I return to the Anita Raja story, and it’s not another consideration of the privacy issue. This goes much deeper.
Ms Raja was born in Rome. Her father was a magistrate, her mother, originally from Wőrms in Germany, was a teacher at a private school. So far so good, eh?
Her Neapolitan books are set, not surprisingly, in Naples, during the post-war period, and tell of close friends Elena and Lila growing up in a poor, downtrodden neighbourhood of the city. So far so good again, yes?
No. Believe it or not, this approach has raised yet again the topic of ‘cultural appropriation.’ How can a modern day, middle class, Roman write about some things happening 70 years ago to impoverished girls in another city?
The Thought Police here are telling us to stick to what we know, what’s ‘ours,’ and not to stray outside. On that basis, the only books that should be allowed would be autobiographies, carefully sanitised to avoid triggering oversensitive navel gazers who feel the world owes them a debt of not upsetting them. OFFS.
Writing fiction is about expressing yourself (myself) in a way that escapes what we know and moves into what we can imagine. It’s what writers DO. IT’S WHAT THEY DO! That’s the whole point.
If I were only ‘allowed’ to write about what I know, there are lots of stories that would never have seen the light of day. I’ve never been a time-travelling mercenary in Central Europe in the Dark Ages. Goodbye Villamkard. Never been a vampire. Goodbye Mirror Man. Never been an extraplanetary being. Goodbye Why I hate being the dog. Goodbye Last Confession. Never stolen people’s life force. Goodbye Ship of Souls. Never been a serial killer? Blimey, I’ve done a few of those.
This is madness. That’s why what we writers do is called fiction. We imagine some characters, imagine them in a scenario, we imagine what they might do. I’ve never been a woman, but I’ve written stuff that people found had the ring of truth. I’ve written about lesbians, and my gay women friends said, ‘Yep, you nailed that.’ My mate Whiplash writes M/M romances. She’s a woman, so she’s appropriating gay male culture? Give me a break here.
By the way, since George Eliot was a woman, appropriation taken to its illogical extreme means goodbye to Silas Marner.