'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book', but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable."
Now then. I know that everyone’s had their say on Martin Amis’s comment above, and I know it’s a big insult and he’s an idiot to have said it.
I know someone with a serious brain injury. My brother’s brain was starved of oxygen at birth and he was left with cerebal palsy. He has physical disabilities, which have made his life much harder than it should have been. It is not something that anyone would wish for.
Cerebal palsy has not affected his intelligence one little bit. In fact he is one of the cleverest people I know, and he has the qualifications to prove it. He has a First from Cambridge University and a PhD from Oxford University in English Literature. He has two Masters degrees, one in IT, the other in Philosophy. He won a scholarship to study at Harvard. He has a successful career and a demanding job.
So maybe…just maybe…when Martin Amis said ‘If I had a serious brain injury’, he had someone like my brother in mind. Maybe he actually meant ‘If I were clever and determined, hard-working and bloody-minded enough, if I were able to rise above the trials that life has sent me and tackle any challenge going, then I might well write a children’s book. Unfortunately I don’t possess enough of these attributes to take on that challenge.’
This charitable view of Martin Amis’s statement seems to be backed by his next statement. “…the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.”
If a writer ignores all restrictions or awareness of potential readers, if he allows himself complete freedom in content, in vocabulary, in style, length or any other way, then he is making life much easier for himself. (I say 'he' and 'him' for reasons of my own which may well be construed as sexist, but which illustrate the joy of complete freedom of expression.)
Working within restrictions may be irksome, it may be difficult, but it does not necessarily produce work of lower quality. In fact, quite the opposite. The writer who takes on the challenge of writing for younger readers may not succeed in creating anything special - but when she does, it is perhaps even more remarkable than the work of an untrammelled artist such as Martin Amis, especially when he has admitted that he could not do such a thing.
So perhaps what he meant to say was: ‘I am incapable of imagining the effect my work will have on a particular reader, nor am I selfless enough to want to try. My writing skills are limited and I cannot cope with any restrictions at all.'
I think if he’d said it like that he might have had a more sympathetic hearing. But it’s difficult, isn’t it, admitting one’s shortcomings on television, especially in the context of a programme about heroes.
I have to admit that I used to share the view that Mr Amis may or may not hold, that the shorter and simpler the book, the easier it will be to write. Once I started thinking about actually writing a short, simple book for young children, I soon changed my mind. I started my course of evening classes in Writing for Children intending to write short books for 6 to 8 year olds. I ended up writing an 83,000 word book for teenagers. Quite frankly, I did it that way because it was an easier prospect.
It’s a long time since I’ve read a book by Martin Amis. His recent remarks haven’t put me off, on the contrary, I’m interested to see the effect of writing with complete unrestricted freedom, and whether it produces something as dull as it promises.In his hands, I doubt it. I remember him as a mischievous writer who delights in tricks and wordplay. In fact, he is exactly the sort of person who might one day be able to take on the biggest challenge of all - yes, a picture book text.
When he’s ready.
(Thanks to Fiona Dunbar for her help with this post.)