Read beyond the Headline

10 Jul

It’s the JK thing. Before you ask, yes it is even a thing. JK Rowling is a magnetic pole. Mention JK and all the iron filings find their place in the strict rows according to their polarity before they’ve even read the headline. Joanne Harris, speaking at a Parliamentary Committee, said something. A journalist reported that Joanne Harris had said something. Between what Joanne Harris said (I don’t know, I wasn’t there to hear it for myself, though this is what Joanne Harris says on her own site, and the headline that was reported ( there seems to be a lot of iron filings. It’s a testament to the power of words that journalists and writers work with the same tools, and yet so often seem at odds with the result. Much as a writer is on shaky ground to claim off-the-cuffness as an excuse for a wayward remark the same is surely true for a journalist. On either side then one finds oneself searching for the intention. In this case I’m inclined to side with Joanne Harris, whose intention appeared to be to point out how unhelpful it was that the media portray JK’s success as relevant to writers in general. How ironic, and perhaps cynical, that the headline arising from this is a suggestion of snippy jealousy on Harris’s part.
Cue a minor storm on Twitter (minor for the watching world). JK Rowling fans line up to bash Joanne Harris. Joanne Harris defends her standpoint, repeatedly insisting she has been misquoted and trying to deflect the furore back towards the actual point. The tune-out point for me was when Katie Hopkins (was it the Apprentice?) lambasted Joanne Harris directly, picking up the ‘little story about wizards’ tagline as though it were Harris’s own opinion, pronouncing that JK ‘taught a generation to read’, noting JK as a ‘brilliant single mum’ and most ironically of all then refusing Joanne Harris’s invitation to read her twitter feed to find out what she actually said. Had Katie Hopkins and many others read beyond the headline they might have realised that there was no slight to defend.
And here, for me, is the true sadness of the whole thing. JK’s story is well-known. It’s known now to the point where people imagine Jennifer Aniston frowning over a dog-eared notebook with a very fetching tartan scarf keeping her warm as she crosses out a line here, dots an ‘i’ there. It’s been sanitised because of all that money, all that success. Do people see a person? Do people see a writer? Do they see how hard it actually was or do they see a celebrity? There’s nothing wrong with figureheads. Figureheads are good. People being inspired by inspiring people is good. JK is successful. Joanne Harris is successful. Single-mumness or marriedness has what to do with it? The fact is that both of these successful writers struggled early on to make a name for themselves in a very tough market. That’s almost universally true. Unless independent wealth exists, debut and mid-list writers (tend to keep it to themselves and not) come to the table with stories of early mornings and late nights and stolen moments between jobs when their book was written. And if Katie Hopkins had read beyond the headline she’d recognise the wider context, and see the very point of it all: that JK Rowling’s life was really hard before she achieved such stellar success because what writers do is not valued enough; that ensuring debut and mid-list writers are paid appropriately will ensure British literature continues to flourish; that downloading free (pirated) books is not ‘sticking it to the man’ but robbing the struggling single-mum-would-be-JK-superstar-writer.

And it’s true of all the arts. I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that a fan can make a difference. When you find your next JK, be they writer, poet, singer, actor or painter, be a part of their success by supporting them. Tell your friends about them. Buy your friends a copy, don’t make them one.
And for Pete’s sake read beyond the headline so you can recognise an ally when you see one.


2 Responses to “Read beyond the Headline”

  1. thousandmonkeys 10/07/2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Crumbs, I’m tempted to duck even from this far away! Well put, however. Does it also say something that to me, aspiring proto-writer that I am, both Joanne Harris and JK Rowling seem so far above my league as to be the same (full-time writers whose books have become films), and I wouldn’t have considered jealousy as a motive unless someone else suggested it?

    • vanisreading 11/07/2014 at 10:55 am #

      It’s certainly a lesson in editing: [Those people who assume ]it’s just a little story about wizards[ are completely missing the point].

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