Treading Carefully and Sensitively in Publishing because #RepresentationMatters

by | Jun 16, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

There was a comment by a certain established British male author recently that ruffled some feathers in publishing. The said author is considered someone who is privileged and multi-talented. Let’s just say this author has been around and made quite a bit of money, and has been able to sustain that income, for a long time. 

Anthony Horowitz had said, in regard to the cancel culture raging in today’s publishing world, “it is about the fear that all creative people must now feel if they’re going to dare to write.” The words ‘must now feel’ in relation to ‘fear’ intrigued me. It would be accurate to say that Horowitz is now scared. And what has he to be afraid of? — a Twitter “storm” if he didn’t rewrite the book in question. He doesn’t go into detail about what his children’s book editor had asked him to revise. But he did say that he “suffered” when asked to revise his forthcoming book, Where Seagulls Dare: A Diamond Brothers Case(Source)

Revisions are hard. I know that because I am a writer. So, I commisserate with Horowitz. A writer has already spent enough time and energy writing that book. And then to be asked to rewrite it because the editor felt the need for these revisions can be a bitter pill to swallow. Horowitz felt that authors shouldn’t be cowed. I agree. No editor should put the fear of god in the author, I feel. But I also think that no editor wants to “cow” an author.. That’s not an editor’s job. I am an editor and I don’t wear a hat that says ‘do as I tell you or else’. An editor makes suggestions and recommendations. At the end of it, the author retains the right to say aye or nay to these suggestions. Rememeber that the word author comes from the word ‘authority’, or was it the other way round? But folks, you get my point.  

Here are my thoughts on reading more on the saga that took place in publishing recently: 

Why would the publisher want to continue to publish his book, if indeed it was considered problematic??? If I were the comm editor, I’d say, sorry we are withdrawing your book cos offensive. And why is Horowitz complaining? If he feels that he has the freedom to say these allegedly offensive things about gender and ethnicity, then he shouldn’t revise; he should man up and say I withdraw submission, if you don’t let me write it the way I want. Then, watch what he said in his book explode in his face. Which editor today, in this politically and racially sensitive climate, wants to be responsible for a book that can be construed as offensive, ffs? And get this, Horowitz said he “suffered” because he was asked to revise. OMG!! if that is not privilege talking, I dunno what!

You’ll have to mind my very unedited top-of-head and un-PC language here, folks! I am still trying to wrap my head around what exactly is Horowitz trying to really say. Is he speaking up for the freedom of speech and expression? Is he defending the English language where certain words should not be hidden but used in full force, even if they were offensive words, and in a children’s book, too? What are these “certain activities” he was alluding to that had “obviously to do with gender or to do with ethnicity or to do with trying to share the experience of others” that were denied him? He did mention these two words — “gender” and “ethnicity” — specifically in his interview, reported in The Bookseller and The Daily Mail

Well, imma thinking that if these “certain activities” to do with said topics are going to be hurtful and offensive, then by heck, nobody, including Horowitz himself, should be allowed to do them. What is this privileged white male talking about? 

I was recently interviewed by The Veil where I spoke about how certain types of representation can be damaging. 

“It impacts a person’s self-esteem,” says Eva Wong Nava, British Chinese children’s storybook author. “Even if you come from a loving family, you go into a predominantly white environment where you are being made fun of because your name sounds like ‘wrong’.”

The Veil

In agreement with me was Dr Audrey Tang, a British-Chinese chartered psychologist, who said, “If we only ever see the Chinese boy represented as the character of ridicule, what else is that child going to think?”

The same applies to the Chinese girl, of course. And let’s take it one step further, the Chinese man and woman.

Horowitz is a children’s book author and all children’s book authors know that children’s publishing is very policed. There are so many gatekeepers on this side of the publishing fence because we need to protect our children. Not mollycoddle them; protect them. What are we protecting them from? From offensive ‘insider’ jokes, from damaging stereotypes, from writers who don’t know a smidgin about a culture and people but feel compelled to write about that culture and people, without doing their homework properly, without being sensitive to the culture and people they’re writing about. The debate still rages on about cultural appropriation vs appreciation. It’s a quagmire and not one I can or want to go into in this article. 

And when I say ‘our children’, I mean ALL children. Anglo-European children suffer too when they’re exposed to stereotypes and clichés. How are these children going to learn about authenticity and accuracy in their own lives if all they see around them are stereotypes and clichés? And no, I don’t have a problem with laughing at myself/ourselves. I have issues when these only-making-fun-of-you banter and jokes are internalised and then laughed off because the model minority are too quiet, too docile and too conditioned not to rock the boat to speak up, and worst still when these same derogatory jokes are regurgitated by people within the/my community because ha-hah-funny-duh-Imma-not-like-that. 

Now, there are still quite a lot of thoughts whirling in my head regarding this little bind, or what the French call un petit pépin, that was caused by Horowitz. Thoughts like ‘white privilege’, ‘someone’s just not clued on’, ‘suffered — OMG — cos he had to revise’ (okay I said that already), ‘goodness, what is he going on about?’ (and yes, I also said that already). Some thoughts were laced with expletives, as you can imagine, but I shall not be offensive. But, WTF?? 

Now, if I were said author, I’d just have gone and revised my story, make it the best children’s book out there by a white British multi-talented male author rather than give a cryptic interview complaining about revision pains, and ending up sounding like a privileged t*sse*. I don’t know, what do you think? Now, we will have to let the Streisand effect do its thing — Where Seagulls Dare: A Diamond Brothers Case will now be the most talked about sequel to the Diamond Brothers series… because the author ranted about his suffering when asked to revise the manuscript, and (read between the lines) not cos his book could potentially trigger and hurt young readers, but because he felt that editors these days are cowing authors to write a certain way, and he was having none of it. 

Source: Instagram

Whilst I am on a roll, here’s another privileged male author talking out of his behind cos he is so behind the times. James Patterson recently claimed “that “older white males” are victims of racism”, a comment that got the whole of the publishing world up in arms and many of us stunned. I couldn’t help but chuckle when a few days later, he had to do some heavy damage control by apologising for his white privilege words. I dunno, folks! Why can’t people just comment less on things they have no idea about, like racism if they’ve never had to suffer for the way their skin is coloured ever in their lives? I mean, I’m okay with free speech and expression… but seriously, the freedom to speak also comes with the exercising of responsibility — the responsibility to know that when you hold a certain position in society, your words have power… so, think before you speak, cos words can be offensive and damaging, and those who have been offended for a long time have had enough. And here, I am not talking about people, like a certain author, who took offense at being cancelled cos she just couldn’t shut it about a very inflammatory topic that has nothing to do with her, but one that would free a lot of people to be themselves as they transition from one identity to another. Nor am I talking about a certain other author who has caused a lot of fracas too with her award-winning book that reflected her unconscious biases towards certain students of hers, whom she said had taught her a lot about herself. I mean, one shouldn’t be allowed to go around reducing people to their facial features*, which is clichéd, reductionist, and stereotyping, and on top of, scientifically racist. Come on, the days of Carl Linaeus are over! 

But for today, I will not anger. If you’ve been following my Instagram post on mantras and manifestations, you’ll know what this mantra means to me. For today, I will not anger is what I’ve been learning at reiki level I lately. Instead, I will speak up and put it out there and manifest my continued advocacy and activism for authentic, accurate and sensitive representation because #representationmatters. 

*disclaimer: only certain passages in the book do this. 

Written by evawongnava

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