The current furore surrounding writers, child protection and school visits sheds more light on the self-serving imaginary landscape around which of the appointed cultural titans roam. It is a classic demonstration of writerly vanity and illustrates the vacuity of much commentary about culture in our society. It's a manufactured, orchestrated bunfight in which the shrill voices of our doomsaying heroes drown out any semblance of reasoned or illuminating discourse.
The bunfight centres around new requirements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland requiring everyone who wants to work or volunteer with children or "vulnerable people" to be vetted by the Independent Safeguarding Authority. The requirement will make it compulsory for anyone who has "regular" or intense contact with children or vulnerable adults have the checks.
This provoked the following measured responses from a predictable assembly of people what write kids books and have publicists:
"The whole idea of vetting any adult who visits many schools, but each only for a day, and then always in the presence of other adults, is deeply offensive," (Anne Fine)
"It's actually rather dispiriting and sinister. Why should I pay £64 to a government agency to give me a little certificate to say I'm not a paedophile.
Children are abused in the home, not in classes of 30 or groups of 200 in the assembly hall with teachers looking on." (Philip Pullman)
"In essence, I'm being asked to pay £64 to prove that I am not a paedophile.
After 30 years writing books, visiting schools, hospitals, prisons, spreading an enthusiasm for culture and literacy, I find this incredibly insulting."
(The database)...poisons the special relationship that exists between children and authors they admire". (Anthony Horowitz)
What is revealing about this is the manner in which the systemic insult is personalised.
No matter that this requirement covers a massive range of people who work with young people, this is transmogrified into an attack on the integrity of some of our most beloved childrens authors. Particularly hard to stomach is Pullman's sanctimonious, simple-minded assertion about abuse; coupled with both Pullman and Horowitz having the moxy to suggest that they'll be paying the £64 (unlesss blockbusting authors have ceased engaging the services of accountants these days?) we're left with a masterclass in vanity and self-regard disguised as social conscience.
For the thousands of us up here in Scotland who for a few years now have had to go through the Disclosure Scotland procedure when starting a job working with children or vulnerable adults it's less of an insult than an inconvenience. I don't believe for a second that my potential employers think that I'm a paedophile, it's just that they have to check. And that's fine. Although my flexibility in this regard may have more to do with the fact that I have to work to earn a living.
The likes of Horowitz, Pullman and Morpurgo, for all their undoubted talents, can afford to hold forth at length about "sinister" "insults" from a faceless bureaucracy. Just don't expect me to applaud their fearless decision to stop bothering to do something they don't need to do very often anyway.
It's heartening to see that the new childrens laureate, Anthony Browne offering some some much needed perspective:
"I feel that as writers we shouldn't necessarily be granted an exemption. If all people who work with children have to be vetted by the police then we shouldn't be an exception. It seems a bit odd that we have to pay for it, though."
Don't worry Anto, I'm sure you'll be able to write it off against tax.
Even better was Robert Muchamore's suitably combative Twitter message:
"Irritated at another round of whinging by the usual grey haired mafia of 'renowned' kids authors"
Anyone who works with vulnerable and damaged young people will tell you that even ordinary experiences require extraordinary effort. In their unwillingness to demonstrate even the slightest flexibility in this matter our heroes have demonstrated the true extent of their commitment.