April 15, 2010

SOCIETY WATCH: WHY J.K. ROWLING IS MORE THAN AN ENTERTAINING AUTHOR, AND WHY SHE HAS MY RESPECT

I urge everybody to read J.K. Rowling's column, not only because she is right, but also because – as opposed to those who only care about the poor when votin' times come around (and again, I look at you, Sarah Palin) – she knows what she is talking about.
So here we are again, taking stock of where we are, and of where we would like to be, both as individuals and as a country. Personally, I keep having flashbacks to 1997, and not merely because of the most memorable election result in recent times. In January that year, I was a single parent with a four-year-old daughter, teaching part-time but living mainly on benefits, in a rented flat. Eleven months later, I was a published author who had secured a lucrative publishing deal in the US, and bought my first ever property: a three-bedroom house with a garden.

I had become a single mother when my first marriage split up in 1993. In one devastating stroke, I became a hate figure to a certain section of the press, and a bogeyman to the Tory Government. Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State at the DSS, had recently entertained the Conservative Party conference with a spoof Gilbert and Sullivan number, in which he decried “young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing list”. The Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, castigated single-parent families from St Mellons, Cardiff, as “one of the biggest social problems of our day”. (John Redwood has since divorced the mother of his children.) Women like me (for it is a curious fact that lone male parents are generally portrayed as heroes, whereas women left holding the baby are vilified) were, according to popular myth, a prime cause of social breakdown, and in it for all we could get: free money, state-funded accommodation, an easy life.

An easy life. Between 1993 and 1997 I did the job of two parents, qualified and then worked as a secondary school teacher, wrote one and a half novels and did the planning for a further five. For a while, I was clinically depressed. To be told, over and over again, that I was feckless, lazy — even immoral — did not help. 
The rest of the column is just as insightful, just as true. Not that anybody who was born with a silver spoon in his ass would ever know.

But I do. I do know.

And I do not envy Rowling any of her money.

Never have. Never will. Not only did she write one of the most entertaining book series of the late 20th century/early 21st century, not only did she make more children read at least something again... her heart and mind are what differentiates her.

You, lady, are a class act.