Writers fear Society of Authors has been ‘taken over by cancel culture’ after rebels failed to oust Chocolat writer for ‘trivialising’ death threats against JK Rowling

  • Joanne Harris survived vote to oust her as chairperson of Society of Authors 
  • Now, critics express concerns writers’ union has been ‘lost to cancel culture’ 
  • Chocolat author was accused of trivialising a death threat against JK Rowling
  • Ran poll asking if writers received ‘credible death threats’ after Rushdie stabbing
  • It was branded a ‘sideswipe’ at Ms Rowling – something Ms Harris denies 

A subsect of members fear the Society of Authors – the UK’s largest trade union for writers – has been ‘lost’ to cancel culture.

The group faced an internal revolt after some members accused chairman Joanne Harris of failing to protect free speech and downplaying death threats against Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

Ms Harris, who authored Chocolat, was also accused of creating ‘a culture of fear that is inimical to writing’. She survived the attempted coup 608 votes to 143.

A second meeting was called in an attempt to introduce ‘robust’ measures protecting free speech. According to The Telegraph, this was also voted down. 

Now, some of the authors who led the revolt have expressed concerns the union has been lost to cancel culture. 

According to the publication, some of the members are considering forming their own breakaway group, while others are weighing up quitting entirely.

Writer Amanda Craig said: ‘Its silence when authors are dropped by agents and publishers for holding views deemed by some to be unpalatable.

Chocolat author Joanne Harris (pictured)survived a bid to force her out as chairman of the UK’s largest trade union  – despite being accused of trivialising a death threat against Harry Potter author JK Rowling

‘And its silence in the wake of many requests by members to condemn the online attacks against JK Rowling… have helped to fuel increasing intolerance.’

She said on Twitter ‘loads of authors resigned in disgust’, adding ‘what’s left are those who believed it was all about being ”gender critical”’.

Author Julia Macquisten said the motion was brought about as a ‘last resort’ to end the ‘culture of fear’ she’d experienced.

In the past, Rowling herself has also criticised the society. She said it had failed to defend anybody in the organisation who is gender-critical. 

Earlier this year Ms Harris was accused of downplaying death threats Ms Rowling received after supporting stabbed writer Sir Salman Rushdie. 

Ms Harris ran a poll asking writers if they’d received ‘credible’ death threats, with four possible options to the question, which were: ‘Yes’, ‘Hell, yes’, ‘No, never’ and ‘Show me, dammit’.

These responses were judged by some to be flippant and offensive, while others branded the entire poll a ‘sideswipe’ at Ms Rowling. 

Insisting her online poll ‘had nothing to do with JK Rowling’, Ms Harris later deleted and reposted it without the word ‘credible’, and with amendments to the response options. 

The new options were: ‘Yes’, ‘Yes, more than once’, ‘Never’ and ‘Just show me the results’. 

She said the ‘tone’ of her tweet had come across wrong, and publicly condemned ‘threats of any kind to anyone’.

Earlier this year Ms Harris was accused of downplaying death threats Miss Rowling (pictured) received after supporting stabbed writer Sir Salman Rushdie. Ms Harris ran a poll asking writers if they’d received ‘credible’ death threats, branded a ‘sideswipe’ at Ms Rowling

The tweet prompted an open letter by writer Julie Bindel, who said: ‘We wish to express our deep disquiet and anger at the Society of Authors’ abject failure to speak out on violent threats towards its members, and the behaviour of Joanne Harris.’

‘Rowling is not the only author to have received death threats because of perceived wrong-think… Joanne Harris has given every indication of siding with those women’s critics. Again, the Society of Authors has failed to come to their defence.’

Ms Harris previously said on Tumblr: ‘Many of those who have joined the ‘debate’ are not members. Many are not even authors… Nearly all are transphobes, though. Because that’s what all this is about. Transphobes want me silenced.’

She went on to say ‘JK Rowling has every right to her opinions’.

‘I may not share them, but that’s fine. And I totally condemn any threats to her, as I do to anyone.’ 

A separate open letter written in Ms Harris’ defence described her as ‘a stalwart, fair, dedicated, and passionate Chair, who has frequently gone above and beyond her role as Chair to champion all authors’. 

Ms Harris said: ‘JK Rowling has every right to her opinions’

Julia Williams, another of the resolution’s proposers, told the meeting it was brought as a ‘last resort’ and only after ‘many complaints’ had been submitted to the society, many of which pre-dated the ‘flippant’ poll on death threats.

She also accused Ms Harris of contributing to a ‘climate of fear’ via her strong following on social media. She has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.

Ms Harris told the meeting there were ‘too many accusations’ in Ms Williams’ speech which she disagreed with and considered ‘untrue’ for her to address them all individually.

A supporter of trans rights, she said she had become a ‘target’ for various political and personal opinions despite making it clear on her Twitter account that it is a personal account, and that she only tweets on behalf of the society when she makes it clear that she is doing so.

She added: ‘What it boils down to is some people don’t like me. My personality and image don’t fit their opinion of what the society chair should be.’

Ms Harris was elected chairman in 2020. She began her second term at the beginning of this year and it is due to run until 2024.

Supporters of Ms Harris rejected the idea that when she tweets, people think she is speaking on behalf of the society.

Earlier this year Ms Harris revealed that her son is transgender.

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