Writing - and (just some) Readers!
My readers devote several hours of their valuable time to reading something I have written – so how could I not love them?
But there are just a few (a very few) who really get up my nose – and they are the ones who cannot distinguish between what one of my characters says and what I, as a person, think.
Fatal Quest, the last of the Woodend books, provides a perfect example of this. Woodend is called to a crime scene, and when he discovers that the victim is half West Indian, one of the other officers says, ‘Didn’t I mention that she was a nigger?’
Now the word was in quite common usage at the time the book is set (the early 1950s).
My grandmother had a thing against the monarchy (she thought they should be all shot, and would hand my six-year-old self a glass of sherry, provided I was willing to propose a toast to ‘Mucky Lizzie’ – which is another story), but she didn’t have a racially prejudiced bone in her body. Yet she would go to the wool shop and ask for some ‘nigger brown’ wool, and the genteel lady behind the counter (all wool shops in those days were run by genteel ladies) would know exactly what she wanted and wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
But even though the word is in common usage, Woodend objects, and insists that the victim is referred to as ‘coloured’. Is this almost as bad?
Yes, probably by today’s standards, but it should be remembered that, at the time, the leading civil rights group in the USA was the NAACP ( National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) , so it was not only acceptable, it was very acceptable.
And yet ... and yet, I know there are a few readers who seem to think I am an honorary member of the KKK. They believe I should not have used the word at all, but instead should have rewritten history. So, according to them, the way the conversation should have gone is as follows:
Policeman: Didn’t I mention that the victim was of Afro-American origin?
Woodend: You’re making racial assumptions there. She might be of pure African stock – and when I say ‘pure’, I am in no way denigrating Afro-Americans.
Policeman: No, which ever she is, she is of a proud heritage.