Reactionary twat!

2008-09-08

So Jacqueline Wilson’s novel “My Sister Jodie” features a character that uses the word “twat” in dialogue (apparently, I haven’t read it). After 150,000 copies have been sold, an attentive aunt spots the word whilst reading the entire novel before presenting it as a gift to her niece. Naturally she returns the book to the retailer and complains. The retailer pulls the book and the publisher decides that the next run will have all twats replaced with twits (imagine that!).

I am minded of the words in the RAF “Arctic Survival” pamphlet, PAM (AIR) 226 published January 1953 (reprinted May 1966):

Section 143, “Final Decision”

Once you have made your decision stick to it. The decision will have been reached after considering all the factors when your minds were fresh. As time goes on, your powers of reasoning will deteriorate and there may be a tendency to consider factors individually instead of collectively.

Of course the pamphlet is talking about whether to leave your downed aircraft when you’re in a survival situation north of the timber line, but I think the same approach applies.

Wilson no doubt considered the impact when she penned her “twat” into the character’s dialogue, and she will have considered in various rewrites of the drafts. As will her editor. The collective decision of her, her editor, and her publisher seems to have been that it was an appropriate and honest use of the word.

For the publisher to react to a single complaint by changing the next printing seems to be, well, reactionary. Jacqueline Wilson had an opportunity to take a real stand here, to say that her considered words stand, and its her right to publish what she thinks is fit. I’m sure Wilson has the best interests of her readership at heart, she is not trying to offend a nation, she is trying to improve it. Well, I thought she was; this move just seems publicity seeking and reactionary. And if it’s the publisher acting and not Jacqueline Wilson, well, if she can’t keep her publisher on a tight leash, who can?

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4 Responses to “Reactionary twat!”

  1. Clive Says:

    Remember Fawlty Towers? Remember how the letters on the sign got permuted each week?

    Remember how nobody complained much at “Flowery Twats” showing up? That was 1979. Glad to see we’ve made progress these last thirty years.

  2. Nick Barnes Says:

    I noticed ‘twat’ in the book, when reading it aloud to my daughter.
    Apparently many people don’t know what the word means. Robert Browning certainly didn’t.

  3. Jay K. Says:

    I’m not an expert on the publishing field, but it’s my understanding that the author has very little control after it’s been published unless they are established authors. Things like reprints, distribution, marketing, etc. are the sole discretion of the publisher.

  4. Gareth Rees Says:

    Jay: it depends on the relative levels of influence of the publisher and the author. An average midlist writer probably has little say over these things but bestselling writers like Jacqueline Wilson have a lot of influence, because if they are not happy they can always find another publisher.


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