The political author's dilemma

Bit of a tricky one, this.

Whatever genre you write, something of you, the author, creeps into your work. Perhaps it’s shades of your opinion, your wishes or even your frustrations. Perhaps you are writing a story that you wish you were living in a far, far away place and time.

At the very least, your ways of expression imbue your story. Your language and selection of vocabulary will slide in, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. And your choice of worldview, the slant you put on events, will be there.

Now that’s all fair enough; you are the creator of your book and its world. Some readers will love it, some it will leave cold, others will hate its guts (Hopefully, not too many of those!). We would be a very boring people if, sheep-like, we all liked the same thing or the same book.

Coryn Redgrave as Sir Walter Elliot (BBC)

Inside the book, characters can express every kind of view – political, moral or social. They can outrage, amuse, annoy and give joy to the other characters. An author can have enormous fun playing around with characters and their ideas and values.

Short of outright offence and hate speech, you can have them say anything obnoxious and politically incorrect as long as it serves your story.

One character I would have LOVED to have written is the pompous and self-absorbed Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall (Persuasion, Jane Austen). She must have had such fun writing him (and sending him up!). I have to admit there are aspects of him in Lucius Mitelus Superbus in PERFIDITAS. 😉

So, that’s the book world where you can do virtually anything. But what about you, the author?As readers have bought your book and paid to come to an event to see you, it’s your duty as well as commercial sense to be pleasant and approachable. I love chatting to readers, and I can talk about the world of Roma Nova until the cows have come home, been milked, slept and gone back out to the fields the next day.

This is a total pleasure for me, but for some shyer authors it can be difficult as they are often incredibly modest and self-deprecating about their work. But that’s part of the author’s job and readers are often curious about the writer’s life, ideas and values.

Being anything but authentic as an author is not a good idea; it’s deceptive and unfair to your readers.
They want to read about and meet a real person. I imagine it’s quite hard work keeping up a false persona and you’re bound to come unstuck at some point. But an author doesn’t have to reveal their inside leg measurement, number of fillings or how often they did their child’s homework for them. They can sift what they want to tell readers, but what they make public should be true and genuine.

But should they express political views, especially in these febrile political times?

My EU hat in 1999. I won a competition with it!

Passionately held values and ideals are part of anybody’s personality; they are often what makes somebody unique, or at least remarkable. Many things contribute to these – upbringing, education, experience at work and in relationships – and however careful an author is publicly, something will slip through. That’s being human.

However, expressing strong views whether it’s about Brexit, American elections, financial scandals, climate change and other large-scale events can be a double-edged sword. Some readers, whether in Real Life or on social media, will like you standing up for a cause, some will disagree and some quietly unfollow you. Others will buy all your books, or vow never to touch another one. That’s the risk.

But if you stay neutral on everything, you run into the danger of looking characterless; a person of no view and no emotional side to them. And the second possible risk is that you may look rather bland and as if you bury your head and have no interest in the world around you.

Given the inflammatory nature of social media, and some of the unspeakable people who lurk there, I can understand the reluctance and sincere wish not to become embroiled. But that’s not me. Being a ‘political animal’ from my earliest years, I do tend to get involved in things. As I get older, I find the urge stronger. I aim to be calm and polite, analytical and informational and rant only very, very occasionally.

I am an author who likes to sell her books, and I hope I don’t put anybody off, but the freedom to express my views is such an intrinsic part of me and a privilege which I’m not giving up any time soon.

People’s Vote march, 23 March 2019 with statue of Churchill (Photo: Caroline Owen)


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.

2 comments to The political author’s dilemma

  • Well said,Alison. To your own self be true (I’ve probably mangled that quote) but you get my drift. I find it a tricky balance – I write mainly to entertain but I do like it if a story of mine makes people think or question or simply be informed. And yes, bland is the last thing I’d want to be accused of.

    • Alison Morton

      Thanks, Anne. Like you, I write to entertain, but part of me is this urge to do something outside and I had to weigh up the impact. But if we’re anxious about letting our views be known, I feel we lose something of ourselves.

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