Anthony Horowitz's children's publisher, Walker, has said it would not instruct authors on whether or not to include characters of a different race or background in their books. Walker's assertion follows Horowitz's claim he was "warned off" by publishers from writing a black character in an upcoming book out of concern it would be "inappropriate" for him as a white writer.
Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider spy series, told the Mail on Sunday over the weekend it had been a "disturbing and upsetting" experience when one of his editors, apparently in the US, warned against including a black character in an upcoming children's book. According to Horowitz, it had been put to him that to draw on such an experience could be interpreted as "patronising".
Horowitz told the Mail on Sunday at the weekend: "This is maybe dangerous territory but there is a chain of thought in America that it is inappropriate for white writers to try to create black characters.
"That it is actually not our experience and therefore to do so is, by its very nature, artificial and possibly patronising. Therefore I was warned off doing it. Which was, I thought, disturbing and upsetting."
He added: "Taking it to its logical extreme, all my characters will from now be 62-year-old white Jewish men living in London. I haven’t yet decided what to do."
Publisher Walker today told The Bookseller that not only would it not give the kind of advice to authors that Horowitz is complaining about, but that on the contrary it welcomed more diverse characters in all children's books. It also noted the inclusion of an "important" black character in Horowitz's first book in the Alex Rider series.
Horowitz's editor Jane Winterbotham, Walker publishing director, said: “We wouldn’t instruct our authors to include or not include characters of different race/background/religion, but we do feel that there’s a need for more BAME and diverse characters across all children’s books. We support the effort to bring more Black and BAME writers into the market and this year ourselves have published Angie Thomas, sitting alongside Catherine Johnson, Chitra Soundar, Atinuke and others on our list, including Chibundu Onuzo, Amy Leon as contributors to Here I Stand (an anthology published in partnership with Amnesty).
"Returning to Anthony Horowitz, in fact, in Stormbreaker, the very first Alex Rider book, there is an important black character, Ben ‘Wolf’ Daniels, who trains Alex in the SAS and returns in Snakehead, later working for MI6, and is a role model for Alex.”
It is not only in the US that writers have been asked by publishers not to include characters from different races for fear of cultural appropriation. In January it was revealed by author and illustrator Shoo Raynor on the committee of the writers and illustrators' group at the Society of Authors that the issue was coming up "every meeting" and there were "lots and lots of horror stories".
"Certainly at the moment, the thing that comes up every meeting is cultural appropriation and how we are often stuck between a rock and a hard place," Raynor then said at the Westminster Media Forum. "Publishers will often ask to have ethnic characters removed from stories. I've not had that problem myself but various people have, purely because they're not going to sell the book. We hear lots and lots of stories, horror stories."