|Authors Electric's Jan Needle|
It does raise some interesting moral questions, though. In the past I’ve been accused by one MP of insulting his constituents by suggesting a certain sort of murder was even possible in a certain part of Manchester, and generally of making violence seem ‘almost normal’. But Mr Grayling’s exhortation seems far more likely to make things worse than anything I can do. If you indicate that it’s all right to attack people with ‘unreasonable force’ for breaking into your house, might it not lead burglars to go armed, just in case? Or householders to use ‘unreasonable force’ just for the hell of it? If someone attacks your home or family, the emotional response, let’s face it, can be understandably murderous. Which is where the rules evolved from, clearly.
They evolved very slowly, too. And in the fifteen years up to 2005, only seven people were actually prosecuted for attacking household intruders. One of the cases involved a man who lay in wait for a burglar and then beat him, threw him into a pit and set him alight. Happens all the time! Three years ago, on the other hand, a man who stabbed two teenage intruders, killing one of them, had the charges against him dropped. What more do you want, Mr G? Crocodiles in moats?
I think the trouble is that most crime books – like Mr Grayling and Ms May – don’t go in for moral ambiguity. Lord Peter Wimsey may have let off a young revolutionary who shot him because he was his sister’s ex-fiance and Wimsey couldn’t see the point in making matters worse, but generally speaking black and white’s the rule – victims good, criminals bad. By extension, law good, law-breakers bad. Or further, policemen good, anyone assumed to be transgressing, bad. Shall I go on? Invading Iraq good, terrorist responses bad. Guantanamo Bay good, and…oh dear. A moral swamp. When I heard Theresa’s suggestion that victims should be allowed to choose the punishment to be inflicted on the perpetrator, I could feel my moral compass do the twist.
My problem as a writer – one of my problems! – is that I’ve always felt the need to examine things from more than one angle, especially where ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are involved. Even with my work for children I can’t break myself of the ‘habit’. Mrs Thatcher’s government famously tried to ban A Game of Soldiers, my TV serial about the Falklands conflict, because it showed the British in a less than rosy light. My Mate Shofiq was about naked racism by those in authority in our society, and in Albeson and the Germans a grubby little school vandaliser became feted as a hero.
(If you think all this sounds like holier than thou boasting, here’s another of my problems, though. My son Wilf, who used to idolise Anthony Horowitz’s children’s books, once got me to provide an address so that he could write to him. He proudly showed me the letter, which said: “Dear Mr Horowitz, I’m your absolutely greatest fan and I love your books. My dad also writes kids’ books, but his are crap.” And he bummed the stamp off me!)
The book I’ve just finished, provisionally called It Came By Night, has no ambiguities with its villains. They are genuinely appalling, and are in fact versions of people I have known and worried over for years. The difficulties lie in the aftermath of the crime, as the police struggle to come to terms with the complexities they’re faced with. There is no lack of circumstantial evidence, which points towards a group of travellers, and their assumed ‘villainy’ is all too easily seized on by the investigators. The female protagonist is a journalist called Rosanna Nixon. A journalist. A woman. No chance of any prejudice against her, then! And sure enough, she is soon under attack, both sexually and on moral grounds.
Rosanna Nixon was also joint protagonist of my first big thriller, which I published as an Ebook earlier this year. That is called Kicking Off, and is similarly steeped in the ambiguities of ‘law and order.’ It hopes to link crime and violence to a prison system that is certainly not ‘fit for purpose,’ and a chain of denial and corruption in high places that can only make things worse. A review in IEBR said it ‘offers a unique perspective on the social ills of our country and an uncomfortable insight into the powderkeg that is our prison system, all delivered at break neck speed with an uncompromising hardness that reflects the seriousness of the subject matter.’
Violence is a difficult area, especially to write about. A long time ago I did a TV series called Truckers, about the life and times of the men, and women, who make their livings in the hard and unforgiving world of long-distance road transport. I had several arguments (some of which I won) with various directors of episodes who had what I considered to be a romantic view of violence. It’s all too easy to have people brawling and punching each other all over the place, but I don’t like it. If it’s gratuitous it should not be there.
It’s a hypocrisy we’ve all got to be on guard against, I think. Bashing a Burglar, to use the Sun’s headline last week, sounds quite cosy. Good call, Mr Grayling. But how about Maiming a Marauder? And Mr Cameron used to Hug Hoodies, didn’t he? What now? Hang them? Oh, and btw, more than 31 thousand criminal injuries claimants are due to lose their money soon, or have it drastically reduced. You’ll be allowed to Thrash a Thug now, though – unless he gets you first.
In the meantime, I expect I’ll go on being criticised for some of the things I write about, and probably in some cases rightly so. But at least I don’t see violence as a simple way of getting sales (or votes). My intention, and my hope, is that my books take it very seriously. And as a postscript, I’ve just noticed that my Killing Time at Catterick, which is about the violence visited on young recruits as a matter of course and culture, has been knocked down to two stars on Kindle. One five star, five one stars – and they all claim to be soldiers or ex soldiers. Should I be pleased or devastated? (Or suspicious?)
Killing Time at Catterick:
Iraq abuse ‘whitewash’
My Mate Shofiq
Albeson and the Germans
A GAME OF SOLDIERS
Game of S Youtube