Whose story are we allowed to tell?
You might enjoy this little video in preparation for this post. Please be warned, there is some very strong language in this song, so if you're uncomfortable with swearing don't watch it! Or if you're a young person, ask an appropriate adult if this might not be for you.
My question today is this - who is allowed to tell whose story?
In all of my books I have written experiences that are not my own. I am not a teenager, and yet I try my hardest to convince the reader that I am. Most readers expect that, but there seems to be a limit as to what experiences are acceptable to appropriate for the purposes of fiction and which aren't.
Here are two examples:
A few years ago (just before I wrote my series with Random House) there was another pony series that was selling very well, and when I read them, I was shocked to discover that the writer clearly had little knowledge about horses. What concerned me was some of the plot lines seemed to draw on actions that most kids would learn not to do on day one at pony club.
On one episode of the TV show based on this particular series, a small child administered a nasal paraffin drench to a horse based on the instructions a vet was giving over the phone. In real life, if you get that wrong, you are delivering several litres of paraffin oil directly into the lungs. I was agog that so many sane adults must have approved this script before it went to air.
In that case I reckon only a horse person is entitled to write about horses. If a child, having watched that show, decided that they were now qualified to drench their horse, an animal could die a very painful death. And yet there was no outrage from the general public.
On the other hand...
There are few books about Indigenous kids in YA or junior fiction. This population of kids is not well represented in fiction - even as minor characters. The impression that I get is that publishers feel uncomfortable publishing books about Indigenous characters written by non-Indigenous writers.
Women can write about being men, and straight people can write about being gay. Grown men can write about being young girls. There's an open season on the experiences of the mentally ill.
What do you think?
Are there rules on who is entitled to tell whose story?
What should the rules be?
Who do you think decides, or should decide?