Best-selling author Joanne Harris has turned down a book deal in the United States after publishers asked her to remove an “f-bomb” from the novel.
The Chocolat author, who lives near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, tweeted on Saturday: ‘Today I turned down a book deal in the US because they wanted to remove my use of ‘the F-bomb’ “. I declined for two reasons: first, because I don’t use the words accidentally. They matter. And second, because I don’t believe my use of the word ‘kiss’ harms anyone.”
Harris was this week appearing at the Faversham Literature Festival in Kent to talk about her latest novel, Narrow Gate.
She said the US deal she was offered was for a special mail-order book club edition of A Narrow Door, a twisty psychological thriller that already has a mass market there.
Harris added: “I thought about it and the decision was mine. That’s how editing works, and I’m happy with my choice.
“In context, it was a characterization device, and it would have felt weak if I had removed it.
“But if an editor pointed out an inadvertent error in the text – or something in the tone that might be hurtful – I would have listened, and most likely changed it. Standing up the words I meant to say use not denying the intention to change the ones I didn’t.”
Harris said she didn’t feel offended by the publisher’s request, which she described as a home with a strong ‘cosy’ brand, adding: ‘I get it, but that’s not me “.
“I made my choice and so did they,” she said. “I don’t feel like I was ‘cancelled’.”
There has been a wave of censorship actions in the United States against the books in recent weeks, ranging from controversial Tennessee pastor Greg Locke leading a mass copy burning of Harry Potter and Twilight due to from their supposed “demonic influences”, to a wave of school book bans, which some American teenagers are rebelling against.
Harris said she chose to go public with the decision on the back of a social media discussion instigated by John Boyne, the author of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, criticizing the growing use by authors and publishers of “sensitivity readers” to ensure that they correctly represent certain groups or to avoid causing offense.
Harris was quoted in the media about her thoughts and expanded on them on her blog, where she wrote, “I think a lot of people (some of them are authors, most aren’t) misunderstand the role of a sensitive reader. It’s probably mostly because they’ve never used one and are misled by the word “sensitivity,” which, in a world of toxic masculinity, is often confused with weakness. For these people, hiring someone to audit their work for sensitive purposes involves a relinquishment of control, a shift in the balance of power.
Her refusal of the book deal in the United States was, she said, an example of “how these professional choices are personal to us and how we make them every day.”