My mum always said if we don’t put boundaries on our language, it’s difficult to put boundaries on anything. I guess, in a way, she meant that language is our first attempt at self-censoring. If we are able to speak in a polite and respectful way- even when we are faced with abuse (think road rage) it in turn manages to control the rest of our behaviour. This sounds like a sermon. It’s not. It’s about the power of language and its place in YA lit.
Language is able to bring down empires and destroy lives. All you have to do is cast your mind back to Hitler’s Germany. He created a frenzy in people through rhetoric alone. Slurs and insults are difficult to shrug off- even for the more self-assured and confident of us. “Ignore it” we say, which of course is what we should all do- but it’s difficult. Negativity seems to outlast positive comments. Marshall writes, “Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you- bullshit- they do hurt.”
In Destroying Avalon language is critical. Words are powerful, as Avalon and her friends realise. The internet and mobile phone allow the quick transmission of these words, where their damaging effects then take hold. Interestingly enough Avalon comes from a home where “obscene language is a capital offence, along with murder,” and it is the result of her use of that f-word that brings the novel to its climax.
Not being as computer savvy as her has meant she has managed to hide the cyberbullying from them, but her breakdown, in front of her father, is what alerts her parents to the constant harassment she has been experiencing. Comments about this book often focus on the ‘colourful language’ (I’m thinking red and yellow and pink and blue) and it was something I knew would create strong reactions. I’m not advocating swearing, but I think we have to be real. If we want teenagers to read this book, empathise with the characters and make decisions about how they want to live their lives we have to talk to them. Not down to them.
Young adults are discerning readers. Let’s give them a bit of credit. They know that reading swearing doesn’t give them permission to swear. They know about audience and moderation, like we do. If I face a room of students I carefully chose the language that’s appropriate (not the language I might use on a Friday evening at the pub!!) And I think Destroying Avalon uses language to clearly demonstrate the power of words. That in itself is cause for lively discussion!
Yep, it’s not far away! We kick off this Wednesday 21st March at All Saints’ College for three fun filled days of author talks and book signing. Truthfully, like any other engagement I’ve been a part of, I don’t really know what to expect! I’m trying to organise how these “Meet the Author” sessions will go. But if you could see inside my head (quell horreur!!) you would see the disorganised chaos!!
I’m in the process of negotiating an inter-state trip to Melbourne mid-year to discuss Destroying Avalon and cyber bullying. Watch this space for further details!
And just for the record, I love teacher librarians! With the recent furore over Destroying Avalon– its language and sexual connotations- the teacher librarians of WA have proven how open and accepting they are! So to all of you who defend Destroying Avalon and believe it has a position on the shelf of your library I thank you.
Thank you all!
I’ve checked the final text of Destroying Avalon. The notorious ‘f-word’ appears 5 times.
Do you get that? In a novel of 56 393 words, 5 of them are that bad word! Reason enough to ban it? I guess so, for some schools that’s obviously five times too many. I get it. But what about what those other 56 388 words are doing? What about the impact those words deliver?
The messages in Destroying Avalon (I think- and so does my editor and publisher- and my Mum) are important. It’s about cyber bullying- something so terrible and soul destroying we need to deal with it. It’s a book for kids who are alone, who feel they can’t take it anymore, who need to reach out. And maybe Destroying Avalon will encourage them to take that first step.
It’s a book for kids who maybe engaging in that behaviour without realising the ramifications of their actions. Maybe reading Destroying Avalon will remind them of the fundamental human kindness they so eaily shed when they hide behind the anonymity of the web.
It’s for parents who are giving their kids 15 inch LCD monitors, high speed broadband access and a passoport into the cyber world- without knowing where their kids are actually going.
It’s a book that is meant to send a timely reminder to us all. We live in a fantastic, technologically advanced world that provides us so much more than ever before. But let’s not blind ourselves to the dark side because it’s an inconvenient truth (thanks Al Gore!)
So it’s official Destroying Avalon has the f-word (in the most crucial pages of the novel) appearing five times. Do you think that should be reason enough to ban it???
Today a friend forwarded me some of the discussion librarians are having about Destroying Avalon and its WAYRBA nomination. Well, pardon me if lil ole Avalon aint caused a bit of a ruckus!! Apparently it has been withdrawn from the shelves at a Catholic SHS for its language and ‘sexual connotation’. I didn’t think there was any sexual connotation! But there you go- there were issues with sexuality- but that wouldn’t cause a book to be banned. Would it?
In this discussion a librarian (who I think must have heard me speak at something lately) defended the 11 appearances of the notorious ‘F-word’, I think there were only 7 (but I’ll check that and report back) and also made mention of how I’d reduced it from 144! So there- tis true! I was a very foul- mouthed author before the good people at FACP made me moderate my language!! But let’s discuss language and censorship at another time!!!
Thankfully it’s being embraced by the masses (pardon the pun) with that lovely old “it’s the best book I’ve ever read” being bandied around! I love it, I do!! So thank you kind readers and defenders of Avalon! If we could look past some naughty four letter words to the great messages beneath!!!