Ill Literate

Guess which two authors the statements below refer to? 

(1)   Books sexist, racist and elitist and devoid of literary merit. (BBC)

(2)   Books with no literary merit; unsuitable for school libraries; promoting harmful or dangerous concepts; stealing from other cultures. (Numerous sources)

 The first set is to Enid Blyton. 

The second set is to JK Rowling. 

What does one need to do to gain the approval of such critics? How does one define literary merit?  Perhaps the answers to those two questions is to write books of utter tedium to do with dull, everyday lives, and to frame them in elegant but not pretentious phrases. Instant best-seller NOT! 

Of course, regurgitation of belief or value systems within the framework of a story will find instant approval from those who subscribe to those systems, and instant vilification from those who do not. Even then, the question is how they are presented. Narnia, the Rings and Potter all reflect religious themes and values, and yet come in for rabid renunciation by radical religionists.

Rufus the Eagle Owl

Purr, Tabika’s girlfriend












My Tabika books were doomed from the start. In particular, they presented, during Apartheid times, a picture of blacks and whites on equal terms, attending the same schools, and working on complex problems together. They also had magic, and ‘witchcraft’.  Instant disfavour from officialdom in South Africa. However, my agent of that time (who had launched Cry the Beloved Country) found considerable interest from major publishers in UK and Australia. They were on the verge of making offers. At this point sanctions against South Africa happened, and that was that.

 More recently came the ultimate irony. Schools who assessed the books when they finally came out in South Africa found them insufficiently slanted towards the African culture, and inclined to present a patronising attitude. I cant see it, myself. The stories are about a cat, for Petes sake! 

Or they regard them as too difficult for their little darlings, ignoring that I have proved they can actually lead to improved vocabularies.

Still, I am pressing ahead with the new editions and hoping that, ultimately, the readers themselves will make the critics look like ninnies as has been the case with Blyton and Rowlings. 

Second proofs are awaited, after which, hopefully, the editions will be heated to gallop (I was going to say hot to trot but apparently that can be misunderstood). 

© August 2017 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble

12 thoughts on “Ill Literate

  1. Arkenaten

    I submitted several MS to penguin SA when I first started writing. I was also told they were not African themed enough.
    This was an almost impossible situation for me as I was not born in SA so zulu or xhosa culture was as alien to me as was Afrikaans! And still is to be honest.

    Is suppose a lot has to do with the culture of the time/s.
    Pratchett highlights this beautifully in Johnny and the Bomb where the children go back in time to 1941.
    You know the scene I am talking about? The one where the children enter the corner shop to get a newspaper and the lady in the shop says: to Johnny regarding Yo-less – ” the black one”.
    ”Is Sambo with you, dear?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. colonialist Post author

      Yes, and the culture moves with time, too. I expect to take flak for my representations of Zulu culture in Darx Circle, but that is how it has come across to me so that is how it is presented!
      Like seeing nothing strange in days gone by when a grown black man would walk into a butcher store and ask for “a pound of boys’ meat”.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. disperser

    Wish you luck with the relaunching.

    Also, as I explore the literary landscape here in the US, it’s obvious to me I don’t fit the PC mold, and I’m never going to be edgy, diverse, inclusive enough if I keep writing primarily adventure and action books devoid of social agendas and causes célèbre.

    Such are the times.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. philosophermouseofthehedge

    It’s about cats.
    Many of us are getting tired of some self righteous person/group dictating what is “appropriate” or not. People are picking at every little detail looking to be offended.
    Worked in publishing for quite a while until just fed up with “we can’t publish this or that because it will offend and won’t make money” or “there’s not enough diversity and it won’t make money” or “this author is so well known he/she could write total bland dribble and we’ll still make money!”
    Bless the independent and small publishers that can fearlessly recognize a good story as just a good story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. colonialist Post author

      I don’t know how some of these people get into the responsible positions of making publishing decisions in the mainstream companies. It often seems that we end up reading what the publishers think we want to read rather than what we actually want to read!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. RuthBH2Day

    I struggle to find a mould to fit too. there is so much advice and hints out there that in the end I’m sure it comes down to who picks up your MS and how happy they are that day. Because to be fair some books you pickup leave you scratching your head and wishing you could lob them off a mountain. In the end who knows what works and what doesn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. colonialist Post author

    In the final analysis it amounts to writing what one enjoys writing and hoping others will enjoy it too. If not, well at least one has had the pleasure of it oneself. Writing ‘for the market’ would kill me.



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