Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper


Bookchat: Writing is dangerous
(and events June 18 onwards)

“No, don’t do it,” they said. “It will have terrible consequences,” and I started to think about how some people might use my story for their own purposes. Bad purposes. “Yes, you must write what you want,” somebody else said, “whatever the consequences.”

My short story was about a young girl wondering whether or not to have an abortion and then deciding to go ahead with it. There were two main voices: that of the girl and that of the unborn child who had a bouncy optimistic personality and who obviously didn’t want the abortion to go ahead. “The pro-lifers would use a story like that for their own ends,” was another comment and I realised they were right. I am pro women’s rights and pro-abortion but there was no way I could rewrite the story to make it politically correct. I had written naively thinking it was ‘just a story’. But political consequences do matter so I’ve decided (for now at least) to put it in the drawer.

The next day I read an article (Torn Apart – see below) about how an increasing number of authors who are writing stories in the relatively new Young Adult category are being harangued and threatened because their protagonists are black, gay, transgender or in other ways deemed to be  ‘socially undesirable’. Some authors have received death threats.

Either that or the writers get attacked from the other side of the political divide and have their novels withdrawn from publication because one or more of the protagonists or the author herself is deemed to be racist, homophobic or not meeting the ideal to which ‘politically sensitive’ people subscribe. The publishers fear the powerful social media campaigns that are frequently whipped up and it is the political left who are the most censorious.

But the writing of authentic characters cannot always be politically correct so there is a problem and I want these voices to be heard because they have a place in the world. They need to be heard (read?). One of the novels mentioned in the article sounded particularly interesting (and moving) so I’ll share it with you here. It’s about a boy and his trans sister My brother’s name is Jessica.

In the end, I tend to agree with Kate Atkinson that stories should not be there to teach or to preach. They should be free to stand by themselves for the reader to take as they will. What do you think? I’m going to get my story out of the drawer again. I’m going to write what I want.

Here are the two Guardian articles referred to above:
Torn Apart: the vicious war over Young Adult books
Kate Atkinson: ‘I live to entertain. I don’t live to teach or preach or to be political.’

 39 Queens Rd, Hastings

Thurs 20 June, 6 – 9 pm £2 entry Sheer Poetry – an open mic poetry night; guest spots Susan Evans, John D. Robinson and Lucy Brennan

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
Tues 25 June, 6 pm PM Book Club discussing Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough
Thurs 4 July, 6 pm Book launch and Q&A with Richard King and Ben Thompson
Mon 8 July 6 pm Planning meeting for Spirit of Robert Tressell Festival

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Sat 15 – 22 June during normal opening hours “What was left behind “- a display of a collection of clippings found in books
Sat 22 June, 7.30 pm Book Launch Drowning Lessons, mystery novel by Rachel Neuburger Reynolds
Sun 14 July, 7 pm Bronwen Griffiths & Steve Amos will be talking about their new short story/flash fiction collections based on their childhoods/parenting.

Really Independent Bookshop Week, Hastings and St Leonards June 15 – 22, 2019
Please support your local independent bookshops. For more information, please see Really Independent Bookshop Week.

Literary Shed Writing Sessions run by A. Vasudevan
Two-hour weekly writing sessions in safe, creative spaces in Hastings and St Leonards
Thursday 20 June, 10–12 am (free) at Stooge Coffee BarHi Store, Trinity, Hastings
Thursday 27 June, 10–12 am (free) at Hastings Central Library, 13 Claremont, 3rd floor, Hastings
On the first Thursday of each month, there is also a writing critique group in which members share work.
For further information, please email:, subject: WRITE-INS

Writing and Blogging
Kurt Vonnegut’s tips on how to write a good short story

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

That’s it for this week.  Thanks for reading. Here’s the link to this week’s feature –Best Bookshops: Bookbuster, Queens Rd, Hastings

Look forward to seeing you out and about or in the Facebook Bookchat group.

Angela J. Phillip

All images copyright Paul Way-Rider

Posted 09:05 Tuesday, Jun 18, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Angie Phillip

    Thank you for your kind comment. I’m going to leave it for now and ponder the power of stories but the muzzling of writers from both the political right as well as from the political left feels frightening. I seem to remember reading that when Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ was published, there was a huge spike in the number of people committing suicide and I was surprised. It seemed almost unbelievable. But despite that, I’m still glad that he wrote it. As you say in your comment, so much writing that we treasure would not have been written if the censors had had their way.

    As a consequence of this article, I was approached by a young professional black guy who told me that he dare not put comments on social media because he had been told by his employer that to do so could impact on his future job prospects. He was told that ‘everything can be misinterpreted.’ Then today, while discussing these issues in a cafe in town, people confirmed that this was the case. We live in scary times.

    Thanks again for your comment.

    Comment by Angie Phillip — Thursday, Jun 20, 2019 @ 15:29

  2. Paul Green

    Have you tried submitting your story anywhere, Angela? I’m sure that with a little on-line research you could find editors of magazines and anthologies that might be interested. I agree with your comments about the rise of ‘sensitivity editors’ who would have probably censored Shakespeare, Swift, Mary Shelley, Nabokov, Ballard, Burroughs and many others.

    Comment by Paul Green — Wednesday, Jun 19, 2019 @ 23:29

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