Will the growth of self-publishing allow the ‘ordinary’ voice to be heard?
Whilst completing the research for my first novel, ‘Aoife’s Chariot’, I read an amazing book called ‘No Mean City’ by A.McArthur and H. Kingsley Long. The book itself is very famous, not least for providing the most memorable line in the theme song for the Glaswegian crime drama, ‘Taggart’. It was first published in 1935 and is a near autobiographical novel about the savage life of a young man growing up in the notorious Gorbals area of Glasgow. McArthur, we assume, was that very same young man, ill-educated and subsumed into the all-encompassing culture of poverty and gang-violence.
Yet McArthur was able to tell his story. With the help of Kingsley Long, a journalist and writer, his experiences made it to publication. Even with the book’s heavy use of colloquial language and harsh scenes of violence and degradation, the book became an international bestseller, with over 500,000 copies sold.
But this is not the norm. Occasionally, from a particularly gifted or driven individual, we get the chance to hear a truly ‘ordinary’ voice – by this I mean those people in society with no access to the educational privileges which the majority of us take for granted. Television and the internet have done a great deal to break down this barrier and allow the ‘ordinary’ voice to be expressed. However, the publishing world has long been reluctant to open their doors to this section of society, largely because the folk I am referring to do not have access to the tools necessary to make themselves heard within this world of electronic manuscripts and literary agents. What publisher these days would take a chance on a person like McArthur? I really can’t see it happening. Yet what a fantastic tale he had to tell.
After finishing my pile of summer reading, I reflected upon what I had read. It surprised me to note how many of the novels I’d chosen were set in the cosy middle-class world of the professional classes. My books are no different! My lead characters are similarly well educated and middle-class. Perhaps this is inevitable, as they reflect my own comfortable background growing up in the affluence of the south east of England, in a home in which books and education were given the highest priority.
Despite the limitations of my own life experience, I am aware that there are other ways of looking at things and that our cosy existence should be shaken up every so often, particularly in the novels we read. Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell did this through their writings over a century ago and it’s about time we revisited the concept.
I am hopeful that as the metropolitan elite’s grip on the controls of what we see on the shelves of our bookshops begins to weaken, we will get to hear a far wider range of voices and that the worlds this will open up for us in the future, will be very far from ordinary.