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The moral maze of writing

Razia Iqbal | 12:34 UK time, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Writing is hard, so you look for anything that will give you an edge. Julie Myerson has found the edge that works for her - and that is writing about her family. Her new book, The Lost Child is out today, the publication date brought forward a couple of months to reap the publicity rewards of the controversy surrounding it.

And the controversy continues, with tabloids and broadsheets and broadcasters, weighing in daily about her decision to write about her son's drug addiction, which led to him being cast out of the family home when he was 17. Should the Myersons have thrown their child out of the house? Is their justification of highlighting the drugs problem posed by skunk, plausible? Hasn't writing the book had the opposite effect of helping the boy? What would you or I have done in their shoes? All these issues have been aired thoroughly and with considerable invective and judgement in the media.

The Myerson family has clearly suffered a terrible private trauma, but because the mother, Julie, is a writer, that trauma has been mined for her professional writing life. That is what many writers do, they ransack and delve into their lives, and the lives of others, sometimes dead or alive, sometimes close to them, sometimes not, and they work with that material to create new stories. In that context, the very act of writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, can feel like an act of betrayal - a betrayal of confidences, a betrayal of family secrets; an exposure of truths.

Writers are observers and they give themselves permission to write what they see. I understand when Julie Myerson says that you have to write the book you have to write, referring to how her research into a young Victorian painter, Mary Yelloly, who died an early death from TB, continually drew her back to her family's experience with her drug taking son. So she has interwoven the two stories in the book.

What's the betting that the majority of readers will just skip the Mary Yelloly bits to the parts about her son? The misery memoir makes it to the best seller lists routinely and while that genre is much mocked and maligned, this is in that mould. It's better written, and without the media storm would probably done as well as Julie Myerson's other books, but now it will exceed her and her publisher's expectations; a second print run has already been issued.

In all of this, I am reminded of something that that writer's writer Philip Roth wrote in his book, American Pastroral: "Writing turns you into somebody who's always wrong. The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on. What else could? As pathological phenomena go, it doesn't completely wreck your life".


  • Comment number 1.

    "Writers are observers and give themselves permission to write what they see" Oh well, that's alright then. I am writing this and so therefore give myself permission to write what I see regardless of any pain to others that I may cause. All that I can see is a selfish woman who would rather court publicity for her new book than consider how it may affect the feelings of another member of her family. These are exactly the same people who cry about invasion of privacy if the tabloids should photograph them in unflattering situations etc.
    I await with baited breath the sequal where she lists all her dirty, painful secrets and not just those of her son but I suspect that I may be waiting for a very long time.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am afraid I agree with Blyth224. It is arrogant to assume that writers exisit in a moral vacuum. Mr paxman made the cardinal point very well a few nights ago on newsnight; Paraphrasing.. "If he was so screwed up that you had to kick him out of the house how can you morally justify yourself by saying he didn't mind you writing about him in this way ?"

    Thank god for paxo !

  • Comment number 3.

    I have lost two children, one through cancer, the other through crime. I am bitter that others have no loss but have, so far refrained from telling anyone the truth.

    I do not seek to castigate Julie Myerson. I do not know the family and I have not read her book. Who am I to critisise another for their action/re-action to their loss?

    Maybe I wallow in my grief. Maybe writing of my losses would allow me to come to terms with my lot. Maybe, not. Would I remonstrate with myself for revisiting the past, who knows?

  • Comment number 4.

    The cynics are those who suggest Julie Myerson's sole motive is professional. Despite not having read the book, I am sure this is not so. On Newsnight Review she always appears to be one of the more humane contributors.
    Is it naive to suggest that part of the motivation may have been a need for Ms Myerson to examine her own actions. Others might talk to friends or confide in a private diary. She's an author so she writes a book.
    Bit of a no brainer really. I wish her and her family well

  • Comment number 5.

    I think it was not only brave but that she was also releasing a valve inside her. She needed to put this issue out there. If the result is 50/50 she will feel vindicated. As for actually being a writer, I have written one book (a witty skit on my own sexual lifetime - called Men Are Stupid) and have had no luck in finding a publisher. I am now writing a second book which is pure detective adventure. Writing for some of us is an important release of mind body and soul. Unfortunately, whilst many of us fail to find publishers, other writing drivil and dirt seems to find willing companies - life never ceases to amaze and disappoint me

  • Comment number 6.

    Regardless of the implications for the family, I believe that this is a very important discussion that has been raised. The very long term effect of use of cannabis is an important subject that could affect many other families and raising awareness of it should only do good.

    Proponents of cannabis use compare the behavior of drinkers to pot smokers justifiably in a favorable light. If you look at the treatment of acute and chronic users and their admission as psychiatric in-patients you will see that both alcohol and cannabis have serious long term side effects.

    We have no right to judge right or wrong in the moral argument as to whether this mother is justified in this publication and we do not even know her motives in this. However, one thing is certain - education on the long term effects of any drug will help future youngsters make an informed decision before putting their health on the line

  • Comment number 7.

    Whilst I understand that Julie Myerson is an author and uses writing as a way of expression, I do not agree that she should profit from exposing her child to this unwanted publicity.

    Perhaps she should consider donating the profits from the book to a Children's Charity.

    My situation is not too dissimilar to the Myerson family and going through this experience myself I have total sympathy with what the family has gone through. My son did leave the home for a short while, however, I have continued to support and love him so that he could continue to live in the family home. He still occasionally uses this drug but it is hard for young people growing up today where this drug is so available and seen a cool to take - my sons first encounter with this drug was at secondary school aged just 14 years. Lots of his friends parents were users too.

    You just have to hope that stop on their own accord.

  • Comment number 8.

    It is morally wrong to publish the details of a young adult who is still of a vulnerable age. I cannot understand why a parent would also wish to profit financially from her family's distress and that of her son. We all make mistakes and either learn from them or not, yet he will carry the stigma of this part of his life and will not be allowed to forget. I realize that the whole experience must have been deeply traumatic for all involved but that is not the point. Julie Myerson is an adult, her son barely out of childhood. She is his mother and he deserves her protection.

  • Comment number 9.

    She and her husband admitted their failure as parents the moment they threw their son out of the family home.
    To then go on and seek to profit from their unfeeling behaviour seems, to me, unforgivable.
    As a liberal minded parent it is unlikely that you will not have to deal with your children experimenting with cannabis - clearly they did not handle this very well. Perhaps they feel that the rest of us will benefit by learning from their mistakes - well thanks a lot, but I will deal with such matters in my own way and hopefully not alienate my children in the process.

  • Comment number 10.

    I am a writer myself but I have never felt the temptation to plunder my family's private life for my own profit or for the voyeuristic entertainment of others. I have teenage sons and the older one, certainly, has experimented with cannabis - as did I in my student days, so I hardly feel I can condemn him now. I can't presume to judge the Myersons' actions in throwing their son out of the family home - obviously their relationship with him had broken down completely, and only those involved know the whole truth. But I do judge the fact that she wrote about it, with the thin excuse that by doing so, she was warning other families about the dangers of cannabis (which I suspect have been grossly exaggerated by the media). I would not dream of deliberately exposing either of my sons to a tabloid feeding frenzy, however compelling the reason - and doing so will hardly help her son sort his life out. Which he has been forced to do, in the full glare of adverse publicity, with no help or support from his parents. He's the one I feel really sorry for, however badly he behaved. 'Home is the place where, when you knock on the door, they have to let you in.' He is truly homeless, and I feel they have completely let him down at a time when he needs them most.

  • Comment number 11.

    Most experts say that the addict has to reach rock bottom before they accept rehabilitation. Myerson's son couldn't reach rock bottom unless they threw them out. As long as he has them to fall back on he'll always use and never seek help ridding himself of his addiction. When he has no more avenues, no more places to turn to for money or things to steal to buy drugs is rock bottom for that kid.

    Her book could end up helping more people that some want to think about - it could be seen as a guide to families just like her who can't fathom how they ended up in that same position and what they need to do.

    Stop being so 'awww poor kid, just when he needed them' ... THIS is what he needed - its his last chance really to get sober.

  • Comment number 12.

    I find whole thing very strange,

    I at 17 was very simmilar to the boy in this story, although i was not violent but i had mood swings, took money ext, i did poor in my exams, smoked a lot of cannabis and then did not get a job on leaving school,
    I was for very hard work for my parents, they did not kick me out, they had to grin and bear it and hope with being from a stable home i would come through it,
    Now at 30 I have a family, very good job and live abroad and have a good life,
    So if cannabis is the root of this boys problems, is it the reason for my success ?
    Of course not!
    My parents stuck by me through think and thin and I was better for it, this woman as a mother took the easy way out, and now is humiliating her son and making money from it, she should be truly ashamed what she has done.

  • Comment number 13.

    In the early nineties - the 1890s - my great grandmother married a wealthy older man. Her own father was rich by the standards of the day -they had a male servant as well which put them one up from the middle class I guess - and on her first wedding anniversary her husband took an asthmatic attack and died. Six months later she was pregnant, probably by her step son. The effects rippled down the decades and can still be felt to this day.

    The story was integrated into a novel published by a major publisher.......only to find that there was still plenty of raw nerves in the family more than a hundred years later. It was a mistake.

    Julie Myerson is to my mind very knowing about what she is about, and her ego completely out of control. Her son interviewed in the Daily Mail said that she had been mining his life for copy since he was two years old. That is his reality. He has a blonde egoist for a mother who neither understands nor tolerates other people's boundaries. Which is probably why he started turning his brain to jelly in the first place.

    The young man has my greatest sympathy.

  • Comment number 14.

    I don't see why she can't just pay for therapy like everyone else.

    I liked the Living With Teenagers column & had assumed that it wasn't a verbatim account of her family life, but she should've fictionalised the book too.

    It's not fair on her children.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Writing is hard"

    Life is pretty hard for most folk these days.
    Having an addict in the family is hell, but the son was a minor and her responsibility.
    Writing about one's own child in this manner is deplorable - who would want their own mother to behave like that?

    It's symptomatic of the drivelling commentary on upper middle class life provided by far too many colummists.

  • Comment number 16.

    "Disgruntled and offended Myerson ofspring sues for libel and share off book profits", divorces parent on grounds of "complete lack of respect and invasion privicey.


  • Comment number 17.

    "Disgruntled and offended Myerson ofspring sues for libel and share off book profits", divorces parent on grounds of "complete lack of respect and invasion of privicey.


  • Comment number 18.

    My initial feeling might have been -- of course a mother (or a father) should not expose the very personal struggles of their family, and of course the cynical are going to claim that she is only in it for the money.

    Except my attitude changed when I saw the furore that this has created. We have had (on other sites), those who vehemently defend cannabis as about as harmful as a murray mint (totally missing the point that the real issue was the chaps violent and abusive behaviour towards his family, whether or not that was caused by the drugs). We have also had quite a few posts that recognise all too well the situation with this family, other families where their only choice was to evict a child for uncontrolled behaviour. I think the sheer vehemence of the debate shows this was an issue that needed to be brought out into the open, and if it took this book to do it, then perhaps the myersons will have achieved their aim.

  • Comment number 19.

    its disgsting that a mother can even think of doing such a thing- if it were solely for the benefit of others and as a warning to users it could have been a different matter - but to make money out of her son's plight GEEZ - if she were my mother i would disown her in a very very public manner - giving people no doubt as to why i was doing so

    hope the poor lad recovers from his addiction and goes onto good things

  • Comment number 20.

    She grassed up her own son. Not clever. Meanwhile Mummy makes monetary profits from family rows.

    Sue your Mum.

    This sort of "reality" literature is just neurotic scab picking exhibitionism. It helps noone. These people already have more money than sense. And from what I have read elsewhere a completely snotty attitude to rest of us "scum".


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