For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
Je suis Charlie: Censorship and self-censorship: As I write these words (these posts are done some time in advance) there has recently been a terrorist attack on the Parisian satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve innocent people. As is most usual these days, the terrorists were Islamic.
This post is not about the rights and wrongs of various religions: I have considered such matters elsewhere in my writing. But I will say that the more absolutist a religion is, the more that it lends itself to extremism, including terrorism.
No, this post is about censorship, and whether we should censor ourselves or not, or be subject to state censorship laws.
Despite the fact that my oeuvre of gas-lamp fantasy is not one which you would expect to ever see censored, the issue of censorship has always been one which I have been concerned about. I grew up in the United Kingdom; and when I was born censorship of sexual matters was a lot stronger than they are now.
During the 1960s censorship was omnipresent. You had the attempted censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, with Penguin Books being put on trial for publishing it. Now the idea of that trial seems absurd. But it did not take place all that long ago. Back in the 1960s all plays still had to be approved before they went on the stage.
In my youth you had very strong censorship of sexual matters in the UK, with the exception of the written word. The sort of explicit magazines freely available in France and West Germany were illegal in Britain. That, of course, did not mean that they did not circulate. Instead they went for many times their equivalent cover price. But now the law is a lot more relaxed about such things, as long as they are vanilla.
In cinema there was a lot of stuff which you were not aloud to see. I don’t know what the censors thought would happen to us. Did they think that our brains would melt out of our ears if we saw an aroused male body? It annoyed me. It was a long time before that situation changed, and the British were allowed to watch what the rest of Europe had been watching since the 1960s. And all of the way there were people like Mary Whitehouse trying to impose their views on other people.
It is that imposition of one person’s morals on another which I dislike. I try not to tell other people how they should live their lives; and I don’t like other people ordering me around. I think that as long as you are not causing harm to other people you should generally be free to do what you want.
We still get a lot of self-censorship in Britain, however, at least in regard to explicit material. If you want to read some erotic classic (or even grubby non-classic) you can’t, at least in my hometown. The two bookshops we have do not carry that sort of material; and you certainly won’t ever find books like that in any of the charity shops. But that’s there loss. If you want something like that you can always fins it online.
As a writer, there are certain things which I do not write about. Yes, I self-censor. But these are mainly for commercial reasons, if the truth be told. I do not, generally, have any sex in my novels, for the simple fact that I want my novels to be for as many people as possible. I am never going to publish an ostensibly ‘adult’ novel, as that might put people off reading my other work. The last thing that I want is to be ghettoised as some ‘adult’ novelist, writing the sort of books which you would never see on sale in dear old W H Smiths.
That does not mean that I am a prude. One look at my bookshelf at home would simply prove that I am not. But I write works which I hope can be enjoyed by young adults and adults. I have even written one book for older children (Sevastopol). It is simply a question, for me, of trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
There is also the fact that sex, for Anglo-Saxon authors, is hard to write, without it coming across as comic, rather than erotic. There are many famous authors who have been nominated for the Bad Sex Award. It is not something which I ever intend to win.
Apart from sex, I do not publish anything which might be thought to be mocking Mohammed. This is not out of respect for somebody who lived one and a half thousand years ago, but simply because I have no desire to be murdered by a bunch of nutters. It is no longer publish and be damned but publish and be killed. It is self-censorship; but a form which, effectively, is being forced onto us.
Now the thing is, before atrocities like the attack on the scurrilous Charlie Hebdo magazine, I did not have a particular desire to mock Mohammed, or Allah, or Buddha. But now I almost feel that I should, just to show my unequivocal support for free speech.
In the end such support for free speech must be unequivocal. You can’t say that you believe in free speech but… you can’t say that you should have free speech for some members of society, but not for others.
I think that I might write a short treatise on religious terrorism and censorship and free speech, as I have written a fair bit in the above post, but I have hardly even scratched the surface of the issue. In my next post I think that it may be wise to return to something a little less controversial.