Not upsetting the children is part of the psychology of Western culture. In these days of ‘child-centric’ anxiety most parents will tell you they worry about how they bring their children. Philip Larkin and his overused line from This Be The Verse ‘They fuck you up your mum and dad’ is a constant worry for the 21st century parent. Getting it right is what we all strive for. Guilt, once the sole possession of children for being bad has transferred seamlessly to the other side of the school gate as we wait diligently for our child to come home. They are special, you see; these children in our care. A very great responsibility. Their happiness is ours. In fact, let’s face it, we have no happiness at all without our children being happy. I should know; I am a parent.
So how shocking was it then, to see the limp, sturdy legs of a lifeless toddler in the arms of a coast guard in Turkey? Found, dead, and in the water. That single defining image put ‘a girdle round the earth in forty seconds’ getting under the skin of each and every anxious parent, bringing to the fore a Grimm fairy tale of adult horror. Suddenly, when all those other reports failed to hit the spot, this lone image pressed an astonishing button. Never mind that thousands of children around the world in wars everywhere lay dying, maimed, bereft. Suddenly we were confronted with a limp pair of small legs and a pair of shoes not at all dissimilar to the ones we too once bought for our own toddlers. In that moment global empathy was born.
Writing creatively about injustice or conflicts is not an easy business. Become too sentimental or emotional and you lose your audience, turning them off before they reach the end of the story. Too polemic and you lose the plot, too biased and you will upset one side or the other. Beware of all these things. Even though I have written about these matters I am wary of the process. For to write from the heart does not mean placing your heart on your sleeve. Indeed the opposite is what applies. To write what you care about you have to hide your own feelings so effectively that you give your readers room to breath, to feel for themselves in their own private space, the suffering you speak of. Sometimes it is necessary to approach your story from an odd angle, showing rather than telling. Leaving out more than you put in. Ah but how difficult that is! Only a powerful story can work this kind of magic.
And only literature, of which Novel Rights is part of, gives one the chance of such magic.
Read the story Abstracts.