In the past, I’ve had it put to me by some of my more hot-under-the-dog-collar fellow believers, that I have no business telling stories that contain sex and violence. My response to such accusations is to point them firmly in the direction of the Bible, and ask if God also had no business telling stories that contain sex and violence.
Such differing views have existed among Christians for hundreds of years, with artists of all kinds often getting it in the neck. Take poor old Michelangelo for instance. Whilst struggling to finish the Last Judgement painting in the Sistine Chapel, in addition to injuries and broken bones sustained from falling from ladders and scaffolding, he frequently tangled with the church over nudity, and really had to argue his case. I think he had the last laugh though. When the painting was finally unveiled and shown to the Pope, he was overwhelmed by the sheer power and passion of the piece, and fell to his knees repenting in holy fear.
My own tangles with Christians over the years have been somewhat more banal by comparison, but I must say I have never had any sympathy with the everything-fun-is-wrong evangelical brigade, wanting to ban Harry Potter books because they think it will turn children to witchcraft, or taking offence at every f-word and miniskirt in a film, whilst refusing to look at the context.
And there it is: the c-word. Context is everything. As per my recent post on swearing, the decision as to whether include sex and violence in my stories is based entirely on context. In conversations I have had with certain Christians, eyebrows were raised over the “cutting” scene in Children of the Folded Valley, not to mention some of the (in my opinion mild) sexual content. In The Thistlewood Curse, concerns over the bloodbath in the finale have been mentioned. I dread to think what they’ll make of the next novel I plan to publish, The Spectre of Springwell Forest. Or some of the sex and violence in the book I am currently writing for that matter.
Despite such anti-censorship views, I have, on occasion, toned bits and pieces of my work down, depending on the target readership. For instance, one section of my last novel Echo and the White Howl I self-censored very slightly, when reading it back I realised one violent and gruesome sequence crossed the line into a level of gleeful sadism that could prove a bit too strong for younger children. That said, I still think the sequence remains challenging, bracing and incisive in its final published form. I don’t believe in patronising children by shielding them from writing like this, and the changes were largely cosmetic.
If I ever did fear the disapproval of my more uptight brethren, I no longer do so, whether writing for children or adults. Just before my father died, despite his own faith, he urged me to rewrite Children of the Folded Valley slightly, so it would be less timid, as he felt I had tried too hard to avoid offending Christians. He was absolutely right, and the resultant novel was all the better for it.