Martin Amis on Children's Lit

I'm a little late to this, but it seems that Martin Amis, the bad boy of British letters, has upset some children's writers with the following remarks:

"People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children's book. I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book', but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable. I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write."

I don't plan to go into high dudgeon about Mr. Amis's comments. The man's just trying to make a living like the rest of us, and the occupation of enfant terrible can't be an easy one for a 61-year-old.

I agree with Amis that being forced to write at a lower register than what one can write is no fun. I know from experience. I have found myself in situations--either in work-for-hire writing or copywriting--in which I was called upon to dumb down my writing. I assume that's what Amis means by "writing at a lower register."

I have never, however, felt the need to write at a lower register when writing for children. I don't, for instance, sit at my desk and try to think what might be funny to an eleven-year-old so I can write that into a story. I write what's funny to me. Or poignant. Or true. I wouldn't expect any eleven year old to enjoy a book that I couldn't enjoy myself. Or, rather, I wouldn't trouble myself to write a book for an eleven-year-old that I couldn't enjoy myself.

On the other hand, there are stories that I as an adult enjoy and/or benefit from that a child wouldn't enjoy or benefit from. One of these days I may write novels that fall into that category. But I don't think one has to have suffered a brain injury in order to limit oneself in any given book to that rather large portion of the Venn diagram in which "Adult Stories" and "Children's Stories" overlap.

"Fiction is freedom," Amis says. I agree with that. But I don't believe that freedom is the only good or the highest good of writing. If it's true, as Amis says, that he won't tolerate anything short of total freedom in his writing, then he's right to believe that "being conscious of who you're directing the story to" is anathema. In writing, as in any other area of life, we limit our freedom when we give a thought to other people.

Let us forget for a moment about brain injury and children's literature. Let us forgive Amis for his use of hyperbole. I appreciate the honesty and energy with which he speaks his world-view. My real issue with Amis's remarks is the fact that they seem to grow out of a conviction that writing is and ought to be an act of unadulterated self-indulgence. A certain amount of self-indulgence is, as far as I can tell, a necessary part of the artistic temperament. But if that self-indulgence not overmatched by a love for one's audience, one's work is forever in danger of collapsing on itself rather than reaching out into the wider world.