By David Leask, Chief Reporter / Wednesday 18 November 2015
the Herald Scotland
Scotland’s most celebrated writers have warned of a threat to their freedom of speech.
James Kelman, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre and Neal Ascherson are among more than 100 authors demanding reform of the country’s antiquated defamation laws.
In a joint letter organised by freedom of speech organisation Scottish Pen, the writers warn that they – along with campaigners, scientists and journalists – are facing the “chilling” effect of libel action threats.
On Saturday, at Linlithgow’s bijou book festival, Val McDermid could not tell her audience very much about her new novel, Splinter the Silence, for fear of giving away the plot.
What she did reveal, however, is that its subject is the rise of internet trolls, those offensive patrollers of the online world who make twitterers of thin skin and anxious disposition nervous to broadcast even the blandest remarks. If J K Rowling can be savaged for expressing delight at the Scottish rugby squad’s performance in the world cup quarter final, what is safe for someone to say without fear of cyber assault?
McDermid believes that women are far more often the butt of trolls than men, despite the fact she has rarely been targeted. Even when she appeared on Question Time, a programme where, with the exception of politicians, most women’s performance is routinely met by twitter abuse, she emerged unscathed. Perhaps, as her teenage son has helpfully suggested, this is because she looks “so scary”. Or because, as her fiction attests, she knows countless undetectable ways to kill people.