‘I’ve seen the advice given quite a lot recently about how authors should keep their political views to themselves – the belief being it is bad for business.’
Caimh McDonnell is no stranger to my blog.
He featured as one of my first guests on #IrishWritersWed (Read HERE) and I have also read and reviewed all four of his books, which I have thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.
Today, as I wrap up my #IrishWritersWed feature for the Summer I am thrilled to have Caimh back with a guest post entitled ‘Are you Political?’ which is a very interesting look at how ‘you can often see a lot of an author’s beliefs baked into their writing.’
I do hope you have enjoyed the incredible variety of content that I feel very privileged to have hosted over the last while. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, all who were so very generous with their time and their words. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir (Thank you all!!)
So without further ado, I’ll let Caimh take to the stage….
“Are you political?”
That’s a question I’ve been asked a few times and to be honest, I’m never quite sure how to answer it. As someone who has lived his adult-life split between the UK and Ireland, I wouldn’t see myself as aligned with any one political party in either country. I’ve never campaigned for anyone and as a stand-up comedian, I’ve been asked and turned down the chance to do gigs in aid of one party or another because I’ve never felt comfortable doing so. Despite all of that, I couldn’t honestly answer that I’m not political, just that I’m not sitting in anyone’s boat. I’m more bobbing about on a lilo that admittedly floats closer to some boats than others.
Why I mention this is that I’ve seen the advice given quite a lot recently about how authors should keep their political views to themselves – the belief being it is bad for business. The thing is, while it’s easy enough to avoid expressing an opinion on social media, I’m not entirely sure it can be avoided in your work. Even if it is not intended, you can often see a lot of an author’s beliefs baked into their writing.
Now, to be clear – I am not saying that an author is responsible for everything expressed in their book. We are not our characters. There has been some frankly horrifying witch-hunts in certain genres, particularly in YA (Young Adult), where passages are taking out of context and a character with a racist belief in a book has resulted in an author being attacked for being a racist. Context is everything.
Admittedly genre does make it easier to avoid certain political issues. Having said that, despite the fantastical world they were set in, anyone like myself who has read all of Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Discworld novels will be very clear on where he stands on many issues.
Similarly, I’m pretty sure anyone who has read the four crime thrillers I’ve written could correctly guess a lot of my political beliefs. In fact, I recently got approached by a teacher who asked if they could use a chapter from my latest book. In it, one of my main characters, Bunny McGarry, confronts some teenagers about hassling immigrants. The point summed up by the line “The sheer stupidity of people who have feck all attacking other people who have feck all – it makes me want to scream.” Now, as this is happening in one of my books someone gets thrown in a bin and someone else gets walloped in the goolies, but still, the point is made.
Again, the astute reader could correctly surmise my opinion on the epidemic of homelessness I see on both sides of the Irish sea, the IRA (spoiler alert: not a fan) and ‘the gays’ (spoiler alert: big fan).
I mention this as I’m currently working on a new book where an Irish character finds themselves in America in a late-night diner where two armed men are holding the place up. In response to the line “I’ve got a gun” my hero responds, “You’re in America sonny, land of the free, home of the armed. You’ve more guns than people and they’ve got more rights than the people do. You think you’re the only one in here with a gun?” Now, that line makes perfect sense in the story – he’s trying to throw two armed opponents out of their stride to gain an advantage. At the same time, the character is expressing a view on gun control in the US, one of the most divisive issues they have. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of American readers, and statistically, it is inevitable many of them would take issue with that statement. Thing is, it is what the character believes. Whether you agree with it or not, research shows that it is what the vast majority of Irish or British people believe so it makes perfect sense for the character.
Here’s the thing, agree with that opinion or don’t. I’m not running for office and neither is my character. I’m trying to write a book and he’s just trying to have breakfast. I honestly don’t mind someone disagreeing with my views on most topics. In fact, my best friend has dramatically different views to me on a lot of things. He could be classed as a libertarian whereas I am much more on the ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ end of the spectrum. We spend long car journeys debating certain issues – frankly it’s a bit of a Godsend on a four-hour drive to have something engaging to discuss. We are both happy living in a world and indeed, a car, where multiple viewpoints exist.
I, and many authors, are not trying to tell you, the reader, what to think. We’re just creating characters whose opinions are shaped by where they are from, or the period in which they live in. If you can’t cope with the idea that others have differing views to you, then the inside of a book may not be where you belong. It is space where ideas are expressed, people are thrown in bins and quite often, at least in my books, people get walloped in the knackers.
You have the right to read what you like and form whatever opinion you want based on a whole work. Similarly, I and every writer, has the right to tell to express ourselves as fully as we can and if we start worrying about what you may or may not be offended by, then we’re selling us both short.
Caimh McDonnell is an award-winning stand-up comedian, author and writer of televisual treats.
In his time on the British stand-up circuit, he has firmly established himself as the white-haired Irishman whose name nobody can pronounce. He performs regularly at all the major clubs and is equally at home doing a set or acting as MC. He regularly supports Sarah Millican on tour and has also brought the funny worldwide, doing stand-up tours of the Far East, the Middle East and once, the near east (Norwich). He brings a new stand-up show to the Edinburgh festival most years, mainly as an excuse to eat things that’ve been deep fried……
For more ~ http://whitehairedirishman.com/
Twitter ~ @Caimh