Clean Reader – Useful tool, exploitation or lazy choice?

I’m aware I am likely to p*** a few people off today, but this Clean Reader app has really got my goat. This article by Joanne Harris in The Guardian sums up my views quite nicely.

Joanne Harris: app replacing swearwords in novels is toxic | Books | The Guardian.

I can understand as a parent that you want to ensure that your child has a positive experience when reading literature. You must ensure that a book reflects the age of the reader and be prepared to answer questions that books raise, much like a TV show or a film.

So is this app a cop-out? Give your child a book and avoid awkward questions? Don’t have to challenge a school for providing access to material that may not be suitable for a young reader?  I sort of thing it is. But I also think it’s so much more.

One cannot wrap ourselves in cotton wool and pretend that profanity doesn’t exist. Even if you choose not to read it, use it or expose yourself to it, to deny its existence, and that it might be used entirely appropriately to reflect real life or develop a character, is dangerous. In many of the examples (replacing non profanity such as vagina with bottom, breast with chest – what’s wrong with a medical term I ask you?) the replaced words aren’t profane and the replacement words aren’t even accurate.

If you want completely “clean” text, with no mention of body parts, profanity or language which may offend some, then there are plenty of writers who don’t use it all. There is a wealth of fiction, for example, in the Christian YA genre. The argument could be made by supporters of the app  that “why should I be restricted, I want to read anything?”. But you’re not reading anything. You’re not reading the original work.  You are fundamentally changing it and creating one to your liking.

Authors spend a huge amount of time cherry picking the right phase or word to move their stories and characters forward, how dare anyone take it upon themselves to edit that work. If you don’t like the book or the author’s style, put it down! Hell, even write to the author and say ” Hey, I really liked your book, but I felt xyz was uncessary, abc would have worked just as well.” You might not influence the author but your job as a reader is to feed back on what you thought, not change the book to your liking. You wouldn’t buy a DVD and then insert some of your own scenes or voiceover would you?

I would never dismiss someone’s fundamental views of profanity or choice of language or indeed anything else. Everyone is entitled to their view. What I do dismiss, however, is the notion that anyone has the right to use a work I have created and decide to write their own. If you’d like to use my material, re-edit and re-release it, feel free to get in touch and licence my work so we can come up with a commercial agreement for you to do so.

Thursday rant over.
























Helen Treharne

I’m Helen Treharne, fiction author an creator of The Sophie Morgan Vampire Series. I live in South Wales with my husband, young son and rescue cat.
My books are available at all major digital retailers with soft back copies also available from Amazon, Createspace and other stores.
When I’m not writing fiction, I blog at, sharing my experiences of being a busy parent jugging working, writing, and more. Follow me there for my personal insights.


  1. March 26, 2015 / 12:36 pm

    If this p***es people off, then screw ’em!

  2. March 26, 2015 / 12:59 pm

    For people who don’t want to read profanity, there’s always the choice to stop reading. Robotic censorship is NOT the way to go.

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