Last weekend British author Stephen Faulks' show "Faulks on Fiction" about the British novel and its characters premiered.
One of his guests, Martin Amis, generated a lot of controversy with his comments on writing for children:
"People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book,' but [here he shakes his head] the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable."
As author Lucy Coats says on her blog, writing for children doesn't restrict her literary freedom: "When I write fiction, I research and plan just as (I assume) Amis does. Then I sit down and let what comes, come... We are all the amanuensis for our characters--and yes, often we do use language they never consciously would. It's not a feat of the writer's art exclusive to highbrow literary fiction. When I write, I think about language, the richness and complexity and wonder of it, and I use it to hook the reader into my story, to ensnare them in my net of words, to take them so far that they forget that what they are seeing is only print on a page of dead tree."
Though of course, to be literal about it, if we consider genre, structure, form, all writing restricts freedom in some way. Was Shakespeare restricted by his use of iambic pentameter? Or, as fellow writer and blogger Nick Cross says, "Something that Martin Amis seems unwilling to admit is that he too – consciously or unconsciously – operates under a whole set of restrictions. Such as only writing for smug, middle-aged, middle-class men."
However, I've been surprised Faulks' own sexist comments about heroism and gender haven't been getting more attention. Last weekend he was interviewed by Mariella Frostrup on the BBC's radio program "Open Book" about heroism (the theme of his TV series' first episode).
Here are some of his comments (my transcription, apologies for any slight errors):
Faulks: "When you come to someone like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, whom we call a hero, it's quite clear that she's not a good person or a person you look up to, but for some reason she's the person you root for in the story."
MF: "She's the only woman you manage to come up with out of seven heroes. Did you find it hard to find suitable female candidates?"
Faulks: "No, not at all. But not all of them fitted the arc of the story were telling within each programme... "
MF: "But according to you, Becky can't be a heroine because she's not good enough, and it's a qualifier I'm interested to know you didn't employ on your men, Winston Smith and John Self, hardly paragons of virtue."
Faulks: "Becky is a hero, despite being morally not a good person. But the reason she's a hero, not a heroine, is because she's the focus and the words actually lose their kind of gender connotations... I think you can have a woman hero but I don't think you can have a man heroine on the other hand.... because these things are not mirror images of one another. Jane Eyre, for instance, is a heroine. I mean, she's a much better person that Becky Sharp, but she's a heroine, I think, because Charlotte Bronte suggests that Jane Eyre's journey is to find a man, whereas Thackeray suggests that Becky Sharpe's journey is to do without men."
MF: But isn't Jane Eyre emblematic of her time?" ... (the interview continues, with a few more sexist comments, then Mariella Frotsrup moves on to let Faulks talk about how he believes the hero is dead, except in genre fiction).
Faulks: "Harry Potter, I mean, he's the most famous character of the last 25 years and he is genuinely heroic."
MF: "And don't forget Lyra, Philip Pullman's female heroine, who's a girl."
Faulks: "She's a female hero I think you'll find."
Frostrup then managed to cheerfully finish the interview without strangling Faulks--though it seemed to be a close call (the whole interview, at ten minutes, is worth listening to, and available here).
Needless to say, after hearing this, I didn't rush home to watch Faulks' program. He's managed to insult writers, women. Now the show needs to say something racist, perhaps about Mexicans. Then they'll have narrowed their audience almost entirely to white, middle class men. But perhaps that was the intention all along.