Books, Writing

Ignorance and Fear

According to Pen America, there are currently more than 1,100 titles banned or facing a ban across the USA.

Let’s be clear on this. Not only is it a reprehensible move by the far right to censor childrens’ and young peoples’ education, but it holds a mirror up to their own twisted ideology. The idea that censoring material because it will “corrupt” young minds is a smokescreen for the real purpose: To push an ideological view of America shaped by ultra-conservative views of bigotry, hate, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and Christian zealotry.

What are the most commonly cited reasons for censorship?

  • Race – obviously, racism shouldn’t be encouraged, but a book that shines a light on racism and its wider impact should be considered essential reading. For that reason, I can thoroughly recommend The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
  • Witchcraft/The Occult – massively misunderstood (Salem Witch Trials, anyone?) practises with both good and bad elements. Books such as the Harry Potter series are seen as promoting occult practises and attacking religion.
  • Sex – in particular, same-sex relationships, sex before marriage, sexual abuse, anything on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Do these censors honestly believe a book can turn a straight child gay or question their gender? I’ve got news for them, kids already are. I’ve read loads of LGBTQ+ stories, a particular favourite is The House In The Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune. It’s absolutely beautiful.
  • Sociopolitical – challenging the political system, encouraging rebellion, anti-capitalist, drug use, violence, poverty, profanity. If a book makes you think about the unfairness of the current system, question the divide between rich and poor, spotlights the destructive consequences of drug use, then those are good things.

I have a question for those in favour of censorship: What on Earth is it that you are so scared of?

Because this is what it boils down to – fear.

To quote Yoda – Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

I would go one further, and add that ignorance feeds the fear to begin with. By not educating themselves on issues that many of these books address, the censors are perpetuating this myth that kids will become corrupt, that they’ll turn gay, trans, take drugs, paint pentagrams on the floor, etc.

If that was the case, I and many others have been doomed for a long time. Next year, I turn 50, and I have read horror, fantasy fiction, sci-fi, classics, chick lit, LGBTQ+, thrillers, dystopia and general fiction. Books are my most favourite thing in the world, I love them, I love reading. I love diving into stories, and going on amazing adventures. Books have fed and continue to feed my imagination. They have saved me during dark times, comforted me, made me cry, made me laugh, kept me on the edge of my seat, or up until the small hours.

Banned books I have read:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling
  • Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Not exhaustive, and may not be outright banned countrywide, but I wouldn’t say that these were corrupting. I actually found 1984 to be a boring and labourious read!

My advice to anyone reading this, concerned about the book ban is to defy it. Read those banned books, let your kids read them, let them make up their own minds. Kids are not stupid, and they deserve better than to have a bunch of narrow minded adults censoring their education. THAT is what will corrupt them. Not books.

Writing

Dream. Believe. Achieve.

Well, after months of procrastination, and thinking to myself “I can’t do this anymore!” I have finally made the decision to get back into querying with literary agents.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, having been rejected on my first attempt, but giving up at the first hurdle is hardly the key to success.

So I reminded myself of the famous authors over the years who were rejected numerous times:

  • Agatha Christie
  • JK Rowling
  • Stephen King

There are plenty more, of course, but these three are a great example of rejected authors who persevered, never gave up, and achieved their dream. There’s a level of resilience required, and I am nothing, if not resilient.

I spent a weekend working on the changes necessary for the opening chapters to Horizon Skies, and when a colleague offered to beta read for me, I realised it was a good opportunity to get the new version in front of a fresh pair of eyes. It gave me a break from thinking about it, and I was able to spend time researching literary agents.

Literary agents work in a fast paced, ever changing publishing climate, but I believe this is a good time to try again. The reason being is that even though there is a huge amount of YA Fantasy out there, what I’m seeing in social media is a lot of fairytale retellings gaining popularity, and fey based stories. Mine isn’t a retelling, the characters are human, and it’s very much a character driven story. My hope is to expand upon the world I’ve created in the second instalment, and bring more mythical elements in, and to create a challenging world that my characters are not prepared for or expecting.

The weekend just gone, I spent time on putting together a query spreadsheet of twenty agents currently open to submissions in the UK. Choosing an agent to approach can be difficult, for example, one agency has two agents both representing Fiction and Children’s. Both have similar bios, so who to choose? Well, the best way is to look at their client lists. If there are names I recognise who write in my chosen genre then that’s the agent I pick. Agents will also pass manuscripts along to a colleague if they feel someone else would be a better fit.

I also check out the acknowledgments at the back of my favourite books. The agent always gets a mention. If the writer isn’t UK based, I check to see if they have a UK agent. Otherwise, I disregard as overseas markets are another minefield altogether, and agents usually have a team that deal with overseas deals (if you’re lucky enough to get that far!)

Once the beta read is back, I’ve then got the unenviable task of reviewing the previous synopses, cover letters, and putting together the chapter requirements for each agent. It’s important to remember when querying that there isn’t a one size fits all. Some agents want a brief synopsis and the first three chapters, another will want a page synopsis and the first fifty-thousand words.

Every query has to be tailored to the agent in question, a scatter bomb approach will only show that the agency hasn’t been researched properly, and this will make a terrible first impression, and likely result in an immediate rejection.