I have found myself having a lot of discussions with people of late about the ethical problems of writing about our families — those thorny issues of boundaries and consent.
Writers, particularly, rarely avoid writing about the people they are intimate with. So, do we have a responsibility to ask our subjects’ permission to publish material about them, even if fictionalised?
And can’t we just be satisfied with writing something down? Why do we need to go and publish the stuff?
Can there really ever be an ethical code of practice for artists?
Gabrielle Carey made the interesting comment about her latest book, Waiting Room: A Memoir — that she kept it in her bottom drawer for several years before publishing it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing.
I do my best to write now, think later. If I think too much about what so-and-so will feel, I’d never write anything at all. But I do find myself regularly minimising the document on my computer when my partner walks into the room.
I have sometimes worried about what my kids will think of The Divided Heart, should they ever read it. I hope they see it as a record of how much I love them, as much as anything else. But there’s a risk they’ll have a very different view, and I have to live with that.
My seven-year-old son is very aware of the book and recently drew a picture of me with a bubble from my mouth saying: “The Devided Heart” and then an arrow to a drawing of a book, with “Mama’s book” written above it. I felt kind of wretched that he was celebrating my book without being old enough to really grasp its theme.
Fellow blogger Elisabeth has a fascinating discussion of the 'writing about family' theme on her blog, Sixth in Line, and notes that it is closely related to that other big area of literary controversy: the fact vs fiction debate.
You may all have heard about the furore in Britain over Julie Myerson’s book about her 15-year-old son's drug addiction, which led her to throw him out of the house. You can watch a painfully squirmy BBC interview with her here, in which Myerson mostly works to justify her decision to publish the book — only really digging herself in further.
Gabrielle Carey made an interesting comment in response, that instead of Myerson trying to justify her decision on other grounds, why can't she just say "I write — and that’s what I do?”