Archive for April 5th, 2011

THE four-letter word I most dislike begins with a ‘C’. We’ve already had that debate on this blog.

But the most abused and misused four-letter word I can think of is ‘rape’. There was a time, not too long ago, where it wasn’t considered polite to mention rape in conversation. Too raw, too politically-charged, too obscene, ‘dirty’.

The first time I realised that rape was not to be addressed with the ‘r’ word was while watching – forgive me – Home and Away. Carly, stumbling home to the caravan park, clothes torn and in tears, having been raped while out hitch-hiking. Not once in the weeks of soap drama that followed, not once during the ministrations of Tom and Pippa, the discussion among her friends, the investigation by the police, was the word rape used.

Carly was “attacked”. It wasn’t that the effects of rape were not tackled – so why was the word itself considered too profane for the largely teenage audience watching the show?

I don’t think that’s the case now, and well it shouldn’t be. This country is coming down with men, women and children who have been raped and sexually abused. (The Rape Crisis Centre went so far as to use the word “endemic” last year about rape and child sexual abuse in particular here. While their figures can’t be definitive – they can obviously only record the experiences of those people who actually contact their services – they are no less a national disgrace for that.) The very least they should be afforded is the right to use the correct, criminal term, loudly and publicly, for what has happened to them.

Today though we’re looking at transcripts of gardai “joking” about how two women arrested on public order offences in relation to the Corrib pipeline protests should be told to give their names and addresses or be raped.

I read a comment online this morning that people are taking the “banter” between a couple of unidentified yahoos from Templemore a bit too seriously.

Let’s just leave that stand and ferment there, shall we?

Is ‘to rape’ now an acceptable verb through which to express one’s annoyance? Are you having a laugh?

We know the word still carries a powerful impact. The seriousness with which the courts treat cases of, thankfully rare, false allegations of rape indicates that this is not a word to be bandied about. And rightly so. But if the courts recognise that it’s a criminal offence to falsely accuse someone of rape, how is it not clear to everyone that the effect of the word in the converse situation is similarly an act of aggression and an outrage?

What’s in a word? Ask the women of Toronto who took part in a “Slut Walk” on Sunday to protest against a police officer’s comment that women are putting themselves at risk of rape by dressing like “sluts”. Ah, that old sane, rational, women-are-the-problem argument again.

So the women who took offence put on their fishnet stockings, stilettos and the most revealing clothes to march and chant:

Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no.

They wouldn’t “let it go”. I don’t think we should let this one go either.


As last week’s rape post showed, people have understandably strong feelings on this issue. This comment thread is purely to discuss the the casual use of the word rape in the context of the Corrib gardaí case and the implications of this case, such as whether we can trust gardaí who talk about rape in that way to take actual rape cases seriously, or whether an investigation into garda conduct can be properly carried out by fellow gardaí. Any reference to last week’s discussion of rape will not be approved. Nor will personal attacks, assumptions about other posters, or attempts to hijack the thread and devote it to other vaguely-rape-related issues. This is NOT a thread about false accusations of rape or their implications. And if you want to talk about how the Corrib gardaí were just having a laugh, there are plenty of other online spaces where you can do so. We reserve the right to not approve any or all comments.

Read Full Post »

A Tome Of Contention

I appeared at a literary festival in Washington DC recently, in which I was scheduled for a Q&A session about writing and new media.

I was, understandably, mad excited altogether. It was my first time in the States, and I so rarely get a chance to read my blog posts aloud, so before my gig I was hippity-hopping around my hotel room, jacked up on coffee and the sound of my own voice. “David Norris,” I intoned, between slurps of complementary instant. “Daay-vid Norrisss” (I was planning on reading one of my posts on David Norris; I don’t invoke him to ward off nerves, or anything).

All of a sudden, it occurred to me that I was bound to be asked who my influences were – my literary influences, those scribes who hacked out the path ahead of me. What other blogs I read, if I was lucky … but more likely, what other authors I read.

This was a problem.

I don’t read.

Oh, I read in the past. I was more paper than child at one stage, either growing out of or into a book, a muddle of stained fingertips and wild notions. I adored the classics (and still do) – Alice In Wonderland, Watership Down, The Brothers Grimm. I read all of Enid Blyton’s school stories (repeatedly) before moving on to YA Lit from the likes of Melvin Burgess and Katherine Paterson and Roberts Cormier and C. O’Brien. I read constantly. I would rather read than hang out with my friends. I would go over favourite passages whilst brushing my teeth. I would read after lights-out, standing by my bedroom door for the landing light (no torch), stalking like Nijinsky back to the leaba when I heard a parent’s footstep in the hall.

But as an adult? No. I don’t read.

This isn’t because I don’t love words and stories. It should be obvious that I do. It’s not because I haven’t found a wordsmith I admire; there have been plenty. I think it might be because I can’t allow myself the time to read. I wonder about writers who can, really. Does it not feel like reading is an undeserved pleasure, that dipping into a novel is an illicit affair with the words of another? Often, when I read, I get a nasty feeling that I’m wasting my precious time and should be putting words onto paper, not peeling them off on behalf of another writer. Like I’m cheating on myself, I suppose. “I could do better,” I tell myself. “Why am I not breaking me arse trying to outdo this bucko?”

Other times it’s as if I no longer have the ability to lose myself in someone else’s work, that being a writer has saddled me with a sort of cold detachment; I can admire the building blocks, the words they’ve chosen and how they’ve slotted them into place, but I can’t fall in love with them. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to distract myself from my own fiction … self-preservation? Maybe I’ll get over it when I’m finished what I’m working on.

Maybe I can only be me in between bouts of being someone else.

I was terribly ashamed of this, all alone in my hotel room. The general consensus – Jesus, the overwhelming consensus – is that a writer has to read to be able to write. Though I felt like I’d finished my apprenticeship and could learn no more from my elders (I’ve got to be writing to hone this skill, not perving on how other people do it), I couldn’t go around saying that. Not at a literary festival. People would think I was mental.

So there I was before my interview, desperately pulling author names out of the ether and trying them on to see who would fit. Whasshisname? Yer Wanno with the allegories? Jesus, what about all those Books Of The Year everyone’s supposed to have read? Maybe they wouldn’t ask at the reading. Maybe I’d get away with it.

I didn’t, of course. “What other writers have influenced you?” is a question bloody obligatory when you’re interviewing a writer. I despairingly replied that I hadn’t read anything that I didn’t write in the longest time, and someone tweeted it, and for a moment I looked like the most egotistical tosspot in the entire northern hemisphere.

A couple of weeks later, something strange and wonderful happened. I blurted the whole sorry confession to one of my Antiroom sisters at The Irish Blog Awards, and she gave me a huge hug and said, “You’ve just made my night.”

“How so?

“Because I don’t read, either.”

And y’know what? She’s a proper writer, too. She does things with words that would make W.B. Yeats blush (can you guess who it is yet?). I felt at once validated and liberated. There was nothing wrong with me, after all! I wasn’t egotistical, or deluded, or a great big fraudulent fake. Like, total yayz.

I used to get annoyed when I saw those Tips For Writers posts on blogs, or writers’ rules memes on Twitter, or quotes from successful authors who knew so much about the game, because there were none that matched what I was up to. They felt condescending and isolating – where’s the sense in barking You’re Doing It Wrong! at people who surely need to work this stuff out for themselves? But that moment I knew for certain that there is no Rule Of Writing that isn’t worth bending, no matter how sacred. I’m not ashamed of not being able to finish someone else’s novel. I’m not ashamed to say that my inspiration comes not from other writers, but from sideways glances, video game parameters, folk lyrics, the fashion crimes of people I see on the street.

I am a writer who doesn’t read. And there’s nothing wrong with me.

(I have to admit that I read an entire Melvin Burgess book on the train home from the Blog Awards, because I’m so rebellious I don’t even play by my own rules. Take that, establishment!)

Read Full Post »