The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Writing A Controversial Novel

Well since, out of curiosity, I’ve started reading a pivotal novel in the history of artistic freedom in Britain (D.H.Lawrence’s once-banned 1928 novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, which eventually led to the end of book censorship in Britain during the 1960s), I thought that I’d talk about some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing a “controversial” book.

One traditional advantage of writing a controversial novel is that it will be remembered a lot more easily than a less controversial novel will. After all, if a novel pushes a boundary or breaks a rule for the first time, then it’ll become part of literary history – especially if it results in more creative freedom for other authors as a result. Going back to “Lady Chatterley”, ordinary mainstream modern fiction in the UK owes a lot to the freedoms that were afforded by the interpretation of the law in the trial surrounding its reprinting in 1960. Without this trial, modern British fiction would still be stifled by some extremely puritanical censorship rules.

On the downside, this fame or posterity is something that often only arrives years or decades later, with the author often suffering disproportionate retribution in the meantime. If you read a basic overview of D.H.Lawrence’s life, you’ll see that he was widely derided during his lifetime and actually had to spend quite a few years in exile. And this was before social media was invented! He only became a respected literary figure several years after his death. So, yes, writing a memorably controversial novel won’t usually result in anything good for years after publication.

Another traditional advantage of writing a controversial novel was that it instantly gave the novel a certain level of interest or rebellious cachet that it wouldn’t otherwise have. I mean, if it wasn’t for the fact that “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was once a banned book, I probably wouldn’t have been curious about reading what is essentially a rather dated and slow-paced literary novel which often isn’t really that much more risqué than similar scenes from an average modern romance or urban fantasy novel or even a 1980s horror novel. But, because it was banned once, this novel instantly seems a lot more interesting than it actually is.

On the downside, we currently live in an age where controversy is commonly seen as an emphatically bad thing, rather than anything “cool” or “rebellious”. So, this might actually decrease your readership in this modern age.

Yet another traditional advantage of writing a controversial novel was that people read a lot more in the past. So, a controversial novel was more of an important thing back then. For example, although it was never banned in the UK, there was apparently quite a famous long-running discussion of William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” in the letters page of a major newspaper during the 1960s. So, traditionally, controversial novels tended to actually provoke major discussions and to actually matter to people. After all, this is where the word “controversial” comes from – something that provokes conversation.

On the downside, this won’t really happen today. Yes, people still read books, but films, the internet, videogames etc… are much more popular entertainment mediums. Books only get major press coverage when they are massive bestsellers and/or prize-winning literary novels. Even then, this doesn’t happen all that often.

So, even the idea of a book causing a major large-scale controversy seems laughably quaint these days. And this change is probably a good thing. Because books are an old medium where the battles over creative freedom have long since been fought and won, because books are a medium that require time and effort to read and because they are no longer seen an “ordinary” entertainment medium (and, instead are seen as “high-brow” in comparison to TV, film, games, the internet etc..), it is very difficult for a book to cause more than a small level of controversy these days.

So, writing a seriously controversial novel is not only a lot more difficult these days but, even if you manage it, then you probably won’t enjoy the results.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Find Your Own Definition Of Rebellion – A Ramble

2015 Artwork Find your own version of rebellion article

Although this article will hopefully eventually contain some useful advice about writing and art, I’d like to apologise in advance about writing yet another rambling opinion article rather than a “serious” advice article. If you just want to read the “advice” part of this article, then it’s probably worth skipping to the last few paragraphs.

I don’t know, I’ve been feeling uninspired over the past couple of days and – well, rambling opinion articles where a writer extrapolates universal “truths” from their own subjective thoughts are much easier to write than serious articles when you can’t think of anything constructive to say.

If you don’t believe me, then just look at the opinion pages of any modern… No, I won’t go there. It might offend a wide variety of opinion columnists on both sides of the political spectrum. It could cause a Twitterstorm. Hell, it could even cause a real controversy.

Of course, we have a very strange attitude towards controversy these days. Back when I was a kid in the 1990s and a teenager in the 00s, controversy was a good thing. If something was controversial, then it was usually worth trying to see, listen to or read.

Even if I didn’t really understand why something was controversial, I’d still try my hardest to experience controversial things. When I was a young teenager, I bought a second-hand copy of Peter Wright’s “Spycatcher” because I’d heard that it had been banned by the Government for a while. I never actually really read much of it because I quickly found that it was pretty boring, but just the fact that I owned a previously banned book was kind of a cool thing.

As a slightly older teenager, I videotaped the notorious “blasphemous” opera that was based on “Jerry Springer” when it was on TV and sat through the whole thing, despite the fact that it was basically a boring two-hour opera with a few surreal things and four-letter words in it.

Likewise, when I was a kid, I constantly (and with no success) pestered my parents to let me watch “South Park”, despite the fact that all of the show’s clever social satire would have probably gone completely over my head back then. It was controversial and “offensive”, therefore it deserved to be watched.

Hell, if a CD had one of those silly “explicit lyrics” stickers on it, then it was usually worth buying – even if it was total crap. Likewise, one of the many reasons why I enjoyed reading splatterpunk novels when I was a teenager was because they were the closest thing to the “previously banned” VHS and DVD re-releases of old 1980s “video nasties” that I wanted to buy but, unfortunately, looked too young to convincingly lie about my age to video shop owners.

Back then, controversy was cool. Controversy was rebellious. People had to try really hard to be controversial and, when they succeeded, their work would be well-recognised and get lots of free tabloid publicity.

These days though, standards have slipped somewhat. Not only is it very easy for something or someone to become controversial these days, but controversy is now seen as something that is terrible, rather than rebellious.

Call me naive but, for a brief while in the 1990s and 2000s, it seemed like people were becoming harder to shock. It seemed like, if someone disapproved of something, they’d either just ignore it or possibly say or write a few polite words of criticism, ridicule and/or disapproval.

For a while, it seemed like the world was going to take the same brillantly cynical attitude towards controversy as this hilariously sarcastic punk rock song does.

But, these days, it’s gone in the complete opposite direction. Whether it’s because of a few people on the right or a few people on the left, we’ve ended up in a situation where it’s both easier to rebel than ever before – but also undesirable to rebel.

It was then that I realised that I hardly ever produce anything rebellious these days.

But, of course, were I to “rebel” – my work would probably not be labelled as “rebellious” because we’ve lost the idea of what it is to rebel creatively. Or, rather, not enough of us have tried to find what it is.

You see, rebellion is a very subjective thing. One person’s idea of rebellion is another person’s idea of hyper-conformity. So, in many ways, the only way that you can rebel these days is to work out what you personally consider to be rebellious and then to create works of art and fiction that fit into your idea of rebellion.

For example, my own definition of rebellion is both liberal and conservative. Although I don’t want to go into detail (lest, ironically, I cause a controversy) I find some liberal ideas to be rebellious and I find some conservative ideas to be rebellious. Then, of course, there are ideas like free speech which I find rebellious, but both sides absolutely hate (albeit for different reasons and in different ways).

Your own definition of rebellion will, of course, be totally different. But, you’re never going to produce works of art and fiction that you think are cool until you’ve found it.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂