I noticed this morning a quote attributed to Martin Amis from the BBC program, Faulks on Fiction: "People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book,' but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.... I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write."
As you might imagine, there has already been a considerable backlash to this sentiment. It’s nothing new for Mr. Amis, master of a very English brand of sardonic aside. Not to mention the deflection of editorial outrage (gleefully ginned-up controversy) sniffing the tail of his many opinions, regardless of their merit. And although his condescension is bracing, I enjoy that sort of forthrightness. “Better to be blunt than be dull,” my grandfather always said. Well, that’s not true. I made that up. But he should have said it. And, to some degree, I agree with Amis. At least as it concerns intentionally “writing at a lower register.” It’s a valid point to consider, and probably all too often the cause of flabby writing on any shelf. But I suspect Amis hasn’t immersed himself in the genre enough to know that writing a YA novel does not inherently require a diminishment in style or expectation. In my particular experience, the positive reception that both Fade to Blue and You Killed Wesley Payne received was leavened with plenty of “I don’t get it” responses. Which was both understandable and expected. I don’t try to write books that everyone will get, and I don’t dumb down my characters, situations, or vocabulary. I am hardly alone in the YA world in this respect. Martin Amis has written a number of novels I thoroughly enjoyed and admired. He has also, exercising the ‘freedom of fiction” he cites, released others that stuck me as creatively constipated and in need of a thorough editing. Even so, I had no problem following and/or understanding them. I don’t think he was writing to a cognitively addled or more deliberately commercial crowd, rather, like every author, he went through periods where he just wasn’t at the top of his game. At any rate, there are way too many YA titles released each season for anyone to keep track of, let alone read, so I think most of us can take solace that Martin Amis will not be joining the legion of “literary” novelists who are adding to the pile. I fully support his not cashing in on this trend. Not only because that leaves more elbow room for me, but because I really enjoyed his most recent novel, The Pregnant Widow, and as his illustrious attorney would advise him to continue working in his natural register.