On Behalf of My Client - Andrew Crofts
“She said what?” my wife’s tone of voice managed to convey both her contempt for the woman I was describing and her astonishment at my naiveté for swallowing her line. Her fork had come to a halt half way to her mouth as she peered down the table at me, obviously awaiting some sort of satisfactory response.
As so often happens I had been talking without fully engaging my brain, expounding my client’s theories on why she was performing a social service by sleeping with other people’s husbands. My wife’s tone had woken me fully and I sensed danger. I paused and struggled to replay whatever I had just said in my head. The words, which just an hour or two before I had been typing out with fluent conviction, suddenly had a rather hollow ring to them.
I cleared my throat and tried putting my client’s point of view a little differently. My wife listened like a High Court judge might listen to a lawyer pleading for a client with a hopeless case, but her expression did not lighten.
“And you believed her?” she asked once I had burbled to a standstill.
Now I was on the ropes. I had to think why it was I was putting forward this woman’s highly immoral ideas as if they were founded in logic. Under this sort of cross-examination my client’s view of the world did seem a little ethically shaky, but as her ghost it was my job to put her case for her as eloquently and convincingly as possible, not challenge it. If I had actually questioned what she was telling me to her face she would have grown defensive and would have become more cautious in talking to me honestly. I needed her to open up and explain herself as fully as possible, I did not want to intimidate her into silence or aggressive self justification.
Under my wife’s inquisitorial glare, however, I could feel my confidence in my client’s story ebbing away. I was still only in the early stages of the writing and I couldn’t afford to lose sympathy with the woman whose voice I was going to be thinking and speaking in for the next few months.
“I can’t talk about it,” I said, able to hear the panic in my own voice.
“What do you mean?”
“I have to believe in her version of the story if I am going to be able to tell it convincingly. Once I’ve finished the book we can argue about the rights and wrongs of her philosophy of life as much as we like. I just can’t do it now.”
My wife gave a snort which could have been simply agreement but to my sensitive ears still seemed to contain a suggestion of derision. A new golden rule had just been born in our house.
But it's a little like a fiction writer 'channelling' some morality-free character. Or, say an upstanding Roman citizen who enjoys relaxing at the Games - or a 19th Century parent taking their child on a fun day out to the executions. You have to try and put their viewpoint fairly, however much ou disagree with it.