August 31st, 2009


Boys do, girls write

My childhood was littered with girls who wrote -- Jo March and Anne Shirley, Cassandra Mortmain and Emily Starr, Emma Tucker and Randy Melendy, Titty from Swallows and Amazons and even Darryl Rivers of Mallory Towers. I was never at home with the boy-girls -- the George Kirrens and the Nancy Blacketts -- and some of the writing girls were more boyish than I liked: they trod on my toes, took pieces out of my quiet good girl space that I could ill afford to lose. They had quite enough of their own, with their lacrosse and sailing and tomboy pose: they did not need, in my head, to invade the imaginative realms that belonged to Anne and Cassandra and me.
But and but and but... They were there, those girls, legitimising my fingers that wrote and my mind that told stories, making that enough in itself to give me space and shape.
This morning it occurred to me to notice, to ask, what about the boys? Boys in the books I read were active, determined, in the lead. They were sometimes creative, too, but almost always musical -- Rush Melendy, Patrick Pennington, Laurie of Little Women. What they were not, what I do not recall them being, was writers.
And yet the shelves on my home and of libraries were laden with books by boys. Boys wrote and wrote and wrote, and won the literary garlands. On the school syllabus, their names headed the list of the greatest. Shakespeare and Chaucer, Donne and Pope, Eliot and Marlowe, Tennyson and Keats... Was that why these books I read held no writing boys? The writing girls were almost all written by women (Titty is the exception)and many of them reflected the struggle their creators had had to gain that writing room of their own. Perhaps the men who wrote felt no need to write boys who wrote as examples for other boys. Perhaps they assumed - knew - that writer was already out there on offer as one of the million prizes of maleness. But all the same, this morning I found myself wondering, what about the quiet boys, the reading boys, the boys who write by themselves. Do they look back through time at Shakespeare and say 'Me, too'? Do they not need the compeers in books to lend them shape and space? Is the success of Dan Brown big enough that, in playgrounds, the writing boys are as valued as the footballers? My impression is no. There are more boys dreaming of playing fields than of word processors. And thus, a question: where are the writing boys, and how do they know, the boys who write, that this is allowed?
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