Don’t write about sex, politics or religion?

What gives a Brit the right to have an opinion on the US presidential election? I’ve seen such sentiments expressed a few times lately and the most common answer – apart from opinions are free and everyone is entitled to them – is that the election result does indeed affect the whole world, not just the US. Global warming. Nato. There are many effects, both big and small.

But the main reason I have an opinion is because the result affects people I care about. They are afraid of getting hurt. They are being hurt.

People I care about but who don’t even know me. People who, mostly, I haven’t met. People who have educated me. People who have made me laugh, and cry, often at the same time.

I’m talking about the romance community, mostly about authors but also editors, agents and readers. Over the years I’ve watched people argue, inform and campaign about; plagiarism, shady publishing practices, racism, diversity, authors bullying readers and reviewers attacking authors.

When I started on Twitter I followed comedians, actors and authors that I liked, and editors that I thought might offer valuable information (they do). I followed the bloggers who had previously impressed and informed me and I followed authors I hadn’t read but whose work I had seen praised on those websites, or whose names kept cropping up in interesting discussions. Thus I found out that as well as writing brilliant books and blogs, a lot of the romance community were bloody funny, witty, compassionate and passionate – about so many things. I could list my entire Twitter feed but the ones I look forward to hearing from every day include; Bree Bridges, Julie Cohen, Alyssa Cole, Victoria Dahl, N K Jemisin, Susanna Kearsley, Colleen Lindsay, Courtney Milan, Alisha Rai and Carly Silver. Their willingness to educate others about writing and publishing romance is amazing (I often wonder how the heck they find time for their other jobs).

This year these ladies have written tirelessly, fearlessly (although I know many are deeply deeply fearful) and honestly about the election. They have been tweeting or retweeting for years about race, religion, LGBQT and neurodiversity issues whether or not those are subjects that impact them personally. (Edited to add that they have also written about disability issues – it might just have been simpler to list things they don’t discuss – because I can’t think of any. I suppose what I was trying to illustrate is that with many of these women I have no idea of their race, religion, sexuality or any disabilities that might affect them, but they still speak up on behalf of others who are being marginalised or targeted.) They write about them because they are important, because there is so much injustice out there (in the romance world and of course elsewhere). They have made me realise so much about my own deep-seated unconscious prejudices and how much I take for granted, I have started challenging lazy perceptions in others in a way I didn’t before because every small step is important in challenging bias and privilege.

And because of their bravery in speaking up for their community, their families and friends, these women are attacked on line regularly and many fear attacks in the street any day soon. The election result has made life unsafe for people because of how they look, live, love and believe. It has made me afraid and angry on their behalf and that is why I will feel free to have an opinion on American politics and why I am retweeting so much that makes me so angry and so afraid. Not just because of the effect globally or in Europe. But because of the women to whom I owe so much.

I should add that I started thinking about this post as soon as the election result was known; I wanted to howl my horror and disgust at the moon, but feared I had no right. Over the next days as I read the gut wrenching despair of these women my own revulsion seemed pitiful in comparison with those who are going to live with this open hatred and prejudice and fear every day for the next four years. I wanted to offer support but it seemed puny in comparison with the phone calls and demonstrations being organised on line. Then someone in the UK posted one of those “10 things writers mustn’t do on line” lists and on it was “Don’t talk about politics, sex or religion (unless you write about those things in your books)” and I was incensed. How can it not be in our books when it’s everywhere in the world being shoved in our faces whether we like it or not? How can a rise in hate crimes not affect everyone who hears about them?

I’ll admit I’d already unfollowed an author or two in the last weeks. Such bad luck if you had a book release scheduled and need to try and do promo while people’s worlds are crumbling around them. Many have managed it tactfully and respectfully while acknowledging how the world has changed, and is still changing. But if you tweeted eight links to your book or glowing reviews with not one tweet about current affairs? I’m not really sure there’s going to be anything in your book to interest me. Yes, authors are not their books, you can have wildly different politics to mine and I may still enjoy your writing – especially if I have no idea what your politics are, so yeah, keep quiet about it. But I notice your silence, and my admiration for you has diminished and I will remember it next time I see one of your books. No, I am not trying to shame anyone into sharing what they don’t wish to, I have never told anyone how I have voted in any general or local election and nor will I; but I will speak up on horrors like a President elect with no respect for women or people of colour, the ongoing crisis at Standing Rock and anyone who claims all romance books show that women secretly long to be grabbed by a masterful man.

Every one of the women I have mentioned above has voiced their anxiety (to put it mildly) in the last two weeks, but they have also continued (with a lot of effort) to write, edit and publish books that give pleasure to millions. They have helped me to remember that when hatred and fascism are on the increase, the love and hope in art is needed more than ever for the promise it gives us all.

11 November 2016

I have often observed the two minutes silence at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month in memory of the fallen in World War One, and of all wars since – and I often think back to the Boer War too as veterans of that ended up in the trenches of WWI. I also think of those who came back; of all they saw and suffered, the comrades they lost and the scars they bore, both visible and deep inside. I think of the thousands of people of all nations suffering from PTSD who have tried to keep us safe.

I say I have “often” observed the silence because if I was working on that day, who knew when the phone might ring or a colleague ask for advice? And unless I have the radio on at home, I might miss the exact time, but when I realise this I always pause for a moment alone, and reflect. Remember.

Last Friday I was shopping for food in Morrisons Supermarket. I try to avoid Friday shopping as it is always busier with people stocking up for the weekend, the car parks were fuller than usual and the aisles crowded. They announced over the tannoy that they would be observing the two minutes silence and I thought “good luck,” how would they stop busy people in a hurry from shopping? But then, at 11, just after I had unloaded my shopping onto the check-out conveyor, everything stopped.

I have never experienced anything like it. A whole shop full of pushing and anxious or grumpy people moments before became silent. Those in the restaurant sat and looked at their food as it cooled, several people there stood up. A few children could be heard, and of course one self-checkout machine that had no idea what had happened. I was near tears in a way I have never been at a war memorial silence; there people have gone out of their way to honour the fallen, here people stopped whatever they were doing and they remembered.

Of course, I have no way of knowing what was in people’s hearts or minds, some may have stood silent from peer pressure, some may have been fuming at the delay, but that wasn’t the feeling I got. And in a week when World politics have been utterly terrifying and hate has seemed to be increasing, it was a moment that gave me hope.

Thank you to all who have sacrificed so much so that others can live in freedom. Please let us learn from their loss.

Nanowrimo pumkins

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It was half term last week so even less reading and writing than usual were done, hence no blog post. And now it is November and I am attempting NaNoWriMo – I am not sure which is the more appealing excuse:

I can’t write a proper blog post because it will distract me from writing.

I’m not getting my Nano word count because I’m blogging instead.

If you see a long blog next week you’ll know the writing is not going as well as I hoped…

I will simply leave you with pictures of the pumpkins my family carved for Halloween. Are dinosaurs scarier than cats?

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