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Martin Amis Is Wrong To Insult Children’s Writers And Disabled People

February 14, 2011

I like to call myself a writer. I’ve been writing fictional stories and poems for years. In the back of the hard drive of my laptop, (the modern version of Jane Austen’s drawer), there’s the first chapter of a novel. It’s a bit of a romantic story. A story that I hope will be read, and enjoyed, by teenagers and adults alike. It is not, however, a children’s story.

Why am I bringing this up here and now? Because I also have Cerebral Palsy- in simple English, brain damage- or, in a way, I suppose, a brain injury. So what’s the connection?

This weekend, I read an article in the Guardian about remarks made by the author Martin Amis on the BBC’s book programme Faulks on Fiction. During an interview, Amis said that he has been asked if he would ever consider writing for children. He added “I say, ‘If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book.'” He said that he doesn’t want to be conscious of who he’s directing his stories to, because fiction is freedom. He added that he would never want to be forced to write at a ‘lower register’ than what he can write.

Children’s authors are rightly insulted by these remarks, as the remarks suggest they are all either disabled or lowering their standards of writing to write for their chosen group. Martin Amis is, of course, wrong to suggest that children’s books are written at a lower standard. Of course, when writing for children, you have to use language that children can understand. This naturally means that you have to write in simpler language than you would use if writing for an older age group. However, if you ask me, this actually makes writing for children more difficult for an adult. So writing for children actually requires more intelligence than writing for adults, not less. It requires an imagination the size of JK Rowling’s. You see, by the time adults become adults, they usually forget what it was like to be a young child. They forget what they understood, and what they enjoyed, as young children. Since young children can’t understand the adult world, children’s writers have to create worlds that they will understand and find exciting- worlds like Hogwarts or Mallory Towers, or even characters like the Mr Men. (I may be showing my age here but who cares? They don’t make ’em like they used to.) The point is that children’s writers have the freedom to create anything they want, and every word they write is completely fictional, because a lot of what they write wouldn’t make sense in the real world anyway!

Amis also seems to be suggesting that disabled writers can only write for children, or that we can’t write ‘serious’ literature. Well, once again, he is very wrong. Christopher Nolan was a writer with Cerebral Palsy whose very serious fictional novels and poetry collections, aimed at adults, earned him recognition and several prizes in the world of literature, including a Whitbread Prize. Christy Brown’s very serious autobiography, My Left Foot, was turned into a Hollywood movie.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Guardian article which made me laugh, since I couldn’t have put it better myself. Writer Jane Stemp, who also happens to have Cerebral Palsy, says of Amis: “Superglueing him to a wheelchair and piping children’s fiction into his auditory canal suddenly seems like a good idea.”



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