• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:


    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!

     

     

The Trouble with Twilight – by Duncan Lay

I’ve been appearing at book stores across Newcastle, the Central Coast and Sydney to sell and promote The Wounded Guardian over the last few months – and one topic that keeps coming up, as I chat about books in general and fantasy in particular, is Twilight.
Time and again mothers and grandmothers have asked me if The Wounded Guardian has strong female characters in it, because they are concerned about the portrayal of women in Twilight. The final straw, so to speak, came when I spoke to a high school principal, who said she loved the way Twilight has her girls reading but was worried about some of the messages within. She purchased a copy of my book to see if there were other options to get girls reading.
Although I have not read Twilight, it was obvious to me that there was a story here. That much community concern, across so many different areas, was too big to ignore.
Wearing my other hat, that of The Sunday Telegraph, I spoke to a variety of people and came up with an article that was published on Sunday November 15.
With thanks to The Sunday Telegraph, here is that article, with some added quotes that were edited out of the finished article for space reasons:

It is both a love story celebrated by millions and a textbook abusive relationship, a light-hearted fantasy aimed at teens and tweens that has disturbing messages about sex. Welcome to Twilight.

The best-selling book series and now blockbuster movies have captured imaginations across the world and inspired devotion in its fans.
Twilight also has many lining up to attack it, with accusations of everything from bad writing to betraying the vampire genre to Mormon brainwashing.
But leaving aside the mud-slinging, the literary world and schools are warning parents not to simply go along with the marketing hype and peer pressure, but to first understand exactly what it is their children are reading.

While they sing Twilight‘s praises for encouraging people to read and inspiring debate about reading, the concern is the way the book portrays women – its key readership – and their relationship with men.

While older readers should be able to distinguish fantasy from reality, and put the story in context, along the lines of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, the concern is what effect it will have on younger readers, particularly those who are using Twilight as their entry point to reading. Twilight centres on Bella, a human girl, and her relationship with Edward, a vampire and Jacob, a werewolf. This love triangle is resolved when Bella has a child with Edward that begins to rip its way out of her, breaking her ribs and pelvis, forcing Edward to tear open her stomach with his vampire teeth to deliver it in an emergency caesarean – and so Jacob falls in love with this child.

While this is a disturbing end to the tale in many ways, critics say the problems begin much, much earlier.

Literary agent Sophie Hamley, of Cameron’s Management, likes vampire stories but says fans should get into Buffy, not Twilight.

‘Basically the books, especially the fourth, detail a textbook abusive relationship,’ she said. ‘The message seems to be that you can’t live without a man, particularly an idealised one.

‘In many respects Edward is constructed as a classic romantic hero – brooding and handsome, and even Mr Darcy was withholding. But the constant threat of violence, while possibly exhilarating for readers, is unnerving. If I were convinced that Twi-hards were reading other books to balance it out, fine, but for a lot of people this will be their first plunge into reading a series so there will be no context. ‘

Abigail Nathan runs Bothersome Words, a book editing agency used by publishers such as HarperCollins. She enjoyed the books but does have concerns.
‘Adults are frequently disturbed by the nature of Bella and Edward’s relationship, describing Edward as a stalker and Bella as a victim,’ she said. ‘Although Bella and Edward do not sleep together until they are married, it’s hardly a delicate affair, with Bella waking up covered in bruises.“It’s an interesting selection of messages, with Bella constantly pushing Edward to sleep with her, and ultimately ending up bruised and battered.’

‘One message that is clear is once Bella has Edward she forgets about her other friends and is all too willing to leave her family to have her “forever” with Edward. The message to women that they don’t need anyone else if they have their man, or their true love – that they can be happy that way, is a little disturbing.’

Fantasy author Glenda Larke is also concerned by the way Bella never finds strength within herself and must instead be always saved by Edward. ‘It harks back to a different age. Women my age had to fight to escape that kind of thinking. To present a heroine who never stands on her own two feet is to present a ghastly role model for today’s youth.

‘But no matter the criticism, it is clear the books have struck a massive chord with young readers. Fantasy author Kim Falconer said this cannot be ignored.
‘How do we get past the fact that they want it? They’re eating it alive – what is it fulfilling in them?’

She finds it concerning and wonders whether it is a symptom of a wider problem: Can women tell the difference between abuse and love?

Nevertheless, simply banning teens from reading it would make the problem worse and, anyway, Falconer is a ferocious supporter of free speech. ‘We can criticise it but without cutting off the lines of communication. You must talk about it, be there for dialogue.’

She applauds the way the series has women and girls reading but laments: ‘What a missed opportunity to inspire women.’

Mount St Benedict College is an independent girls’ high school at Pennant Hills. Principal Maria Pearson said it is very important for girls to develop the ‘skills, resourcefulness and resilience’ to find ways themselves to get out of difficulty situations, rather than ‘expect to be rescued’. ‘We have it in the library and it does engage our girls,’ Ms Pearson said.

‘But it is important to deconstruct some of the themes. They need to have a conversation with concerned adults in their lives (about the issues it raises).’

So read Twilight – but it needs be accompanied by discussion of the issues raised, as well as a selection of books with strong female characters. Virtually any of the Voyager list, including the likes of Karen Miller, Glenda Larke, Kylie Chan and Kim Falconer would be suitable.

The Trouble with Twilight post originally appeared on Duncan’s blog on Tuesday 17 November, and the original article in The Daily Telegraph on Sunday 15 November.

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15 Responses

  1. Hmmms. I’m a bit iffy about this post.

    A few thoughts, in random order:

    I’m not sure how much note readers should take from an article by someone who hasn’t read the book.

    The article implies that teenage girls do not have the capability to see this as a modern fairytale. I think that insults their intelligence. Of course even the youngest ones realise it’s not real.

    Of course Edward is creepy. He’s a vampire. The point of vampires is that they’re creepy. He can’t be too PC.

    I think teenage girls already read a lot (there was never a need to get them reading again), and I don’t think the older generation has a right to tell them what is good for them to read.

    I think that teenagers’ reading needs are best served by variety in material and character types. Maybe the popularity of Bella in Twilight is a backlash against the glut of sword-wielding heroines and other ‘strong’ female characters, many of whom are starting to sound disturbingly alike.

    When people (any people of any age) read, they switch off and often want to dream and swoon. Hands up any woman who hasn’t read at least a few romances, mostly in high school.

    ‘Fortunately’, the more adults will agitate against these books and how inappropriate they are, the more teenage girls will read them. Like my daughters, when they’re finished, they’ll say ‘Edward’s a creep and Bella’s a sap, but I enjoyed the ride anyway’, and they’ll move on to a different book.

  2. I’ve read and enjoyed Twilight – all four of the books in the series – and basically indulged in some good escapist fantasy without ever worrying about themes in the book. In fact, I’ll admit, I was just waiting for B&E to get to that particular point in Book Four where I thought, at last!

    I *do* somewhat agree with the part of the article that talks about the way Bella is willing to turn away from everyone to be with Edward – she doesn’t have many real friends – and her best friend is a boy/man hopelessly in love with her … I don’t like that about her -character- but most fellow readers have the same thoughts – ie. they’re not lauding this aspect of her personality.

    Patty, I can say I have read plenty of romances – and I’m not ashamed to admit it – I still read them and with gusto!

    I do think all concerned adults should read the books and then decide – but not make blanket decisions based on what they hear. However Duncan was quite clear that he hasn’t read Twilight and he went out to get opinions from others – and brought up an interesting discussion!

    Natalie (timorene on Twitter)

  3. Hi friends! I have just completed a novel that features vampires and werewolves and their interaction in a human’s life. Hope there is still some interest in this genre. I have written in many different genres and have only dabbled in the horror /paranormal field experimentally.
    Personally I enjoyed delving into this genre. Best of luck to you. I think this is a good series that should be hailed for it’s romantic quality visually etcetera.

  4. I’m not a fan or a “hater” of Twilight; nowadays it’s pretty hard to make me get too worked up about any book (unless George Martin wrote it). For myself, despite being well aware of the questionable depiction of relationships in it, I don’t really think it’ll have that much effect on its readers. Books can’t brainwash people, no matter how popular they are. You can really love a thing without being particularly influenced by it.

    Twilight, being in all honesty lightweight enjoyable fluff, doesn’t encourage a great deal of thought and most of its biggest fans probably don’t even notice the abusive stuff – or care about it either. I mean, when I was a kid I read Narnia but didn’t notice the religious themes, or the rather offputting portrayal of the “Muslim” standin race. In fact, I don’t think a single one of my personal beliefs or philosophies came from the books I read.
    And I read a lot and took books very seriously, which most Twihards probably don’t.

    I believe people get their beliefs from their upbringing and the influence of other people, not books. Sooner or later the Twihards will grow up, read something else, and forget all about it. The whole thing just looks so huge because it’s so close. In ten years we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about.

  5. I’ve read the first two and neither loved nor hated; but by the end of 2 I wanted to slap both Bella and Edward, principly because of Bella’s choice of low self-esteem (really? she’s nothing without him?) and Edward’s brooding. So I never made the time to read 3 or 4.

    (Disclaimer – I tend to get impatient with any characters who embrace the victim role for too long without seeming to make an effort!)

    I do have distant memories of being a teen girl so I get the appeal. And I get that the books aren’t written for me anyway. All of this is just fine.

    What did cause me concern recently is the vehemence with which my 11-year-old niece claimed that Edward is her idea of romantic, and she’d love to be like Bella.

    Every story has a message, whether the author meant it or not. Most teen girls are smart enough to know the difference between real and not. And I suspect most young men trying to use Edward’s techniques on a real girl would get short shrift.

    Would I censor it or ban it? Not a chance. Do I secretly wish I had the power to protect my niece and all the other aspirationals who are reading it from the suggestion that stalking and abuse are okay? You bet. And yes, in 10 years we’ll all be looking back and laughing 🙂

  6. Well, well so good to see this being debated and it needs to be on so many levels. I am an adult reader, and trying to be a writer , BA in English so I read a lot, and have read many young adult novels and several fantasy vampire ones as well.. I read the series and was disturbed by the themes therein. All of which you have touched on here. I could rant on but I wont , maybe I will write about it myself, I am just so pleased to see that it is being critiqued for its themes of self sacrifice and abuse. As for Bella she was quite frankly the most irritating ,self centered, selfish, character I have ever read. Thank you again for this.

  7. Firstly I agree absolutely that we shouldn’t censor teen reading, and it would be utterly pointless to do so anyway. My comment quoted above was not about the books as a whole, or the writing (in fact I have not read past the first and even that I was skimming by the end. It simply wasn’t my kind of read).

    I was asked about how I felt about the kind of ineffectual heroine that Bella is – and I told the truth: I absolutely loathe them. It was the kind of heroine that was rammed down my generation’s throat in our reading matter in the 50s and it took us years to realise we could be different. (Believe me Katie, if you never read anything different, if all female protags were like some variation of Bella, you absorb the message as you grow up.)

    In this day and age, I doubt it means much. There are plenty of other female role models out there in real and fictional life – and they are not all sword-wielding warrior Amazons either.

    Sometimes I struggle to explain what an Australian highschool was like in the 50s. A place when you went to the school councillor for career advice – and as a top student, were told that yes, nursing is a fine career, or what about teaching, dear? A time when your father told you university was a waste of time “because you’d only get married”? And indeed at that time, a woman was paid less and if you were a civil servant – yes, including a teacher – you were sacked for getting married! If you were lucky you were taken back on as a supply teacher and not paid for holidays.

    Is it any wonder I get irate when I see Bella being touted as the ideal to aspire for? We were told – by what we read and saw around us – that our future was the mate we chose. I thought we had got past that.

    Ok, rant over…lol.

    • I think what is happening a bit is that we have us old fogeys try to project our childhood hangups onto a younger generation and various people are telling these girls (whose mothers went to Uni, and who wouldn’t know a domesticated woman if they fell over one) that this is all wrong in capital letters, and this isn’t why we old fogeys argued so much for equality. I think these young girls don’t care about our past struggles, and I think the books appeal largely because they project a different, romantic, OK, politically incorrect, image. I’m not saying that it’s right, but it’s different to the mandatory strong female, and difference appeals.
      As I said before, girls read them and come to their own conclusion about the character. From what I’ve heard, most of my daughters’ friends agree with our assessment of the character. Does that mean they shouldn’t be reading it? In order to appreciate the good, doesn’t one need to be familiar with the bad?

  8. Patty, I think you are right. And I have no problem with them reading books like this – as I said, in today’s world, I don’t think it matters much, not the way it mattered in the world I grew up in. But don’t ask me to like that kind of heroine. Or to keep quiet about my personal preferences…

    Someone asks me, as Duncan did, and I’ll speak out. But other readers are equally entitled to their opinion. And I am delighted there is discussion about it among young readers!

  9. One point I do need to make … whether I had read the Twilight series and loved them, read them and hated them or not read them at all, the article published in The Sunday Telegraph WOULD NOT HAVE CHANGED. As a journalist, my personal opinions are irrelevant to the story I am writing. I came across this social issue after speaking to many book-lovers in stores across Newcastle, the Central Coast and Sydney, then wrote a piece about it, designed to provoke thought and stimulate debate. Having me read the books would not, could not, change that issue from existing.

    • I totally understand the position of a professional journalist. However, this is the general public (who are not so much concerned with journalistic work ethics) and I think that the admission of not having read the book at least partially invalidates the article in the eyes of many readers.

  10. A key thing Glenda just said (about those of us quoted in the article) – we were asked specific questions so our quotes relate to those.

    Couldn’t agree more with what most people have already said here. I am quoted as saying “Adults are frequently disturbed by the nature of Bella and Edward’s relationship…” but I was being asked about younger readers. My point was that it is mostly adults, and especially adult critics, who are jumping up and down about Twilight. The younger readers, at whom the books are actually aimed, have no such concerns.

    I think a lot of them are just reading the books as a love story and completely missing the undercurrents of repression/anti-feminism/abuse that older readers pick up on. Yesterday Triple J did a piece on Twilight being anti-feminist. They interviewed Duncan. They ALSO interviewed a couple of teenage girls and put it to them that Twilight was anti-feminist and asked what they thought of the fact that some people considered Bella and Edward’s relationship to be abusive. You could hear the two excited girls pause for a beat (having just declared their love and adoration for the series and Bella and Edward) and then they said that they could see why people would see those aspects but that they weren’t reading those aspects of the books, they were just in it for the love story. And Robert Pattinson.

    I pretty much read the books the same way. I compartmentalised and read for enjoyment. Afterwards, sure, I could see the problems with the books but that was separate to the escapism.

    I’ve said on this blog before that I think every reader brings their own background and experiences to their reading of a book. One person’s fairytale princess in a perfect relationship with a knight in shining armour is another person’s victim of Stockholm Syndrome in an abusive relationship. Of course a 10-yr-old, a 14-yr-old or a 16-yr-old is going to read this series differently to an adult. They have less life experience and their world is different to ours. Their ideals, desires, expectations and dreams are different.

    As Patty and Glenda have said, the way the world is now, the “strong female” has become more the norm so that Bella stands out as different. It’s interesting, though, that Janette says her niece wants to be just like Bella. Mostly I have been hearing people say they want Bella’s life – in that they want Edward, maybe that they’d like Bella’s (Kristen Stewart’s) looks. But not that they want the helpless and hopeless aspect of Bella. But then again – 11-yrs-old v 15-yrs-old?

    I agree absolutely, no censorship. My reading was never censored when I was growing up and I read everything. There will, of course, be girls who only read the Twilight series. But censoring probably isn’t going to change anything. If those are the only books they ever get into I doubt very much that they will be deeply changed by them – one assumes that they have little time for reading because they have other interests.

    I question whether we should always focus on how “worthy” books need to be that children/teens are reading. Do writers really have a duty of care? Where’s the fun in that?

    I remember being in high school and reading some fantastic literature that, at the same time, covered some of the most depressing issues I have ever had to deal with. Of course I then read fluff in my own time to escape from it all. Twilight would have been perfect.

    Fantastic that kids are reading in their own time and that it’s something they can share and talk about with their friends. Why is anyone trying to put a stop to that?

  11. Everyone has rich and valid points here. Great to see it being discussed and love hearing the elaboration of the authors interviewed. Glenda, I get irritated too!

    Janette, it would be interesting to hear a comment from your niece or anyone in their teens!

    I agree with Bothersome Words that it’s fantastic teens are reading in their own time. Excellent. But my main point in my interview with Duncan was not so much about this or the questionable feminist model for young women. I’m more interested what Twilight fulfills in young readers–something that is missing, or perhaps a validation of ‘what is.’

    Whenever an artist, band, film or author becomes ‘famous’, it is a symbol for something awakening in the unconscious. It represents a movement in the collective–a desire, a longing, an awareness. Something’s moving in the sea of the collective unconscious and it’s hungry for attention!

    It may be a longing for the divine, a longing for connection with our spiritual home (the Platonic version of love we discussed in Frodo/Froda). It may be romantic notions of a supernatural, all consuming sacrifice to something other than Self. It may be a sense of worthiness (What teen feels they are in their power? Bella might make them feel better about that!)

    Whatever it is, the fact that the collective switched on is more important than the trigger. In this way, Stephenie Meyer is a mouthpiece for the movement, not the maker of it. That’s what interests me! (or maybe it’s dam good marketing! That interests me as well!)

    I wonder if we would be so excited/concerned by the content and depiction of women in this work if it were a fairy tale like Snow White or Beauty and the Beast (I just typed Beauty in the Beast…thank you Dr. Freud!) Without a feminist retelling, these stories are every bit as gender lopsided as Twilight. If we see it as Fairytale, does that change the view?

    At the end of the day, Duncan said the most important thing for me–free speech, free press! I think you did a great job with a complex and interesting topic, Duncan. Bravo, and thank you(was fun to talk on the phone!!)

    🙂 Kim

    • Great points Kim! I agree with you that ‘what is wrong with Twilight?’ is a less interesting question than ‘why is it so popular?’ I also haven’t read the books (I’ve only seen the first movie) so I can’t comment on the content but I think if parents, teachers etc. are truly concerned about the book, they should be asking themselves ‘what’s going on in our kids’ lives/our society that means this book so appealing?’

      Perhaps it’s a sign of a larger scale societal shift away from feminist ideas, or really the mainstream perception of feminist ideas?

      I like your point about the gender bias in other fairy tales. Sleeping Beauty has just as many patriarchal overtones, and as much supernatural content, as Twilight (the movie at least *g*) but we’ve been plonking children down in front of it for generations!

  12. Just in case we haven’t heard enough on this topic, John Green reviews twilight! It’s a pretty funny vid and brings up much of what we discussed–the feminist issues and desire for romance!

    YA Wednesday: Watching and Reading

    🙂 Kim

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