The Freedom to Speak: The Naked Husband
Please welcome back Colin Falconer to Write It Forward!
Not everyone looks forward to having their book published.
I was reminded of that this week when I read Sherry Jones account of her trials with The Jewel of Medina, a story about one of Mohammed’s wives. IN 2008 her publisher, Random House, allowed themselves to be intimidated by extremist elements in our society and opted out.
Muslim governments overseas have recently attacked that most hard-won of our freedoms; free speech. It has been hard won. My father, like many other men of his generation, risked his life to preserve it. I don’t wish to see Muslims win where Nazis failed.
As Voltaire once said in the French parliament to a political rival; ‘I do not agree with a single thing you say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.’ That is free speech. It should be a cornerstone of all creative endeavor also.
But in many parts of the world, it’s not. A Tunisian artist, Nadia Jelassi, was recently arrested and her gallery trashed because some of the paintings were considered “un-Islamic.”
So producing creative work is sometimes a matter of setting your shoulders and preparing to be pilloried.
It seems to me that we talk a lot about the importance of creativity in writing, painting, and in sculpture. But earthier qualities are sometimes required also, in equal measure.
Sherry and Nadia had to deal with political and religious censorship. But if we to write honestly, we may have to deal with censorship of another kind.
I have a good friend who has been longing to write a book about her family of origin for many years. She certainly has the talent to do it. But she hasn’t, because she doesn’t want to upset family members, who may recognize themselves in the book.
In fact I strongly doubt the book will ever be written.
When I wrote Naked Husband a number of people tried to persuade me not to publish it. I lost many nights sleep over it. I could understand their point of view; I didn’t want to publish it either. It was all too easy for people to recognize me in the book and I hadn’t painted a very flattering picture, in the interests of honesty.
I had no idea it would be as successful as it was, or that so many others would relate.
Besides, how far can you go in talking about others in a semi autobiographical book?
Through all the doubts – and I still have them – I resolved my argument with one question – could this book be useful to someone? It touches on divorce, adultery and suicide; it’s about marriage and our closest relationships – with our husbands, our wives and our children.
Was I being honest? Yes.
Did I try and blame or denounce anyone, apart from me?
Censorship is clear cut on a political and religious level; less so when we come closer to home. People either bitterly despised or absolutely adored the book. I had crossed the line; I was no longer writing to entertain, I had made it personal.
At one event where I was speaking I had a complete stranger cross the room, and introduce herself so she could tell me that after reading my book she hated my guts. I admired her honesty and her courage. That’s not an easy thing to do..
I would love to be one of those writers like Grisham or Follett who write stuff that everyone loves and are never controversial in themselves. But the book happened, and to take a backward step would be wrong. Anyway, it may not provoke the same visceral reaction this time around. Who knows?
At least I won’t get arrested, like Nadia Jelassi or get death threats like Sherry Jones did. The freedom to speak is a hard won freedom; I didn’t want to sully it by dissembling. I just tried to be as honest as I could; and wherever you are in the world, it’s the most anyone can ask.