The news that the children’s author, KP Bath, had been sentenced for the possession of child pornography has (rightly) sparked a debate on children’s mailing lists. It has reminded me of William Mayne whose writing career was ended by his conviction for indecent assault. It poses the same question that I asked then: “how does the reader respond?” and perhaps it is still too close but needs to be to broached.
One response is to ignore the author and erase him and his work from the record. Whilst it offers an immediate palliative response, I don’t think that it really offers the best response. It is another case of brushing the issue under the carpet. Bath deserves his punishment and there is not excuse for what he did but where does that leave the work itself?
I think that the best response may be to deal with the work as a work. The book clearly exists as an object in its own right and hould be judged on that basis. It is still a naive approach but should the author’s own biography always direct the response. If I’d felt that way I would have never written about William Mayne’s work but not writing about his first novel, A Grass Rope, the later The Battlefield or Earthfasts, one of his most famous novels, would have left my own book poorer and my (still developing) understanding of children’s fantasy.
I don’t believe that it is something that should be forgotten but there are some times when you need to concentrate on the work rather than the author.
I suspect Bath now knows that he is unpublishable now. Mayne was, and his backlist completely disappeared from the shelves. Perhaps the fact that they are writing for children is the key to this in that it might imply a darker or desired closer relationship to the object of a sexual fantasy. The Writewords site posed this and got a variety of responses, including somebody refusing to read Clarke after the unproven allegations. The biographical approach is one such approach but there are others and I’m sure that eventually somebody will use a psychological approach to examine these author’s relationships with children.
If the book is good enough to discuss in an essay or piece, then it should be.If it good enough to be read (whether bought or borrowed from friends or library), then again it should be. Brushing it under the carpet strikes me as a new Puritanism which denies the reader having to make up their own mind.