There will no doubt be people who will feel that Malala (the subject of one of my earliest posts) has somehow tainted herself by signing a $3m book deal. There will be people (like this guy, probably) who see it as yet another celebrity muscling in on writers. They couldn’t be more wrong.
She’s a teenager who’s been threatened, and ignored the threats, and been shot, and still not bowed to the people who would silence her. Signing a book deal worth $3m doesn’t prove that she’s sold out, or given up, or anything like that. What signing a book deal worth $3m does prove is that education and the ability to read and write can change your life, if you want it to.
Malala can be all things to all people, she can talk the talk and keep on campaigning, but the best thing she can be is an example, is the living proof that it is worth learning things and resisting those who want to stop you. And the best way she can do that is to do exactly what she wants to do, because whatever that ends up being, it would never have been possible without her determination and that of her family and teachers and friends.
The book could be about anything. The fact that it’s her story and will tell the tale of her struggle against the Taleban is great and will probably inspire even more girls and their families to follow the path of education. But it could equally have been a chemistry text book or a novel about wizards. It doesn’t matter. It’s a message to the Taleban of their own failure, and it could hardly be clearer. She couldn’t have written it without the education they’d deny her. She wouldn’t have been alive to write it without their own incompetence when it came to killing her. She wouldn’t have recovered to write it without the support of governments (most notably her own) and medical establishments around the world, in the face of the Taleban’s threats and stupidity. And she wouldn’t be getting $3m for writing it if the publishers weren’t confident hers was a story so compelling that millions of people would pay for it (and, along the way, be inspired by it).
Publishers don’t take stupid risks, not with sums like three million dollars. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, the publishers who have taken this particular risk, publish serious writers and best-selling writers and probably know the value of a bundle of words better than most. And what they’re doing, even if they don’t realise it, is something we’d all like to do, if we had the distribution and the bravery and the $3m to spare. They’re delivering the biggest slap in history to the Taleban’s face, and as they step back to watch the bruise take shape, they’re smiling, quietly, and saying two simple words.
If you liked this, please comment and share, and don’t forget to take a look at some extracts from my soon-to-be-published novel Without Due Care here.