Friday, May 14, 2010

Cross Me and You're Dead (fictionally speaking...)

Sorry to mention politics when I'd promised not to, but after a week or so of 'horse-trading' (copyright: every single media outlet) the UK has a new government involving the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, coming together in the 'national interest' (copyright: every Tory and Lib Dem politician) to provide the country with the 'strong and stable government it deserves' (copyright...actually, why do we deserve strong and stable government? I yearn for the politician that says the UK has got the mish-mash bunch of duplicitous crooks it deserves. Even better, rather than doing its best for 'hard working families', how about a Government that does its best for the idle and feckless? Don't they deserve representation?)

The new Prime Minister is David Cameron. Of 54 British PMs he is the 19th to have gone to Eton. Eton is the most famous public school (we Brits refer to to private education as public for some bizarre reason) in the country, if not the world, though for me it's most famous for being the punchline of one of Laurel and Hardy's best verbal gags, in A Chump at Oxford

Toffee-nosed toff: This is Harrow. You're dressed for Eton.

Stan: That's swell. I haven't eaten since breakfast.

As part of the coalition deal, various Lib Dems have been given seats in the cabinet. Their leader Nick Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister. Clegg and Cameron (or Nick n' Dave as they will become known) gave a joint press conference the other day. Both are early forties, well-groomed and handsome (even if Cameron's face has no edges, like runny cheese), and had put aside the animosity of the campaign to pronounce this a brave new dawn for British politics, and laughed heartily at each other's jokes. In the rose garden at Downing Street, the ranks of the press laid out in rows, it looked like a gay wedding. As one wag commented, a press conference like that would be illegal in 45 US states.

Both men warned against cynicism. Yeah, best of luck with that with the British media. I'm not particularly cynical but I couldn't help but look on with a jaundiced eye. Not because I think the 'new politics' is doomed to fail, though it probably is. Mainly because, after giving it some thought, I realised my antipathy towards Messrs Cameron and Clegg was based entirely on prejudice. With their clear skin, social assurance, noblesse oblige, impeccable manners, and slightly false attempts to appear not as posh as they actually are, they reminded of the boys from university that I hated. The ones with boundless self-confidence, plenty of cash in their pocket, a car, a good-looking, well-scrubbed girl on their arms, lots of social engagements to go to, while my friends and I skulked in the corner of the bar, nursing a pint and several grievances, with very few dinner parties to go to. I wasn't even sure what dinner was - we called it tea where I came from. I got enough sustenance from the chip on my shoulder anyway.

My dislike of what were commonly known as 'Sloanes', as in Sloane Ranger, originally a term to describe someone, usually female, who lived and shopped near Sloane Square and said 'Yah' instead of 'Yes', but became a pejorative for a certain type of privately educated, cornfed, nice-but-dim young man or woman, never really went away. When I was writing my first novel, The Blood Detective, and I needed some victims, I knew straight away one of them would be a Sloane. As the victims are introduced dead, I didn't have to give them voices or rounded characters, or anything that would make me like them. Instead, as long as it fit the story, I could pick them at random.

It was a pretty dark time for me. My wife had just died, I was grieving, and dark thoughts were swirling around my head. Writing the book, closing the door on all the sadness, and escaping into a fictional world was therapy. Much of the darkness was dispelled by killing people in a variety of graphic ways, which meant that when I opened the door I was able to return to the 'real' world having dumped some of the terrible thoughts. I have to admit that I would meet friends in the pub and my mood would sometimes darken. I would see people laughing and joking and it would irritate me. One time it was group of braying bankers. So, I went back to my room and hey presto, one dead fictional city boy. Other victims were people I had encountered and I found ripe for fictional slaughter. One ex-girlfriend's in there. She contacted me when the book was released. She thought it was hilarious. A few other victims didn't make the final cut.

Am I alone in doing this? I'm interested in how others pick their victims and the method of their departure. Obviously, it depends on the story and the characters. My second novel, written in a far happier place and state, with less need to vent, and a much different plot, features no 'score-settling', and is far less gruesome, and, in my opinion, is no worse for it. There is still the matter of how to kill someone. Sometimes, for me, this comes from something I've read, but more often it comes from tapping into the dark recesses of one's mind - the inner psychopath. We all have one. You'd be surprised what you find in there. It's actually pretty therapeutic to give him it an airing every now and then. In print, obviously. There you go - write crime and make the world a safer place!

I'm not sure whether I'll be killing anyone I know again in future books. I still reserve the right to do it in the future - a perk of the job, so to speak. Expect two well-groomed but smug politicians to die in a horrible circumstances in a novel near you soon.


Dan - Friday


  1. I agree that killing people in one's books is therapeutic. At every meeting of mystery writers I have attended, all I have met have been pleasant and friendly. I am told by friends who go to Romance Writer conferences that everyone there is bitchy! I wonder why that is? Stan

  2. Stan - Have you read a romance novel? If you do, you will understand that the writer,having an attack of conscience and realizing what she has unleashed on readers who haven't upgraded to mysteries, should be in a foul mood. Between the covers of the book, there are thousands of abused letters of the alphabet forced into the service of drivel.

    Dan - Shouldn't it be Dave and Nick in that Nick is only the deputy prime minister? How are the people going to be able to tell them apart? Perhaps they should be color-coded, Dave wearing blue and Nick wearing brown? Oh, that won't work; brown is to suggestive of the last prime minister who may start to look good after Dave and Nick have been around for awhile.

    The chances of a liberal and a conservative working together in the US are zip. The Republicans have become the party of "no" because that is how they respond to everything Obama says, does, or suggests. The British are very open minded and solicitous of country and people as demonstrated by their willingness to try.

    Your comments about politics are hilarious and apply equally to the US. Do Dave or Nick refer to "real Englishmen". Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and the Republicans in general are constantly reminding the public that they work for "real Americans" of which, apparently, I am not one. I am not hard-working, Protestant, from Middle America, nor the proud possessor of enough guns to arm the Massachusetts National Guard so I fail on the major points of the criteria.

    The allusion to the gay wedding will keep me laughing every time I think of it and that further proves I am not a real American. My state was the first to allow gay marriage and real Americans think we are the Sodom and Gomorrah of the 21st century.

    BLOOD ATONEMENT takes on one of my least favorite American groups. My reasons may not be rational to most but have you read anything about Mitt Romney? Mitt, already very rich, became so much richer when his solution for companies who were losing money was to eviscerate the work force of said company thus greatly improving the bottom line. To my dismay and horror, Mitt's political career got its boost when he was a one-term governor of Massachusetts. I can't vote for any Republican and Mitt re-enforces that commitment. It is beyond my intellectual ability to figure out how the first state to allow gay marriage also voted for Mitt as governor.

    Did you know his first name is really Willard? He was named after his father's best friend, J. Willard Marriott of the hotel chain. Until he started school, he was known in the family as Billy but at the age of 5 or 6 he decided he wanted to be called Mitt. Apparently his political dreams began early.


  3. Stan - wasn't the, erm, rather insecure author I blogged about, the one that went doolally on Amazon, a romance writer? I'm also reminded of my first Crimefest. In the green room before my panel, a group of very nice, very well-spoken women, were chatting away merrily, even showing each other pix of kids and grandkids. Their panel? Can there be too much violence in a crime novel. The answer? No. Have another biscuit...

    Beth, in seniority, as well as alphabetically, it should be Dave n' Nick. For some reason people are saying it the other way round. Could be revealing perhaps, as if it's more palatable with the liberal first.

    The chances of the conservatives and liberals working together here might be zip too. There are enormous tensions and differences. However, the Tories in the UK have always been motivated by one thing: holding power. If it takes holding their nose and doing a deal with the enemy then they will. But the contradictions will prove too much to bear.

    We don't have 'real Englishmen' just the ubiquitous hard-working family. There is something decidely sinister and insidious about alluding to 'real' anything. Then again, the US does have the dread word 'unamerican' which has cropped up a few times in its history. A horrible, clumsy and bullying word, an example of how political thought can pervert and twist language to its own ends.

    I do know about Mitt Romney and I always wondered about that name. Always looked like a typo and it should be Matt. I never knew he changed it; studying the Mormon faith you get used to daft names. I have never got how Massachusetts voted him in either. He had a few quid behind him though .Thankfully he couldn't buy himself a run at the big seat, though not for the want of trying.

  4. Dan - Hold that thought about Mitt. He is the front-runner in the eyes of many Republicans for 2012. Just behind him is Sarah.


  5. Dan, great and hilarious post, worth reading for the runny cheese comparison alone, although there was lots, lots more. I've always thought a strong and stable government was the worst thing that could happen and that what we want is hopeless deadlock in which no money can be thrown around uselessly and nerves are frayed permanently and people in the legislature attack each other physically as often as they seem to in India.

    It'll be interesting to see how the new set of geniuses copes with massive deficits, massive entitlements, union intractability, the problems with the Euro (how long until the bandage on Greece peels off?) and all the other little political inconveniences that make these such interesting times.

    Every time there's an election, I think back to Pete Townshend: "Meet the new boss/ Same as the old boss."

  6. Hello. I am commenting for the first time, fresh from a reading of my novel CITY OF SILVER at an independent bookstore chain in the famous Hamptons of eastern Long island New York, part of weekend called Mayhem at Bookhampton. Apropos of Dan's question, our moderator asked the writers on our panel how we chose our victims. None of the seven panelists gave revenge fantasy as a rationale. I confessed that for City of Silver, I needed a victim who would tie together my plot and subplot: a locked room mystery in a convent and a political thriller involving counterfeit silver coins, so I chose to kill the daughter of the richest man in town. BUT in my next book, I am am seeking vicarious revenge. I am "murdering" a man loosely named after an architect who unnecessarily delayed the renovation of my home and left me to live in construction dust and misery for for fifteen months. Deciding to "kill" him turned my outrage into creative energy. His namesake's body is found with his head bashed in AND six stab wounds in his chest. He was murdered TWICE. What fun!

  7. Hi Annamaria and welcome. Thanks for the comment - your books sounds intriguing.

    I have a similar complaint with a surveyor hired by our neighbours for some building work we did. He turned out to be a crook, caused us untold stress, and he's going to get it in a future book. Whether he'll get it twice, like your guy, is another question. That's some revenge!!