Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. (Eleanor Roosevelt)
The fourth of July 2014 marked Independence Day for the USA and for me. On that day I retired slightly early from my 36 year career in primary school teaching. The full impact of my new freedom has still to sink in, but amongst other things I'm looking forward to having more quality time for my writing––freedom indeed.
By coincidence, the theme for this issue of Words with Jam is freedom and examining freedom in the context of writing is interesting, to say the least. I hope the following does this vast subject some justice.
Freedom is often hard won. Wars are fought to preserve or regain it. People lay down their lives for it. It's a very topical subject at the moment whether or not you're a writer. Nobody can be unaware of the centenary and commemorations for World War One and of the many young soldiers who believed that their country's freedom was at stake if they didn't fight. Equally the present day conflicts in Syria, Egypt and Israel-Palestine (to name but a few) are all about freedom. The stakes are indeed high. *Soldiers, activists, academics, hostages, political prisoners and politicians have often been moved to write about their experiences; experiences gained in their personal struggles for freedom. Political conflict and war have also prompted countless novels––from Tolstoy's War and Peace to Michael Morpurgo's Warhorse––and many volumes of poetry.
But in other not so high stakes arenas of the written word, how does freedom pertain to writers and writing more generally?
Where does the freedom to write come from? Obviously an author needs the freedom of time and space to write. But writers must also have the benefit of freedom of speech, in order to write what they really want to say. Then of course, if a writer wants readers, there has to be freedom to publish––something the internet and the growth of the 'indie' publishing movement has made much more possible and democratic; agents and publishers no longer have the gate-keeping power they once had over what gets into print.
Indeed, writers' freedom is encompassed within the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. According to Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. And further in part 2 of Article 27: Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
For me, the freedom to be an independent author-publisher, to work within a community of fellow writers and to serve a community of readers is a cherished privilege. Indeed this has been a life-changing kind of freedom for me.
But of course with freedom comes responsibility. Writers must respect the rights and freedoms of others. For example, readers have the right not to be endangered or corrupted by the written word and they must have the freedom to be critical and to disagree.
Writers who write for a community of readers have several specific duties. Duties that apply whether the written work is an academic thesis, a research report, a memoir, a work of literary or commercial fiction of whatever genre, or a poem. There's the duty to produce work of the highest standard possible. There's the duty to educate or to entertain or to provoke thought and discussion. A writer must recognise that while a community of readers and/or fellow writers permits and facilitates that writer's free and full development and communication of their art, there is also a responsibility on the writer to respect the general welfare of that community.
Yes, the writer should always be free to push boundaries, to experiment and to challenge the status quo, but this must always be done in good faith, in a relationship of trust between reader and writer and yes, with respect.
As an author-publisher myself, I particularly love this quote 'Liberty is the possibility of doubting, of making a mistake,... of searching and experimenting,... of saying No to any authority — literary, artistic, philosophical, religious, social, and even political'. Ignazio Silone, The God That Failed, 1950 speech, Detroit, 1952
Don't let anything stand in between you and your readers, but remember artistic freedom is precious. Support it and use it wisely.
* My Top Ten works of fiction and non-fiction on the subject of Freedom
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Freedom from Fear by Aung Sang Suu Kyi
The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
An Evil Cradling by Terry Waite
The Long Bridge by Ursula Muskus
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo
The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge by Ilan Pappe
The Occupation Diaries by Raja Shehadeh
Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh
(and the war poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon)
What would your top ten 'freedom works' be?
Anne Stormont is an author-publisher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults – mainly of the female-of-a-certain-age persuasion – and for children. She blogs at http://putitinwriting.me – where you can find out lots more about her.