making my way home from work, I stopped to buy my usual marking pens and, with the conversation I had with that girl was fresh in my mind, I bought a notepad and wrote a note for that girl. I told her how much I believed in her as a student, but also as a writer who had written many imaginative and creative stories that year.
The next day, I gave the girl the notepad and her face proceeded to redden with embarrassment. I then held out my hand to make her a deal – that I would give her a chapter of my still unfinished novel every week and she was to use that notepad as an escape from the stresses of AQE. The girl, who was always very quiet, simply said ‘deal’ and shook my hand before putting the notepad in her bag.
As the weeks went on, the few chapters I had written of my book soon dwindled and I had to write more to live up to my end of the bargain. Before I knew it, I was writing every night and, by the first week in July, I had written almost sixty-thousand words and finished my book, which was later to be published as my debut novel, Inside Iris.
I am in no doubt that this agreement, this handshake and this child gave me the impetus to finish my first book, publish it and achieve a dream I had since I was a child. She, along with other past pupils I have taught, have inspired me in different ways, encouraging me to look at myself as a professional and as a person – to change, develop and evolve.
I firmly believe that, as educators, as parents and as adults in general, we have a duty to encourage and develop the children in our care beyond the academic targets and statistics that are laid before them. We need to encourage the children in our care to challenge themselves, develop their minds creatively and to not be afraid of making mistakes.
I, and many other teachers, take pride in the fact that children in our classrooms know we will be there to catch them when they do make mistakes, when they do fail and when that ‘risk’ didn’t pay off as they had expected it to. Each and every year, I would watch two TED Talks. One by Sir Ken Robinson and the other is by Rita Pierson. There, she would talk about how every child needs a champion – someone who will believe in and encourage them no matter what, no matter how hard things got or how insurmountable a task or challenge may be.
With more experience and guidance from an inspirational principal, I learned the importance of connecting with the pupils in my class right from the most exceptionally gifted and talented to the most challenging and troubled. This connection and relationship, forged between a teacher a child, can empower them to do more than they thought they were ever capable of. It can push them from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
As a child in my class, sitting at a desk behind an open textbook, I want you to feel that I know you. I want you to feel that I understand, and I believe in you. I want you to know that, in a world of uncertainty, Brexit and pressures exerted on you from social media, that you have something that is certain in me. You will have someone who will always be there for you, who will have your back when times are tough and who will never ever give up on holding a mirror up to show you the person you can be.
Rita Pierson sums it up best when she asks how powerful our world would be if we have kids who are not afraid to take risks, not afraid to think and who have a champion – an adult who will not give up on them and who insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Young people need champions and, as adults, we owe it to them to be their guides, their guardians and that person who will encourage them to be more than ordinary – to be the exception.
Author of Inside Iris
Available from Amazon on Kindle and Paperback
Like this article? Read more here.