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Crossing the Line

The hardest thing to write is the truth. Fiction may be the ideal medium by which to explore difficult themes but the challenge to write honestly and without self-censorship is always hard to overcome. Writers fear obscurity. ¬†They spend weeks, months, sometimes years honing words for public consumption, only to worry obsessively about their perceived reception. But that’s the rub. If you don’t write what you feel inside, how are you ever going to touch someone else?

The South African Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordimer, talks about writing posthumously – in other words, as if you’re dead already. Using this method, the critic’s voice can’t reach you. You’re immune, in a sense, to the contempt of others. And by allowing yourself the freedom to write what you like, you’re accessing areas other writers prefer to keep hidden.

Censorship in literature has left the writer with a huge burden. The obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover¬†may have been a triumph for liberalism and freedom of speech but the shadow remains. Certain areas are still taboo. Protagonists must still be seen to fulfil some stilted moral obligation, careful not to step outside boundaries set centuries before. In fiction the lines are drawn clearly, defining the hero from the villain with hand claps and stage paint. As readers, we’re expected to sit out the pantomime without a murmur, admiring the gloss, the veneer, but rarely getting closer to the blood and guts of it all.

Dostoevsky wrote a classic about a man who kills an old woman with an axe. In terms of subject matter, the choice is limitless. For the writer, this should be good news indeed but there will always be one more moral dilemma. Are there really any areas that are truly out-of-bounds and, if so, why?

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