Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tracy Beaker Grows Up; Arts Coverage in the Evening Standard Is Presented in Partnership with Hiscox Home Insurance. to Find out More about Their Expert Cover Visit Hiscox.Co.uk/homeBOOKS Jacqueline Wilson's Novels Are a Hit with Girls but #MeToo Has Shifted Her Focus, Says Katie Law

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tracy Beaker Grows Up; Arts Coverage in the Evening Standard Is Presented in Partnership with Hiscox Home Insurance. to Find out More about Their Expert Cover Visit Hiscox.Co.uk/homeBOOKS Jacqueline Wilson's Novels Are a Hit with Girls but #MeToo Has Shifted Her Focus, Says Katie Law

Article excerpt

THERE can hardly be a woman under the age of 40 who doesn't love Jacqueline Wilson. From tearaway child-in-care Tracy Beaker to Victorian foundling Hetty Feather, Wilson has a knack of creating characters that have touched young female psyches for more than three decades, while attracting criticism from adults about her unsavoury subject matter, from adoption and alcoholism, to drug abuse and depression, from single parenthood and fathers in prison, to suicide and bereavement.

Regardless, girls -- and there's never been a pretence about a gender equality audience -- lap them up. Wilson, Children's Laureate from 2005-2007 and made a dame in 2008, has sold more than 40 million copies and written more than 100 books.

While her big break came in 1991 with The Story of Tracy Beaker, later turned into a TV series, she had already written 40 books, including several adult crime novels. One, Truth or Dare (1973), makes particularly interesting reading in the light of #MeToo. It's graphically sexual and rather good. Claire, a young wife and mother, is given a lift home in a car in the rain one day by a stranger who puts his hand on her knee while he's driving. When his fingers start probing her underpants, she timidly asks him to stop. Later she tells her (sexually impotent) husband. He is furious, "you mean you just sat there and -- and let him?" He calls the police and the investigating officer turns out to be another sexual predator, giving Claire's thumb a secret stroke when they shake hands and returns to seduce her. Ultimately, however, Claire dispatches all three men with far more ruthlessness than Cat Person could even dream of.

Perhaps Truth or Dare was a sort of precursor to #MeToo, then? "Good Lord, I can't really remember; yes, it probably was." But the difference, she says, was that in those days "women were patronised, we got used to men making advances. It was an everyday thing that you didn't particularly like but it wasn't the biggest deal. You just raised your eyebrows."

Like many women of a certain age, Wilson, 72, calls herself a feminist but has equivocal feelings about #MeToo.

"While it's wonderful that women don't feel vulnerable or that they don't have to go along with things, it's become easy for men to be pilloried without proof. It's dangerous to say every man who makes an inappropriate gesture is doing the most terrible thing."

Contrary to the accepted view, Wilson also thinks girls today have it tougher than ever. "Teenage girls today are expected to get 10 out of 10 for everything now; to be feisty and to stand up for themselves. They're so sophisticated and seem to know everything, yet they're inexperienced and have probably led a protected life. The way they look and have to get likes on social media has all become so much more important than it used to be".

Not only does social media create a "perpetual record" but "so few 18- and 19-year-olds seem to have gone through a spotty stage. They're all pretty, with long, blonde, straight hair. I realise how much effort that must take. …

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