Let's hear it for 'shades of grey'

No, not Fifty Shades, but something a long, long way away from that.

Since 2016, I’ve seen a marked decrease in rationality, the lessening  of the desire to examine and discuss and disagree in a civilised way, and for that to have become the norm.

‘Polarisation’ used to apply to the nutters at the far edges. After all, the North and South Poles are at the directly opposite ends of the earth, the extremes. Most people – the decent, law abiding, mildly boring – lived, worked and thought in the centre. Yes, they’d perhaps tend towards one view a little, but only a few centimetres from the middle of a 30 centimetre ruler.

My rose-tinted spectacles aren’t that powerful that I believe people are all angels – the prisons and the daily news show the opposite –  but views and their expression have mostly been within a certain spectrum.

Now it seems to have changed.

Book publishing
This century, universal self/indie publishing bounced in like a rambunctious teenager, full of rebellion, vigour and demanding tones. Mainstream publishing sneered, looked down on it and thought it would either go away or grow up. And it did exactly the latter. It won readers, prizes (where permitted) and now represents a significant and respectable sector of the book trade. Readers don’t only care who published a book, only if it is a good read.

While the progressive element within traditional publishing is now looking at joint working, hybrid publishing and modelling practices, especially marketing, on those of the most dynamic indies, there is still virulence in the book trade and, disappointingly, from fellow authors against those who have chosen the independent route. In fairness, many authors are still in the centre, but those at the edges can be dismissive even vitriolic, not acknowledging that trade publishing via agent and commissioning editor in a publishing house can suit some writers,  or that professional indies use editors, graphic artists and designers and publish on the same trade platforms.

But other parts of the book world are still lost in the mists of time. An example I found this morning: The BBC Short Story Prize (in association with the University of Cambridge) specifically excludes entries from self-published authors, even if they have sold a million books. The competition rules go into painstaking, almost malicious, detail on how they are excluding such authors:

2.8 The author must have a prior record of publication in creative writing in the United Kingdom. This means the author must previously have had a work or works of prose fiction, drama or poetry published by an established UK book publisher [more]

2.8.1 For the avoidance of doubt, ‘established UK publisher’ means a publishing house or company that publishes a list of titles by different authors, that produces titles with an ISBN and sells them in pounds sterling, and that distributes them through established retail outlets.

2.8.2 For the avoidance of doubt, ‘established newspaper, magazine, journal or periodical’ means [more] a periodical that is printed regularly (at least annually) that has been in circulation for at least the past 12 months, has an ISBN or ISSN number and is not self-published; or has a paid subscription-based website.

2.8.3 For the avoidance of doubt, ‘a UK national broadcaster’ means a national radio station or television channel.

2.8.4 None of the following will constitute a ‘record of prior publication’:

(i) self-published material of any kind;
(ii) work published via commercial arrangement through which the publisher is paid by the author;
(iii) online publication via an author’s own website or blog, or a writing community site.


Does it really matter how an author is published? Can competition entries not be judged on merit alone? Such discrimination makes the BBC look as ridiculous as the French booksellers who refuse to sell a self-published book longlisted for the prestigious Prix Renaudot, the complement to the Prix Goncourt.

Disclaimer: I am a pro-EU, left/centre UK Conservative
2016 was a peculiar year and I don’t want to re-run the politics. We all know about red busses and alternative facts. Since then the levels of invective and stubbornness have become pronounced. Behaviour by leading players has deteriorated into the  childish, leaving the adults in the rational centre stunned, despairing and trammelled by good manners. Here in France, peaceful demonstrations by the ‘gilets jaunes’ have deteriorated into full-blown riots destroying many people’s business and causing 10 deaths, let alone enormous resentment and division.

Can we not step back and try thinking how to go forward instead of stubborn dithering and lack of consideration for others? How about some nice, boring sitting down over a cup of tea and putting country before self-interest?

Language over the past few years has become violent; ‘devastated’ when they mean ‘upset’, ‘crushed’ for ‘a bit put out’, destroyed for ‘set back’, ‘euphoric’ for ‘quite pleased’, ‘the kill zone’ for a ‘difficult meeting’, a ‘plunge’ on the stock/currency market for a shift of 0.01%. A tsunami causing hundreds or thousands of deaths is ‘devastating’; a battle against IS in the deserts of Kurdistan is in ‘the kill zone’.

Life and similar stuff
I confess I am not good with irrationality, especially when people pooh-pooh really well-established facts from true experts in favour of the twisted rubbish pushed in the tabloids. The issues behind current disruptions and events are what we should be studying and addressing, not getting into a tantrum about them. Human beings have large, well-developed brains. Let’s use them and the social courtesies that should go with them.

As 2019 starts, I’d really like to see less shouting, less violence and more rationality and avoiding the poles. Let’s aim for the centre, the shades of grey, the neutral zones, inclusion, and introduce listening, balance and rationality.

Oh, there I go again, wearing the rose-tinted glasses.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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