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This Stephen Fry situation seems to have hit a few of my buttons.

Let's get some labels out of the way. I'm a heterosexual woman. Stephen Fry is a gay man, whom I mostly adore. He's erudite and funny and makes being a slightly geeky would-be writer feel just a tiny bit more fun.

I'm not going to go into what he said. Published in Attitude Magazine, the quotes made their way via Pink News and thence to the internet and news sites in general. Who knows how accurate or out of context the quotes are? Only Stephen Fry and Paul Flynn, the person who interviewed him.

Clearly, Stephen Fry is as entitled to an opinion about anything he likes. But if those opinions seem rather...odd or offensive, aren't people who find them odd or offensive entitled to question them?

When a twitter user linked him to what he was quoted as saying and asked if it was true, he merely passed on the link. There are many reasons why he could have done that - perhaps it was late; perhaps he didn't read the link and just thought he'd pass it on to his fans; perhaps he read it and saw nothing wrong with it. Nobody knows. But Fry's action was unfortunate, especially given his later assertion that he was misquoted.

While Britain (and presumably Fry) slept, people in other parts of the world started questioning what he'd said. By the time the British media woke up to it, there were various blog posts and the ball was already rolling. Next came an Observer article, and off we went.

Stephen Fry's only public reaction so far has been one tweet: So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up., followed by a flounce: Bye bye. His twitter account is now marked "No longer in service".

Again, let me stress that Fry is entitled to react in any way he wishes. That's his prerogative. But my prerogative, and that of anyone else, is to question things that I disagree with. I can do this by talking with friends, by blogging, by reading and commenting on other social media sites and, thanks to the magic of twitter, by asking @stephenfry directly (although I haven't and don't intend to do that last).

Except that apparently I can't and mustn't do these things. Stephen Fry, according to the #welovestephenfry twitter hashtag, must not be questioned or upset. Anyone who says his views are wrong without waiting for confirmation of them is silly/a bra-burning feminist/secretly hates sex. Women who take issue with his remarks are just spoiling the fun/taking offence too easily/silencing him because he's gay. The Stephen Fry situation is "as upsetting" as the fact that Danny Baker has cancer, apparently. People are calling for apologies from The Observer, Paul Flynn, BoganetteNZ and anyone else who might have upset Fry.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I mostly love Stephen Fry. But being popular and funny and loved and a spokesperson for mental health issues and rich and witty and clever and gay and kind and loving and a wonderful writer and speaker does not mean that he is infallible or should never be questioned. He's not a saint. Part of his appeal - part of anyone's appeal - is that he is not perfect.

Treating him like a special snowflake who must be carefully tended and wooed back to twitter is disrespectful to him, as well as to all the people who have taken issue with his remarks. Stephen Fry may be gay and bipolar, but he also has a hell of a lot of privelege to fall back on - much more, we can assume, than many of the people who are taking heat for questioning what he said. He can look after himself...and if he can't, it is not twitter's responsibility to do it for him.
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A couple of weeks ago, a storm erupted in the blogosphere over the cover of Justine Larbalestier's upcoming book, Liar. Justine posted about it here, and her post includes links to other posts if you're interested in following the conversation further.

From Justine Larbalestier's post: "Micah [the main character] is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short. As you can see that description does not match the US cover." She also included a photograph of the US basketball player whom she pictured Micah as resembling (Alana Beard, if you want to google her).

The US cover features a white girl, despite objections from the author.

There's a lot more information in Justine's post, but the basic problem is this: publishers believe that putting a picture of a black person on the cover of a book will put off potential buyers.

I'm just one person. But I'm a passionate reader and have been all my life. I blog, I post on facebook and twitter about what I'm reading, I'm a member of a book club, I talk to friends (many of whom are also passionate readers) about books all the time.

As a white, middle-class, heterosexual British woman, I am interested in stories that reflect other experiences. I want to know how it feels to be black or Asian, or First Nations, or Australian Aboriginal. I want to know what it's like to live in Japan, or Vietnam, or the Congo. I want to know how a gay man or woman experiences the world through which I slip so easily with all my privilege.

It's easy to write about me, and it's boring to read about me.

So that's why I seek out books that do not reflect my own experience. Another reason, one that I think is far more important, is that everyone needs someone to identify with. Here is an essay by Pam Noles on the lack of minorities in science fiction and fantasy and how this affects people of colour.

Justine Larbalestier has a passionate post entitled Why My Protags Aren't White. The entire post is well worth reading, but I'm going to quote just a small part of it:

Because a young Hispanic girl I met at a signing thanked me for writing an Hispanic character. Because when I did an appearance in Queens the entirely black and Hispanic teenage audience responded so warmly to my book with two non-white main characters. Because teens, both here and in Australia, have written thanking me for writing characters they could relate to. “Most books are so white,” one girl wrote me.

Dorothy Koomson is a bestselling author whose covers feature black people - that doesn't appear to have put off readers.

A quick glance through my most recent fiction reads brings up the following:

Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell, in which Carribbean culture is transplanted to a sci-fi setting.
Jazz and Beloved by Toni Morrison, about whom I hope little needs to be said.
Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill, in which the main character is a gay policeman.
Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave, a memoir by a man who was caught up in the first wave of HIV cases in Australia.
Disobedience by Naomi Alderman, about a lesbian Jewish woman coming to terms with her past.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, a painful but beautiful book chronicling the struggles of a Spokane Indian teenager.
The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale. The main story centres around a heterosexual couple who have a second chance, but the novel's true success story is a gay man with Down's Syndrome, pretty much the only character who emerges happy and well-adjusted.
Song for the Night by Chris Abani, about a child soldier in an unnamed African army.

(It would be interesting to see how many of those books featuring people of colour actually reflect that on the covers.)

I...don't quite know how to wrap this up. I just feel it's important to get the message out to publishers that readers are interested in books about minorities.




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June 2014

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