Friday 28 February 2014

Through the Slushpile Spectacles - Are Children's Writers a Breed Apart?

by Addy Farmer

Peering through my spectacles this week, I spotted this interesting article in The Guardian.  It examined the reaction to writer, Lynne Sheperd's piece in The Huffington Post in which she urged J.K.Rowling to stop writing and give other people a crack at earning some money. She says:
I didn't much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I've never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can't comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. 

She has reaped the whirlwind. J.K's fans have taken to reviewing her books and admitting to never having read them.
Rowling's fans have been taking to Amazon, where they have been leaving a deluge of one-star reviews for Shepherd's previously well-regarded novels. Now on, its US version The Solitary House has 59 one-star reviews, the majority written this week, ranging from "I've never read any of your books, and now I never will!", to "There is no way I could support an author (or anyone else for that matter) who has such a terrible outlook.
I agree. I think she does have a terrible outlook. The wonderful Paolo Bacigalupi called it "zero-sum author thinking"

I will gloss over the perhaps unintentional conflation of imperatives which managed to insult children's writers:
By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that. Lynne Shepherd
'Cos that's probably just me being over-sensitive although she did say this about some Harry Potter readers ...
I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there's so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right?
Hmm. Forget that. Remember this:
If you think other people's success diminishes you, don't be a writer. Paolo Bacigalupi
I have been a children's writer for too many years to bother counting and in all that time I have nearly always encountered the support and generosity of fellow children's writers both published and pre-published. Are children's writers different, I wonder? Maybe so. Maybe because children's writing is such a brilliantly demanding craft for the best readers ever and NOBODY is ever an overnight success, that we need all the support we can get. Or maybe we are just good at enjoying ourselves. 

Whatever the case, I say hooray for JK and her stories and hooray for her success! And hooray for all those who can enjoy anybody's success because surely any good thing that happens has to be a reason for celebration and not jealous condemnation.  

SCBWI conference - celebration of books published in 2013

So much success! Enjoy! 


  1. Good post, Addy! Yes I agree. Jealousy (like hatred) just shrivels your own soul a little so best to bash on the head and be happy.

  2. I was surprised that The Huffington Post published that article - it was under-researched, poorly-written and extremely narrow-minded. It just goes to show how careful you have to be online, and how an author's personality can (with one ill-advised rant) go from being a selling-point to completely swamping their actual work.

    1. You and me both, Nick. I read it and thought, is this person actually wanting to sabotage her own career?

    2. I read it carefully, looking for irony. There was none.

  3. Great piece, Addy. Agree with every word. And children who love Harry Potter - or any other book or series - are then more likely to seek out other great stories, so the success of one children's writer benefits the rest of us. Hurrah for all the successes, because they keep children reading.

    1. Absolutely, Helen. And what amazing readers those HP readers are. If they were issued with swords, they'd be terrifying.

  4. Silly author. I'm a bit sick of having to defend my right to read and enjoy children's books. And the criticism always comes from people who say, 'I've never read Harry Potter.' Well, YOU SHOULD!

  5. I'm not trying to defend the indefensible, but could Lynne Sheperd maybe have been writing what she considered a "tongue in cheek" kind of article and now finds that it has backfired in a major way? Surely, no-one would go into print knowing that they had written something so mean-spirited - and also critical of the taste of millions, literally, of JK Rowling readers - unless they were intending at as a joke, would they?

  6. Sadly, the Huff post doesn't read like a joke, just an ill-informed rant. When it comes to children's writing or indeed JK, Lynne Sheperd's is not a lone voice. She might say that her argument was more financial (no more defensible than any other argument) than critical of JK as a writer but the whole tone was mean-minded and so unlike my experience with all my fellow writers, it seemed a good excuse to say so! Thanks for reading, Gill!

    1. I have to say that the whole affair reminds me of that woman who ran the cyclist off the road, tweeted triumphantly about it and then was surprised when she got arrested. Like Lynne Sheperd, she just didn't think it through!


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