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Added a post  to  , Summer Festival of Writing 2022

Thank you to everyone who came to Sarah and Manjeet's wonderful In Conversation event today. If you're writing for young people, I'd love to know what the pitch for your book is and what you learned from these two fab writers.

    • I arrived at the webinar a little late but loved the energy and honesty in the conversation. There was so much great advice - and I have a question related to the top tip which was " Write what you want to". 

      My question is:  Who gets to tell a story? Is it only those who have experienced those life events? In particular I am thinking of the reception that the author of 'American Dirt', Jeanine Cummins, received from some who felt that her book about a mother and son forced to travel from Mexico to USA  was not 'hers to write'. I thought that was a nuanced situation, because she was telling an important story, that possibly might not have been told otherwise with such impact and far reach. On the other hand, others felt her story telling had negative outcomes.

      I have lived some of the story that I would like to write, but I have not lived it all. I am writing a YA book in which young people from different backgrounds hear nature calling out to them in a variety of ways. They are forced to respond, and the adventures that ensue help their adults to see a better way to behave in ways that are better for the planet.

      I do think it's important that aspects of nature are, through books, brought right up close to those children who may not yet have lived the experience, so that they too can fall in love with it and so, begin to care for it. I am in a privileged position able to write a story that might otherwise not be heard.

      So. Who gets to write the important story?

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      • Hi Patti,

        This is SUCH a good question and very relevant. I'd suggest you watch Naomi Ishiguro's webinar on Writing What You Don't Know. It definitely helped my clarify my thinking on the matter. 

        I think as long as your'e sensitive, honest and do your research, you can't go too wrong. It's when people are a bit shady about their experiences that there is backlash. Have a look at this article, which states that: 'Cummins had written a story that was not hers — and, according to many readers of color, she didn’t do a very good job of it. In fact, she seemed to fetishize the pain of her characters at the expense of treating them as real human beings.' She also said that she 'wished someone browner than me would write it.'

        To fetishise, stereotype and make frankly insulting remarks is what landed her in people's bad books.

        The thing is that native Mexican refugees have written these books, they just didn't receive the advance, media attention or money for it! 

        I'm not sure if that really gets to the bottom of anything, but hopefully gives a bit more scope for thinking on the matter!

        A xx

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        • Hallo , Anna thanks - you 'got' my concerns absolutely. It was fascinating to see the various facets of the discussion crystallised in the briliant Vox article you have linked to.  There is so much food for thought there. 

          I'm relieved to see that it seems to be agreed that a respectful telling of fiction ( as opposed to only memoir) is acceptable. 

          At least the storm has raised awareness of the inequality in access to publishing, the suprising motives behind the choice of book by the publishers, and allowed for discussion of whose voices should be heard, and what stories told.

          Thankyou for your time in summarising your thoughts, and I'll definitely watch "Writing What You Don't Know".



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