JK Rowling has to be the top of the list here. She is awesome and not just on Twitter. She is one of the most significant charitable givers within the UK, has done incredible work with orphanages in Romania as well as donations to Multiple Sclerosis research in Edinburgh, has been so supportive of the young people who starred in the film adaptations (particularly Evanna Lynch), was the first guest editor of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour (she did a fabulous job), and is president of the Gingerbread charity to champion single parents. Whew! She is one of those rare success stories who remembers her roots without seeming insincere or having a chip on her shoulder, JK Rowling appears to genuinely appreciate that with her good fortune comes a responsibility to give back responsibly and she has done so with gusto.
I haven’t read anything by Judy Blume in years but I remember her with such affection. I read the Fudge stories with my old class back when I was a teacher and it was wonderful to see how little the stories had dated in the years since their release. Judy Blume is fantastic though in the way that she consciously tried to create a safe space in her writing for young girls to explore what it meant to grow up. Perhaps best of all was her novel Forever, which is frequently banned for its ‘explicit’ content. It isn’t explicit. As Blume explains herself, this is a novel about a young girl’s first sexual experience and rather than getting raped, getting pregnant or catching a disease, she is actually allowed to enjoy it. The fact that this is shocking underlines why it was such an important book in the first place. Following on from this, Blume has also written some amazing things about the dangers of censorship so essentially, Blume is just a wonderful human being.
I went through a big Stephen King phase when I was about fourteen and although this kind of petered out, I have read a few since and I do believe that he is a masterful storyteller. Still, what I really admire about him is the way he conducts himself concerning his finances. In an era where Jimmy Carr and Gary Barlow will go through weird moral acrobatics to avoid paying that which they owe, Stephen King is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. He wrote a glorious piece calling for greater taxation for the super-rich including himself, entitled Tax Me, For F&@$’s Sake, in which he warned of the potential ramifications if the inequality between rich and poor is not addressed. Again, this kind of social responsibility alongside enormous success is really refreshing to hear about.
Neil Gaiman is a truly great guy. He really cares about his fans, is highly approachable via Twitter and although he does collect fees for speaking engagements, he donates all of these to charity. Again, he is outspoken about the importance of giving back once one has achieved success, which is not that common a message to hear in this era of the cult of the celebrity. What I particularly admired though was when he spoke up to defend George RR Martin after someone emailed him to complain about how long Martin was taking on the next A Song of Ice and Fire book, reminding people that there is a line of what is and is not acceptable conduct on the internet. In an era where almost everyone is contactable, this is a good discussion to have.
Not only did George Orwell skewer communism and totalitarianism in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but he also wrote essays on a number of topics to do with the conditions of the poor and various things which he felt to be unfair. He is quoted as advising that anti-Semites ought to explain how they could ‘swallow such absurdities on that one particular topic while remaining sane on others’. But more than anything, it’s lovely to hear that he is most remembered for being well-mannered. Given that he was contemporaries with Graham Greene, Henry Yorke and various other fairly arrogant and unpleasant types, I salute George Orwell.
Guardian columnist, fashion writer, feminist-lifestyle advisor – is there anything this woman can’t do? Not only does Hadley Freeman provide a regular stream of no-nonsense advice coming from The Guardian, she does so without weighing into the personal bashing that a certain other publication (*cough* Daily Fail *cough*) seems to feel is journalism. Still, what impressed me most of all when reading Be Awesome, was her genuine concern for people reading the tabloid press and actually believing it to be true. It’s really refreshing to know that there are indeed journalists out there who care about their audience.
I adore Anne Rice and I’ve never read anything she’s written. It’s purely a personality thing. First of all, I loved the way that she had protested virulently about how awful she thought the adaptation of her book Interview with the Vampire would be, then when she actually saw it, she loved it so much that she took out adverts in the newspaper to praise it. Similarly, Anne Rice spoke up in defence of JK Rowling when Lynn Shepherd published her small-minded (and rather illogical) article against her. She was not alone. What I loved though was that when the tide then turned against Shepherd (one-star Amazon reviews, Twitter trolls etc), Anne Rice spun round to defend Lynn Shepherd. I really admire someone who has the guts to do such a public volte face.
Sir Terry Pratchett
There are not many authors so beloved that petitions are started to have them ‘reinstated’ in the world of the living. I have not signed said petition because to be frank, I think that it is a blessing that he retained so much of his dignity given that he was suffering the ’embuggerance’ of Alzheimer’s. Still, Pratchett’s enthusiasm about his creation, his wit, energy and affection for his fans made him a figure who will be sorely missed. I loved how genuinely excited he was about becoming a knight – he even had his own sword forged for the occasion. It’s lovely someone so genuinely pleased with their success – it almost makes up for the way it all ended. But not quite.
Seriously – Vera Brittain (author of The Testament of Youth) is the best friend you’ve always dreamed of having. She and Winifred Holtby (author of South Riding) ‘matured together’ rather than grew up together (their words). When Winifred Holtby began her final illness, far too young, Vera Brittain scooped her up, took her into her own house, nursed her, bullied Holtby’s long-term and slightly wimpish love interest into proposing and generally cared for Winifred with the kind of friendship-love that makes me weepy. Holtby may not have been convinced that her ‘fiance’ truly loved her but she must have felt very sure that Vera Brittain did.
C.S. Lewis’ attitudes are rather dated. He is an Oxford professor, it would be rather strange if they had not. Yet while his thoughts on gender roles etc may seem archaic, there is a sweetness and gentleness to his philosophy that brings the reader back time and again. It seems to have been the same for the man himself (I have not yet read his biography). He fell in love late in life and then was widowed, becoming stepfather to the two Gresham boys. Lewis was a Christian writer and a man of devout faith as well as being rather set in his ways, but I was always impressed by the man who went out his way to make sure that his Jewish stepsons could eat kosher food and to give them a stability in life which their own father would not provide. A lovely man.