From the Editor’s Desk in June 2023

Article | Issue: Jun 2023

Recently I read an enjoyable thriller, although throughout my reading I was thinking to myself that something was wrong. I wondered why I wasn’t overly enamoured by this book until I next started reading a young adult book, Saltwater Boy, by Bradley Christmas. It became immediately apparent from the first few pages.


Saltwater Boy by Bradley ChristmasI realised that the writer of the thriller, quite a few times in the book, was over-explaining. While reading I certainly understood what was going on, but the author seemed to be worried that I’d miss it. So he would give me a sentence to further explain a situation so it was super clear to me just in case. But upon opening Saltwater Boy I realised that a clever writer, such as Bradley Christmas, doesn’t need to over-explain. He leads you to the events in the book and has confidence in his storytelling so that he has made it easy to understand in the first place, but then also has confidence that as the reader you will get it, and not need to be hit over the head with it. Readers don’t need an author to connect every dot. We’re smart enough to visualise what is going on and see the connections the author is making.

I think over-explaining is a killer for writers. I understand that it must be hard not to do it, but it certainly spoils a book for the reader if it’s not nipped in the bud.

It was quite a difference to read both books for this reason and it’s also confirmed for me yet again how clever our young adult authors are.

It seems the kerfuffle about rewriting author’s books to remove offence, whether perceived or real, has hit a nerve with Good Readers. Letters poured in this month in response. Since I first wrote about this issue more books have been flagged as possibly offensive and the debate still rages on.

I wonder where we will end up. Will it fizzle out as some publishers who intended to get out their censor sticks decide to quietly put them back in the closet.

Here’s a round-up of what readers thought.


Hello Rowena
I find myself looking at my bookcase and wondering how many books I have that would no longer pass the ‘critics test’ for what is appropriate and what is not! Yes, I read all the nonsense about Enid Blyton’s Noddy and Big Ears relationship, and wondered what the world was coming to. These books were written many decades ago and I think they have a place in history to be accepted as they were written. Certainly, there are books that are no longer appropriate, but I really think we’ve all become a little too precious about what is right and what isn’t. If we’re going to analyse everything on today’s values, there won’t be too many books left to read.

Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl are just two authors caught up in this chaos, and we have to wonder where will it stop? There are so many new rules and regulations today involving ‘pronouns’, gender, sexuality, racial and religious issues, that it’s hard to keep up. And then there’s the question, should we keep up? Are we becoming too thin skinned? When it comes to the written word, I’m sure we can all find something that offends us, but we all have a choice. No-one is forcing us to read that which we find offensive. There will always be valid reasons for some books to attract negative attention, but I don’t think re-writing children’s literature from decades ago is necessary. As you said Rowena, it’s the adults who have the problem with the words, not the children. Like never before, there’s so much changing in our world today, and the literary scene will reflect that. And we need to make sure that books (children’s and adults) aren’t going to end up the victims of some over-zealous critics, intent on taking away our reading pleasure.
Judith, Donvale Vic

Dear Rowena
I agree that balance is important re word usage. I do not agree with changing the written word as it appeared in the original book. However, with a publishers note at the beginning/end of the story, a listing of changed words/phrases, with page references, could be listed to satisfy the more recent values and expectations of today. Another thought could be a note at the bottom of the page in question.
Kerry Piper, Monaltrie Vic

Dear Rowena
I feel the world has gone politically incorrect in changing books. They were written for that time and should not now be censored for any reason. Imagine changing Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens to name a few. It’s in my opinion utterly bonkers. Luckily, I still have many old books which I will never part with as you say they will go out of print or maybe they would just become a very good investment? Who knows but I certainly will not be buying any altered books.
Margaret. Flagstaff Hill SA

Hello Rowena
I must put myself in the ‘Against Censorship’ camp in regard to changing the text of novels written in the distant past. Many of your senior readers would have a background where they were compelled to read texts and reports over decades of their working lives, but when you retire, you can read whatever you like – from the classics to the golden age of crime to to-day’s bestseller. Ernest Hemingway wrote only one crime story where he uses the (now) offensive n-word frequently, as did Agatha Christie in the title of one of her more memorable stories. In modern times Michael Connelly, in one of his ‘Bosch’ novels, circumvented the problem by using a ‘n—-’ in the text. We knew what he meant and nobody was offended.

So whether it’s Ian Fleming’s misogyny or Captain W E Johns’ racist mouthpiece or the translation of some Scandinavian crime story let’s enjoy them as a product of their era and geography – not watered-down to a polite blandness. Perhaps an asterisk and footnote system could be used or even a warning on the cover not dissimilar to what we’re given before a violent report on the television or radio news. Even the most conservative reader tolerates so-called ‘bad’ language from a rough character so let’s read them as they were written – please – without text modification.
Denis, Melrose Park NSW

Hello Rowena
Rewriting books today is a mystery to me. I always thought authors write in their present. How can one write for the future because someone might take offence. Currently I am reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover published in 1928. Today one wonders what the fuss is all about.

At one time I owned all of Agatha Christie’s books. I struggle to find what could be offensive in those compared to Lady Chatterley. I quote the Prosecution Counsel in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover Trial: ‘Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?’ Laughable.
Lorraine, address withheld



Larry the Irish TerrierAnd Larry, one of Baxter’s best Irish Terrier buddies who visited us for the day.

Author: Bradley Christmas

Category: Children's, Teenage & educational

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781760656393

RRP: $18.99

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