Traditional Publishers take ages to notice a trend. In the 1980s it was so-called ‘Magical Realism’ that had to be around for a while before the people who put the books out noticed what it was. In the 1990s it was the worrying wave of ‘Tragic Childhoods’ books – a series of stories that the public have been snapping up in Britain. After the sales went into the millions, it finally dawned on publishers that they had a new trend on their hands and they started looking for authors to meet the demand. In English bookshops there is now usually a whole section devoted to this area, right next to Crime Fiction, Romance, SF and horror, and so on.
In the noughties, the new trend comprises a group of so-called ‘Protest Novelists’. Also called ‘Challenging Writers’ in the US – because these authors tend to challenge the Status Quo in many areas, such as economics, politics and society – these creators have come up with a series of novels that question everything. In the age of George Bush, they are, perhaps, reacting to the lacklustre but massive conservatism of the American establishment, and are looking outwards to examples of other ways of doing things. In the first Superman film in the 1980s, the Man of Steel was happy to endorse ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’. Challenging Writers are happy with the first two eternal verities, but are starting to ask whether the third always leads to the other two. That’s one question, but there’s plenty more. In the new era, when it may be a woman – or even a black man – that becomes the next American President, authors are coming up with stories where the morality of ‘right and wrong’ may be a given, but the actual things that are variously considered to be ‘right’ are always being questioned.
It may not be a coincidence that the emergence of this New Wave of novelists coincides with a renewed interest in the film arena with the world of the 1960s. A recent film has been looking at the early career of Bob Dylan, illuminating his break with Protest Songs and his move into the electric field of pop music. It happened, and the experience is a deeply moving memory for many older people. Strangely, the audiences at that movie are of all ages. It’s not just the Hippies of the Flower Era that ache for some sort of critical examination of today’s political standards, it seems. The new generations too are keen to work with books and films and songs that don’t just tell stories, but ask ‘why’ such things are happening.
Traditional Publishers can’t cope. For many years now, any submission that smacked of ‘politics’ has been thought of as suspect. The people who occupy the high-rise offices of the large publishing firms are themselves part of the ‘Establishment’. Why would they want writers asking them what they are doing? Many Protest Novelists are finding a less than warm reception in these plush suites and are having to look elsewhere for exposure. No wonder that many are turning to the world of Internet Publishing. Any author with a story to tell can log themselves on to a print-on-demand site like Lulu and get their books ‘into print’ within days. Then, armed with a few copies, the Challenging Writers can hawk their samples around friends and relatives and find out whether their ideas are striking a chord. Of course they are. The world we live in is changing, and not necessarily for the better. Readers, like writers, have questions, and are happy to have their brain cells exercised by writing that isn’t simply mass entertainment and suffocating adventurist nonsense.