Novel featuring cannibalism snubbed by Welwyn Garden City library group

Vivienne Shannon with her book "When Winter Comes". Picture: DANNY LOO

Vivienne Shannon with her book "When Winter Comes". Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

A novel about a historical episode of cannibalism has been deemed too “disturbing” for an elderly Welwyn Garden City library group.

Welwyn Garden City author Vivienne Shannon is annoyed that her bestselling novel, “When Winter Comes”, wasn’t considered suitable for presentation at Campus West library’s Tuesday social group ‘Allsorts’, which caters primarily for elderly library users.

When she approached the library front desk she was initially given an enthusiastic response.

But when she emailed them, the reply said: “I have checked with my colleagues who run the group, but they feel that the current attendees may find some aspects of the Donner Party story disturbing.”

The Donner Party is an episode from American history, when a group of settlers in 1846 decided to take an untrodden route on their journey to California.

However, they got lost and trapped in the mountains and, starving, some resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Former lawyer Vivienne’s book about the episode was inspired when she was researching some of the legal cases from the era.

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She soon became fascinated by the issue, but she insists it’s not a gory or sensational book.

“It’s a coming-of-age story,” she told the Welwyn Hatfield Times, describing how the novel centres around a teenage girl who was part of the ill-fated group.

“My novel does touch on [cannibalism] but certainly it’s not the main element of the story.”

The story of the Donner Party is taught in US schools, she added. “It’s a part of US history,” she said.

“It’s interesting because my dad’s 90 and my mum’s 85, and they didn’t raise their eyebrows,” Vivienne continued. “I’m in my sixties and am furious at this completely ageist attitude and the implication that an audience of readers should be molly-coddled in this way and decisions made for them about what is ‘suitable’.”

A spokesperson for the library explained that the ‘Allsorts’ group meets in an open area of the library not suitable for author talks. “Vivienne Shannon offered to come to this group to talk about her book,” said the spokesperson

“The library manager declined the offer on the grounds this would not be suitable for the ‘Allsorts’ group, and she did mention in her response that she thought the group might find the subject matter disturbing.

“However, she did offer to explore arranging a talk as part of our LitFest programme of author talks. We have author talks on a wider range of subjects in Hertfordshire Libraries and there is no suggestion that the subject matter of this book is not suitable for the Library, just that it is not suitable for the Allsorts group.”

Vivienne is disappointed because she hoped that the friendly environment of the Allsorts group would help her get used to public speaking about her book.

“When Winter Comes”, Vivienne’s first book to pick up a formal publisher, has gained plaudits from the Washington Review of Books, is an Amazon bestseller and got a coveted review in Publishers’ Weekly.

At time of writing, the book is in stock at Welwyn Garden City’s branch of Waterstones.