Death of a genre

European Union privacy rules hitting biographies hard

British YA writer Melvin Burgess has spent a controversial decade writing bestselling books rife with drug use and underage sex. But now he’s finally found something too hot for his publisher to handle: a memoir of his own teen years. The same themes that mark his fiction run afoul of the privacy clause of the European convention on human rights, and there were concerns that it could provoke a host of challenges from people written about in the book. “It’s about what I got up to and thought about when I was a teenager—friends of mine I smoked joints with … some of those games of ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine,’ gropes in the broom cupboard,” Burgess said. But “some of those boys you might have had a joint with, or ripped a car aerial off with, might be members of the Conservative party, and the girls might be respectable grannies,” and neither group would be likely to welcome having their teenage years exposed by an author. Even after Burgess had reworked the manuscript, changing “locations, names, hair colour, year, possibly even gender,” he discovered, to his dismay, that his publisher still refused to go ahead. He believes the whole genre of biography is being affected by the invasion of privacy clause, which states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” That means, according to Burgess, that “there’s so much more deception in autobiography and memoirs than there used to be. It’s a big issue in publishing [and] could be the end of this whole genre.”

The Guardian

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