Philip Pullman is wrong to object to vetting of school-visit authors - Times Online

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The William Mayne Effect

Yet another significant voice has come forward to say that Philip Pullman (and other high-profile children's authors) is wrong to object to proposals to vet authors before they make visits to schools. Earlier in the week the new Laureate, Anthony Browne said that he had no objections to the proposed register (though questioned the requirement to pay a fee for inclusion).

I was wondering when someone would play the William Mayne card. [Mayne was a highly respected and award-winning author up until his conviction for indecent assault on underage girls.]

Yesterday, Nicolette Jones had a full page piece in The Times, headlined "Philip Pullman is wrong."

Introducing the article, the byline (presumably written by a copy-editor and not Jones herself) read "As a child, Nicolette Jones was exposed to the paedophile author William Mayne. This is her story."

The use of the word 'exposed' in this context was cunningly sensationalist, leading the reader to expect revelations of Jones herself being the subject of abuse. But as the article makes clear, there was nothing in her childhood contact with the author (no more than an exchange of letters and small gifts) to arouse suspicion at the time. It is only in hindsight (and in the knowledge of later revelations)that she, her sister and their friend Becky can see how close they came to becoming vulnerable.

Of course Mayne's case is relevant to this current debate. And all kudos to Nicolette Jones for being (to my knowledge) the first to raise it. And of course it behoves schools, reading groups, parents, librarians to be on their guard for any signs that an adult is abusing their position of trust with a child and grooming them for more intimate contact.
But far from supporting the need for a register, the case proves the false security that such a register might bring. As Jones herself rather self-defeatingly points out:

On the other hand, a check would not have protected any of Mayne's victims at the time. Mayne had no record that any search would have revealed...

Isn't that rather significant? Heaven forbid that any author or illustrator is up to what Mayne was up to in the past, but if they are we don't yet know about it.

So, having carefully weighed the counter arguments over the past week, I am very firmly aligning myself (and ACHUKA) with Pullman et al.

5 Comments

Great comments Jake.

It's definitely unfortunate that Pullman was criticised so harshly but I do think it was important that there was a public backlash from authors who disagree or at least don't agree but still need to visit schools to supplement their income and promote their books.

From the general public's point of view, if the only response had been Pullman and other heavyweights (who himself admitted that he doesn't 'need' to visit schools very often), then schools might well have formed the impression that all authors would be following suit.

That could easily be the passing impression if you are involved in schools - authors don't like the new legislation, they won't visit schools. so we don't need to bother to invite them.

It's likely that for the majority of authors, the continuing need to make a living trumps the affront/annoyance/cost of this new legislation, whatever they privately feel.

So this group had to speak up and quickly, making it clear that the views of some of these well-known authors did not represent their own.

The views I've read have convinced me that enough people would not be happy with a practice of routinely leaving children with an author, even if they were 'registered'. Which abrogates the need for the registration, to be honest.

Makes you wonder where the idea arose. At some point someone must have sat in a meeting and said."And those author-types! We need to make sure they're all registered, too!"

It's good to have your views added here Joe. I've read the comments you've written on your blog and the same with Tommy and whilst I agree with some of the scenarios painted and the trust that's built up, in essence this scheme does nothing to assuage that or indeed to offer anything in terms of any real assurance. It's hard to be convinced this system is necessary let alone in its proposed 'blunderbuss' style method of dissemination.

I'm curious as to why Pullman comes under fire quite so heavily. The implication in many posts seems to be that he is trying to speak representing all authors. I've seen *nothing* to suggest that. He has ever right to object to a piece of legislation that affects him and his profession (just as you too have and indeed have used with BBC Breakfast etc). If he does so, that does not mean that it necessarily forms an extension that covers all authors views.

As anyone who has followed the debacle will notice, there is a raft of public feeling against this legislation because it is so woefully inadequate and at the same time so cynical. Pullman is self-employed and in a position where he does have a public voice, I fail to see that utilising that to express his concerns warrants such criticism?

Joe, you talk about Pullman's disproportionate response. In fact, his original criticism was in the trade magazine 'The Bookseller' and it is from here that journalists have plucked the story, just as they have plucked many of the other authors who you term 'his posse'! Many of them wrote comments in support of his stance and it is these that have been relayed back in the media. That's the fault of lazy journalism, not an attempt by Pullman and his 'grey haired cronies' as I've seen suggested elsewhere - not by you - to overthrow a system that is being implemented by everyone because they view themselves as different and above this. Horowitz was clear on that point on Newsnight, there are many, many people that this affects and who object to it. In a sense Anthony Browne's comments about dinnerladies is irrelevant here because dinnerladies are one of the groups who do have sustained and regular contact with children in one school so the legislation would have purpose with them as a group.

It's worth stating too that none of the authors have said they would stop giving events to children, just that if this legislation comes into effect, they would stop visiting schools because to do so would implement them in a practice that they disagree with. Whatever one thinks, that does not lack rationale, they are stating a line of action against the thing they are objecting to, surely that is all they are able to do? How is that different to the authors who objected to the National Literacy Strategy and so stated that their writing should not be used for that purpose? It's merely a following through of one's beliefs.

There have been some vicious remarks about Pullman both in terms of some of the articles that have been written - and the unthinking way his stance has been portrayed - and in terms of the comments and blogs that have been made. I've read around this subject extensively and have seen *nothing* that he has written that calls for such personal attack, in fact he has been nothing other than dignified and clear on the reasoning behind his agenda.

(Sorry, that last comment was from me, Joe Craig. For some reason it's come out as an anonymous string of code...)

I think there are two separate areas of inquiry here.

One is whether authors should be vetted (which leads on to the auxillary questions of whether this is the right scheme, whether it costs too much, how it can be made effective etc).
The other question is whether the reaction from the Pullman posse was reasonable.

Surely whatever one's views on the first question, it's hard to defend a group of high-profile authors threatening to boycott schools in response.

So in other words it's possible to be, for example, in favour of vetting in theory, while having reservations about this particular scheme because of the ins and outs of its administration, cost and effectiveness.

And at the same time, one can be anti-vetting (even in theory) and still not join the Pullman gang because of their disproportionate response and confused reasoning.

Perhaps everybody had already realised all of this, but I thought it worth setting out here that 'anti-vetting' doesn't imply 'pro-Pullman' and similarly 'pro-vetting' doesn't imply 'pro-this-particular-scheme'.

Like you, I'm very firmly aligned with Pullman and everyone. I admire the fair coverage you've given to both sides of the argument. The article from 'The Times' appears damaging to me, and highly relevantis the line: 'The threat was not having the author in school'.

This is why I disagree with the comments of Tommy, Joe etc. in their blogs because whilst few would argue for a stance against child safety and protection. This is flaccid legislation that will prove highly costly and ineffectual- if the end user cost of £64 is to be matched in those instances where this will be funded elsewhere, the estimates of 11.3M to be included in the vetting and barring scheme leads to a cost of £723.2M

For that price it delivers no actual safeguards and in the instance of the incident this legislation is a direct response to - the Soham tragedy - this would have been ineffectual.

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on July 19, 2009 10:07 AM.

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