by Iain McLaughlin, Editor-in-Chief
February 13, 2016
I like getting feedback on the books we produce here at Thebes Publishing. Obviously if the feedback is positive I get a little glow and I pass on that good feedback to everyone involved in the relevant books. Equally, if the feedback is negative, I try to look at it and find how we can improve our releases.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a bit of feedback for the Erimem series which rather startled me and has since then dug its way under my skin. A reader who had bought the first two Erimem releases, The Last Pharaoh and The Beast of Stalingrad. emailed to say that he would not be buying any further releases because the content of the books was 'inappropriate for children and young people'.
Having written (or co-written) both books, I was obviously interested. I was aware that the violence in both books was quite explicit and that there was a bit of mild swearing and a very genteel hint of hanky panky in The Last Pharaoh... basically amounting to a couple of post-coital snuggles.
It transpired that none of this was the problem. No. The problem was that one of the characters is gay. Apparently my now former reader is 'sick of Doctor Who pushing a gay agenda'. Now, I wouldn't have mentioned this publicly except that the email then used words like 'perverted' and 'immoral' to describe our gay character. What I personally find perverted and immoral is that someone gets upset about a character very quietly coming out and consider it unacceptable for children but they don't have a problem with those children reading about occult sacrifices, stabbings and humans being eaten alive by giant space reptiles.
Our characters are fictional, but the problems fictional characters face are often very real and they can be a conduit for people who are dealing with those problems in the real world to realise they're not alone. Literature and the media and arts in general can help people realise they're not alone, they're not the only ones feeling the way they do. Because no matter what we're facing, it helps to know we're not alone. Personally, it wasn't about my sexuality - I had to come to terms with being bipolar. Watching Stephen Fry expose the depths of his problems to a TV camera helped me enormously. A gay friend told me she found coming out difficult but seeing gay and lesbian characters on TV made things a little easier - admittedly only a little - when she told her family. I realise I possibly shouldn't have used my illness as a comparison. Our sexual orientation isn't an illness, but nor is it a choice. It's just part of who we are.
We're not looking to make any great social point with our gay character (I'm not saying who it is to avoid spoilers) but the world is full of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. It's also full of black people, asian people, Muslims, Christians and atheists. We live in a diverse world which already has far too much emphasis on finding the differences between people instead of finding the things that make us all the same. We all deserve a home, food, to live safely without fear, the freedom to worship whatever we worship and to love who we love and to be loved in return without being judged.
So, to the reader who sent that email, I make this suggestion. Stop being offended by who people love and start being offended by the amount of hate in the world. If you can't do that... we are a small publishing company and we need every sale we can get - but we're not going to dump our gay character or change the person they are, so even though we need every sale, I'd suggest that you continue to steer clear of our books. I'd also suggest you take a long, hard look at yourself.
And everybody else? Like the Beatles said, All You Need Is Love.