With King Richard III reburied today in Leicester with all honours, I thought it was an appropriate time to let you all know a little secret about me. I am—if research is correct—a great grandson some 17 times removed, of King Edward IV, older brother of Richard III. OK, I know I had little to do with it but I still think it’s cool particularly as I’m a writer of historical fiction and fancy myself a bit of an historian. Being Yankee born and of a certain age, we New Englanders as children had ancestry drummed into us the way other kids collect Top Trumps, particularly if your family is old pilgrim stock. I lucked out on having on a lot of the family history already researched although I filled in some gaps myself despite the Luftwaffe bollocking things up by fire bombing the Devon public records office in 1942. But it was thanks to some distant relatives that I recently learned of the Plantagenet connection. It seems I’m descended on my father’s side from one of King Edward’s illegitimate children (of which he had several). “Princess” Elizabeth was formally recognized by the king as his bastard and was allowed to be named Plantagenet. She eventually married Sir Thomas de Lumley, baronet, in Northumberland. As one does.
My other ancestor
That said, just doing the genealogical maths, which sort of progress geometrically as the generations ensue, there have to be a hell of a lot of other Plantagenets running around the world today. Millions, in fact. Including, apparently, Benedict Cumberbatch. So really it ain’t that big a deal. The difference is I know about it and most Plantagenet descendants are blissfully unaware they had ancestors in the real Game of Thrones. Am I a “Ricardian”, one of those defenders of the much-maligned monarch? Well, I don’t know if my “great uncle” murdered my forebear’s brothers in the Tower or not. But hey, he’s family right? Gotta love the guy. I point the finger at those upstart Tudors who had just as much motive to see Edward’s line snuffed out. Right, enough said. I’m off to have the white rose of York added to my coat-of-arms over the mantle.
The call for more diverse authors is laudable—but excluding others is not
A lot of commotion in the last few weeks on social media about book publishing and
authors. Specifically, there has been a rising call for more diversity in publishing, an initiative to encourage more books being published by authors other than straight white males who apparently account for the lion’s share of book deals. That is, more books that represent the views of people of colour, varied ethnicity, women, and the LGBT community. And why not? The literary world can only be enriched by encouraging and fostering those voices. But some proponents are going further. Some are calling specifically for readers to stop buying or reading books by white male authors in an effort to force publishers to listen to their demands for diversity. That privileged elite has been at the top long enough so the logic goes. Time to sweep them aside. That, my friends, is where I must part company.
I’ll admit, my situation is akin to the chicken and pig’s involvement in a ham & eggs breakfast: the chicken has an interest but the pig is committed. Yes, I’m a straight white male and published author. I’m all for more diversity but according to these folks I have to be the one for the chop.
I think I get the reasoning. It’s about changing the publishing world by grabbing it by the balls. Change what is moving off those bookshop shelves and they’ll have to commission more of it, right? Maybe. I don’t know for sure. But it shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. The big publishing houses are out to make money. If they see an audience for something they will publish it—no matter who the author is or what they look like. I do realize that a small handful of writers (probably white male) eat up the majority of major advances in the literary world (Disclaimer: I am not one of them). But publishing itself has shifted now as book economics continue to change and morph. The ever-burgeoning world of indie publishing has provided alternate paths for authors, putting new books and new voices in front of readers. Surely there are more ways to broaden diversity in books without consigning others to reader oblivion. I’m sure the arguments are heartfelt. And I agree with the goal of broadening the chorus of voices that reflect our society.
But. No one has the right to tell you to stop reading an author based on gender, skin colour or ethnicity.
Just read. As much and as widely as you possibly can.
The team over at Solaris Books very kindly asked me to guest blog for them on their website this week, specifically, to take the chair for their bi-weekly column “Throwback Thursdays”. It’s a nice idea: get Solaris authors to talk about what led to the creation of some of their earlier works. After a bit of head-scratching I launched into how Gideon’s Angel, released in 2013, came to be born. I made the startling (or bone-headed) revelation that in its earliest days it was not a fantasy novel at all. You can find out how and why that literary 180-degree course change happened by just clicking here: www.solarisbooks.com