Lynn Shepherd’s whine about JK Rowling in The Huffington Post cannot go unchallenged. Shepherd is a novelist and copywriter, who, by her own account, has not read one word of the Harry Potter series. Despite this obvious prerequisite to handing out criticism, she says, ‘I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.’
I could go on about her opinion of children’s literature. I could point out her grammatical error. I could remind her that there are probably millions of books that are more stimulating than the ones she has written, but that no-one is suggesting this as a good enough reason not to read her titles.
I could be here all day, so let me focus on what really riles me: the notion that a writer should be punished for her popularity; that she is somehow to blame for the hype about her books.
Harry Potter was phenomenally successful. It’s naïve to think that the publishers and marketers of Rowling’s next books would not cash in on her name. Pick a fight with them, if you must, but to suggest that Rowling ought to stop writing adult fiction because struggling authors need shelf space and column inches more than she does is to misunderstand the reason why writers write.
As a writer and a teacher of writing, I know how hard it is to get a manuscript published. Some people have made a lot of money out of formulaic potboilers, but most of us set out to write because we are storytellers, because we love words, because we feel driven to bring them to life. Yes, we would all like to be successful, but – trust me on this – if it were money and fame that drove us, we’d have picked a more promising profession. Nevertheless, once in a while one of our number hits the big time. The accolades must be wonderful, but being in the spotlight has its drawbacks. High on the list must be resentment and bitchiness from the less successful.
Rowling’s books may be good or bad. The point is that she has as much right as the rest of us to keep writing them. Despite the publicity machine, if there isn’t a market for her work, it won’t sell. Let that be the determining factor; don’t let us wish for space on the bookshelf just because she has been driven out. Writers, hone your craft and write for the love of it, not for the limelight. If it comes, you may find it a harsh environment that stifles rather than celebrates your creativity.