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.