Blog Entries
Drive for diversity, or censorship under another name? Tags: Sensitivity reader diversity in publishing Lionel Shriver Anders Carlson-Wee The Guardian The Nation

Sensitivity reader is a job that I heard of earlier this year after reading this article in The Guardian. A sensitivity reader is someone who reads through novels and checks whether a character has been represented in an offensive/stereotypical/inauthentic way on grounds of their ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation. If the manuscript contains potentially offensive material then the sensitivity reader gives suggestions on how this can be put right by the author.†

I am sure that I have made gaffs in the representation of another personís experience in fiction, and could benefit from hearing how to make a voice more authentic, but I canít help feeling that something more insidious is lurking in the background. Could sensitivity reading be just another name for censorship?

Out with the Old
Earlier this year, a teachersí union chief suggested that schools should look beyond ďdead, white men,Ē i.e. the likes of Shakespeare, Dryden and Shelley in order to make the curriculum more diverse. Jenny Agutter, who is patron of the Shakespeare in Schools Foundation, pointed out that we need to maintain our literary sources in order to provide a reference point in the past and that getting rid of Shakespeare would be like tearing down historical buildings and attempting to build civilisation from scratch. Most pertinently she expressed the view that exceptional writing remains relevant regardless of when it was written and by whom.

Stealing Anotherís Voice
The poem, How-to about a black, homeless man was recently published in The Nation, the longest-running weekly magazine in the States. The author of the poem, Anders Carlson-Wee, faced such fierce criticism after his poem appeared in the magazine that he and the editors later apologised for writing and publishing such an ill-judged piece (in retrospect) which appropriated the black vernacular and disparaged disabled people and People of Colour.

Big Names Make Blunders too
Author, Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk about Kevin) was ousted off a panel of Mslexia judges for her article about how authors would be selected by publishers in the coming years. She wrote in the The Spectator that less-talented writers would be given priority over others purely because of the publishing industryís need to redress the balance in terms of diversity amongst the writers they represent. She suggested that this drive for heterogeneity in reality will mean allowing an algorithm to select future authors. She didnít say it as tactfully as I am trying to do here! Given her success as a writer, I imagine Shriver can pretty much write what she likes and still hit the bestseller list. And I donít suppose missing the Mslexia gig was a big deal for her. Read her Spectator article here.

What are your feelings on writing from anotherís POV very removed from your own? Perhaps you stick to the old adage, write what you know? Would you consider working with a sensitivity reader if you do step outside those boundaries? How diverse are your reading habits? Iíd love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Hair, it's our Crowning Glory Tags: creative writing hair fictional characters human hair trade Emma Tarlo hair in fiction

At least thatís what women are led to believe from an early age and the beauty industry is more than happy to divest us of our money in pursuit of that ideal. Iíve been thinking about fictional charactersí hair a lot recently. In films and novels Caucasian women often have character-defining hair. Black; witchy and duplicitous, red; fiery and vivacious; blonde; angelic or tarty, brown; plain and intelligent, grey/white; wise and intellectual, curly; unpredictable and bubbly, straight; cool and calculating. This left me with a dilemma because I was struggling to choose the hair colour and type of my young, female protagonist, but I didnít want to push her into any of those stereotypes.

In a Tangle

So I began to tackle the problem in a circuitous way and by happy accident discovered the fascinating, non-fiction book, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair by Emma Tarlo. Now, like you, I knew that both men and women can need wigs for a variety of medical, cosmetic or religious reasons but I had no idea of the global, largely covert, billion-dollar trade in the procurement and processing of human hair into wigs and extensions. Sourcing hair generally starts in third world countries. Some women sell their hair to barbers for a short-lived respite from poverty in China, India, Myanmar and Pakistan. On the other side of the world, relatively wealthy women choose to boost their income by selling their hair directly to the client via the Buy and Sell Hair website. The reasons for sale are as various as the hair types on offer. Hindus have their hair tonsured in Indian temples as a way of showing thanks, or to seek rebirth; indeed the vast temple of Tirumala acts as a magnet for pilgrims drawing people and hair from all over India. Each year the tonsured hair adds around 20 million pounds to the templeís coffers.

Giveaway Hair

Sometimes, hair donation is purely altruistic as in the recent case of the Duchess of Cambridge donating seven inches of her locks to the Little Princesses Trust for children and young adults who have lost their hair through cancer treatment. How bizarre to think that a sick child somewhere will be wearing our future Queen consortís hair. Truly a crowning glory! The hair is sorted anonymously so no one will ever know that their wig contains Kateís tresses.

Decisions, Decisions

While all these hair stories make fascinating reading, it isnít taking me nearer a solution in my writing dilemma! What it does show me though is how important this decision is and how much identity and status are invested in luscious locks or lack thereof. Would Dennis the Menace be as naughty without his black, unruly mop? Could Heathcliff have been blonde? Could Pippi Longstocking have had mousey-coloured hair? Would Bond villain, Blofeld, have been as menacing if he werenít bald? How do you decide your charactersí hair colour and type? Can you think of fictional characters defined by their hair? Iíd love to hear your thoughts.

Magical Objects Tags: Apotropaia talismans superstition writing research Foreign Encounters Writers Abroad anthology The Idalo Man Northampton Museum Hidden Shoes I

During a visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year a print by illustrator, Alice Pattullo, caught my eye. The poster was entitled, 'Apotropaic Devices For the Home.' I wasn't sure what apotropaic meant, but the mirror-image china dogs triggered a childhood memory of dutiful visits with my mother to an elderly neighbour who had the same ornaments on her mantelpiece. We had few decorative objects in our farmhouse apart from photos of prize-winning sheep or horses displayed on a sideboard. Our main source of heat was a Rayburn (similar to an Aga) so we didn't even have a mantelpiece to put china dogs on but still, I coveted them. After googling the word I learned that apotropaic meant designed to avert evil, and discovered that china, or Staffordshire dogs were not merely ornamental, they also guarded against malign forces entering through the fireplace.

Superstitions

Even though we never had china dogs, my mum was quite superstitious; always buying J-cloths or scrubbing brushes to appease Gypsies who called at our house to prevent them from casting spells upon us, always turning a horseshoe right side up so the good luck didn't fall out and always closing umbrellas before entering the house. Naturally, I inherited some of these behaviours. As I sit here typing, I can see at least three protective talismans in my home. The Indalo man (dating from the Paleolithic period), which was a lovely gift from fellow WA member, Chris Nedahl; a nazar (stylized glass eye) which I bought in Istanbul; and a Mexican day of the dead skull which I bought in Leiden's Museum of Ethnography.

Story Inspiration

Since leaving the depths of the countryside and living amongst the more rational Dutch I have become less superstitious but for our second WA anthology, Foreign Encounters, I wrote a story, Blow Me a Kiss, about a curious object which fascinated me. Displayed in the tiny but entrancing Butcher Row House Museum, in Ledbury, Herefordshire, was a child's shoe which had been found bricked up in the chimney of a local cottage. The museum attendant told me it was common practice to place shoes in portals of the home, i.e. chimneys or above windows or door lintels. The shoes were meant to ward off malicious forces, luring evil entities to attack the shoe rather than the wearer. A child's shoe might also promote fertility according to local beliefs so my initial impression that a child had died in the house was unfounded. The Ledbury shoe had merely been outgrown and granted a second life protecting the home's inhabitants.

An Archive of Hidden Shoes

The custom was so widespread in the UK that in the 1950s a Hidden Shoe Index was set up by former curator June Swann, at Northampton Museum. The index lists just under 3,000 shoes found in properties from the Shetland Islands to the Isles of Scilly, with the greatest number being from the south-east of England. The museum also holds 250 found shoes, the oldest dating to the 1540s from St John's College, Oxford (pictured above). The practice was taken by immigrants to the New World where it continued into the 1920s and 1930s. The current curator still receives two or three messages per month about found shoes from as far afield as the US, Canada and Australia. The museum index has recently been digitized and should you want to research further there is also a user-generated, online catalogue of hidden shoes with their locations on Historypin.

Are Writers More Superstitious?

So in an age where science and technology rule our lives what makes some of us still superstitious? Are writers and creative folk generally more superstitious than others? Does a writer's need to attribute meaning to events or objects when creating a story make us more susceptible to magical beliefs? Do you (consciously) have apotropaic devices in your home, perhaps you are even wearing one? Would these objects be a good way of describing a character who owned them? Or perhaps even the catalyst for a short story like the shoe I saw in Ledbury. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

With thanks to Alyson who reawakened my interest in hidden shoes by sharing this BBC article. Images courtesy of Alice Pattullo and Dr Ceri Houlbrook

RSS

Who's Online
This Month on Writers Abroad
Saturday, September 01, 2018
September 2018 News
Writers Abroad

Promote your Page too
Our Book Shelf

Writers Abroad's Bookshelf

The House at Zaronza
tagged: writers, abroad, vanessa, couchman, historical, and fiction
Love is All You Need: Ten tales of love from The Sophie King Prize
tagged: writers, abroad, sophie, king, prize, alyson, and hillbourne
Out of Control
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, croft, members, and publications
The Duke's Shadow
tagged: the, duke-s, shadow, louise, charles, debut, and novel
Foreign & Far Away
tagged: writers, abroad, amanda, hodkinson, books, charity, anthology, 2013...
Losing Control
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, and croft
Enchantment
tagged: nina, croft, writes, and abroad
Conversations with S. Teri O'Type
tagged: writers, abroad, christopher, and allen
Break Out
tagged: writers, abroad, ninca, and croft
Deadly Pursuit
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, and croft
The Calling
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, and croft
Big Book of New Short Horror
tagged: featuring, wa, member, alyson, and hillbourne
Tiger of Talmare
tagged: writers, abroad, nina, and croft

goodreads.com
Networked Blogs