Thursday, 21 August 2008

Censorship

It was bound to happen eventually (and perhaps this is not the first instance), but a book has been censored so that a supermarket chain will continue to stock it. The story is depressing, although it was something that I (along with many others) thought would happen.

There are really two stories here. The first is whether ‘twat’ is an appropriate word for a children’s book (and whether Jacqueline Wilson should get herself a more comprehensive dictionary and more observant editors). The second is just how has the publishing allowed itself to get to the point where a supermarket chain can, indirectly for the moment, dictate the content of a book.

Is ‘twat’ appropriate? Well, I suppose it depends on context. I know that it is a slang word for female genitalia, but it also means ‘obnoxious or contemptible’ when applied to a person. I would imagine the latter is derived from the former in much the same way you hear a person called a ‘silly c*nt’. Not exactly appropriate for nine-year-old children, even if it is already in the vocabulary of many and used in the playground or on the streets. I suggest, therefore, that JW treats herself to a better dictionary and a decent thesaurus; then goes round to her publisher and creates merry hell with whatever passes for an editorial team. Someone, somewhere along the line must have seen that word and wondered. If they didn’t, then what an earth are they doing being employed by a publisher?

The second issue raised by this story is how did the publishing industry get to this point. I know they have to sell books. I realize in this case that changing the word may be appropriate. But a precedent is being set (or reinforced). How far will publishers go in allowing retailers to dictate the content of the books they publish? Will manuscripts have to be vetted by supermarket chains before a contract is offered to an author? Will proposals have to be run past the hypermart commissioning editors? Will agents have to negotiate with retailers as well as publishers to tie up a deal? They seem logical steps if once publishers allow this kind of interference.

I doubt… well, I hope it will never become that extreme, but it does seem to me to be yet another symptom of the way in which large, mainstream publishers have lost their way. If, in this case, the publisher didn’t spot the potential problem to begin with, it is clearly failing in the editorial process. If it did spot the word and decided to go ahead with it in the book, it is craven (after so few complaints) that they should be reprinting with the offending word removed.

It is a development worth watching.

5 comments:

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

Just think, that first edition will be worth millions!

Your point is well taken though. and it reminds me of the time I was walking with my English friend near London (I'm from the U.S.) and I was talking about my fanny pack and she had a cow trying to shush me, and I was confused.

"What?" I said. "All I said was fa--"

"SHHHH!!!!!! Don't SAY that!"

She had to explain to me what the problem was.

So this story seems like the same thing in reverse.

I found you on a list of writer's blogs and wanted to stop by and say hello to a fellow writer!

Margaret

Annie Bright said...

Great post, Graeme! It's amazing how much control our supermaket chains have!

Graeme K Talboys said...

ngip: Ah, two countries divided by a common language. Great to meet you. Will be visiting your blog sometime soon.

annie: Frightening, really. It reminds of John Sladek and his predicitons of the way publishing would go - writers' computers linked to machines that would assess each sentence as it was written for sales potential.

BT said...

It's totally crap - ooh, am I allowed to say that??

The supermarkets have far too much power in all directions, now it encompasses books too.

I have to say I don't think the author was being particularly bright in her choice of language for a book intended to be read by 9 year olds. Silly bunt.

liz fenwick said...

They have too too much power - some get shown covers first and choose which they like.

However I think JW needs to think about her audience a bit more.....as do her editors!