Sargent, Atlas and the Hesperides, 1925
This is another post that I wrote for the recent Heart Scarab promotional tour, and that I thought I’d like to preserve on my own website for, you know, posterity. And please stop rolling your eyes over there in the back row. I have a posterity. My jeans look enormous on it.
Earlier this year, we had another Fifty Shades Twitter furore. Some bright PR person thought #askELJames would be a great marketing ploy. Twitter about imploded.
I’m not going to get into the Fifty Shades issues. It’s a polarising book with a polarising author, and that sort of discussion never ends well. But I was struck by one thing: the huge number of tweets, thousands of them apparently, that basically said, “How do you live with yourself for telling young, impressionable women that an abusive relationship is good, is something to aspire to? How many girls are going to fall for that crap and be abused because of you and your books?”
I do wish I could put in emoticons here. Because seriously? Where’s the jaw-dropping emoticon when you need it? Oh, here it is:
One of the trickier questions I had to ask myself when writing the Taking Shield series was how to deal with sex. The books don’t have a lot of sex scenes, but the few that are there are reasonably explicit. The series isn’t contemporary, but set on a world halfway across the galaxy, thousands of years into an alternate future where Earth is dead and dark. AIDS doesn’t feature in it.
The issue for me was simple: do I have a moral obligation to write the sex scenes as if AIDS did indeed exist, and therefore not write anything that would undermine safe sex messages? Or write it and just sort of skate over the issues? Or ignore it altogether?
In the end, I don’t make mention of it. AIDS, HIV or safe sex are not issues in Shield-world.
I concluded that a novel isn’t a good way of proselytising and, if it doesn’t sound too pretentious, it isn’t my job to write role models but to depict the characters as they unfold themselves to me. Being true to them, if you like.
What’s more, I trust my readers not to need me to tell them, with big flashing warning lights, that books aren’t real. My readers know that Earth is still here, that we don’t have faster-than-life space travel, that we aren’t fighting for our lives against Maess drones. It’s fiction. It’s all made up.
After all, if I’m reading about a drug addict, I’m not going to take him or her as a role model for my own life. I recognise that their lives are within the constraints of the book. So I don’t expect any of you will be thinking “But why aren’t those two space pilots ten thousand years in the future, fishing about for the condoms? Maybe I can be that adventurous too…”
The same way, I’m not going to jump into an abusive relationship because E L James wrote about one. She wrote a novel. Fiction. She wasn’t writing a Life Manual.
Authors don’t have responsibility for the life choices of their readers. They only have responsibility for their own.
And believe me, that’s heavy enough.