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Happy endings?

As you might expect from her books, Anne Fine is an entertaining speaker: she has plenty of opinions, and she expresses them with force and humour. When she read and disliked Melvin Burgess’s book, Doing It, she said so.

This has made her a favourite with journalists, but that’s as in ‘favourite meal’ rather than ‘favourite person’. Earlier this summer she expressed reservations over another new book, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels on the basis of a description given to her by a journalist:

“I have to wonder generally whether a children’s publisher does not sometimes have a responsibility to stop and say that although a shocking new book will make money, and even be popular, it does not have what the Americans call ‘redeeming social importance’.”

Note the tentativeness of that remark. Later, when she had read the book, Anne was rather more forthright, telling people that it was the best book she had read in some time – but that, of course, isn’t news. Fortunately, Margo Lanagan was understanding, describing the trick as blindsiding an expert.

The latest episode of the story goes a step further. The Times reports on a panel at the Edinburgh Book Festival called ‘Compelling Novels, Vulnerable Children’ at which Anne Fine asked an audience of social workers what effect they thought it had on vulnerable children to read novels which were not only dark and realistic but which maintained this note through to a downbeat ending. She may have been thinking of her own books for older children: in The Road of Bones Yuri’s survival in a quasi-Stalinist state comes at a price, and the final twist is as much a sting in the tail as an upbeat ending; or The Tulip Touch, in which it is brutally clear that Natalie’s happy ending can only be attained by admitting that she cannot save Tulip.

This wasn’t controversial enough for The Times, which headlined its story “Anne Fine deplores ‘gritty realism’ of modern children’s books”. Alison Flood’s post in the Guardian‘s Book Blog drew on the same source (though she acknowledged that “I have a feeling that her comments at the Edinburgh international book festival have been blown a little out of proportion” before moving on to a general discussion of the issue) and provoked a flurry of comments from people who had actually been at the event, and didn’t recognise it from The Times‘s account.

Today’s Times carries a brief letter from Anne putting the record straight. It’s good to know that where the Teesdale Mercury leads, the Times is not afraid to follow. So that’s a happy ending of a sort, then. (Pity neither of the comments so far received by the Times shows any sign of having read the letter…)

Stop Press: Since I wrote the above, I’ve read two more contributions to the debate: Nicolette Jones writes in BookBrunch that newspapers will inevitably not falsify what is said, exactly, but present it in the most sensational light they can; and Melvin Burgess says much the same thing, adding that it is no wonder people feel bruised by such encounters with the press – and adds his own recollection of what really happened.

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