The British Writer Awards are undoubtedly a good idea; £10,000 for an unpublished writer – woohoo. There is also an award for published writers. But before you submit anything, you have to tick a little box guaranteeing that your work is ‘not offensive’. Offensive to whom is not clear. Offensive to anyone? Does it mean profanity? Probably. So, Ballard, Beckett, Will Self need not apply.
Maybe they want to avoid the type of controversy when Glasgow’s James Kelman won the Booker with ‘How Late it was, How Late’, scandalising one of their own judges, Rabbi Julia Nueberger, because it included the word fuck.
Nueberger is a cleric, not a writer. So, we shouldn’t write anything that might offend an imam? A priest?
Kelman said ‘My culture and my language have the right to exist, and no one has the authority to dismiss that.’
But the British Writer Awards have dismissed it; contemporary vernacular, no thanks. Realism, yikes. So they will promote only the British literature of polite discourse, like Radio 4, which doesn’t accept ‘offensive’ work either. What is literary becomes more remote from how most people talk and think, and so more people lose interest in it.
Are they ‘promoting’ British literature or the exact opposite, limiting and emasculating it? They can choose whatever they like to win, but specifying self-censorship at the outset is deadening. If a piece of work can be guaranteed not to offend anyone at all, it probably isn’t worth writing or publishing. Processed British writing, like processed cheese.
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