Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Crime in the time of Brexit

Murder is Everywhere is delighted to welcome Leye Adenle as a regular blogger every other Wednesday.  

I met him at Harrogate this year, where Michael and I were on the same panel about African crime writing.  It didn't take more than the snap of a hyena's jaw to ask him to join our blog.  I had already read his jarring novel, Easy Motion Tourist, so I knew what a fine writer he was, and the contributions he made to the panel convinced me that he would bring fascinating and different perspectives to our readers.  My opinion was reinforced when I read his short story for Sunshine Noir.

So please welcome Leye to our merry band.  I know you are going to enjoy what he has to say.  You can read more about him here.
Leye - every other Wednesday

As a Nigerian living in the UK, that strange thing called a British Nigerian or a Nigerian British, I had a massive stake in the now historical Brexit vote. I woke up on the morning of the 24th of June, at about 5 am, and on my laptop that watches over my sleep from the side table, I watched the last few minutes of the announcements of the referendum results. The Brexiters had won. Cut to Nigel Farage, that most obnoxious, most uncomfortable-to-comprehend of all Brexiters, beaming and grinning, declaring the day as Independence Day, and boasting that ‘they’ had achieved the feat '...without a single bullet being fired.'

I’d never felt foreboding as I did, spreading through my cranium to every one of my bones, that morning on my bed.

In a few hours I would be on that technological symbol of European partnership, the Eurostar, on my way to Toulouse to attend the Marathon des Mots, a literary festival where I would have the honour of watching a French actor dramatically read from my crime novel.

Crime. That was what was taking me to France, howbeit the type committed by homo-fictus on the pages of a book. But all through that journey to France, my mind was consumed by another type of crime, a great crime that had been committed by real people, real men, real women, real politicians, who lied and obscured their way to victory.

Hardly hours after the win, the leading figures of Brexit were backing away from promises made for votes. The morning was hardly over before it became apparent that more money wasn't going to be saved to go into funding the NHS, migrant figures were not going to reduced, and article 50, the exit button from the European union, was not going to be automatically invoked. As I write, a date is still to be set for this monumental feat. 

But this is not a blog about politics or the Brexit vote, or Mr Farage, as completing a Machiavellian character as he would make. This is a post about crime - more precisely about writing crime fiction in a post Brexit world.

Without Euro villains free to move in and out of the UK, authors will be forced to brush up on immigration procedures, visa statuses, and implications of committing crime in the UK while not a UK citizen, and being nicked by the British Police. Ditto for other authors in EU Europe. Far-fetched, maybe, but things have changed. The stories will have to change to.

What of past works, published books that took for granted the free movement of Europeans? Will they suddenly become dated now? Worse still, manuscripts written and edited and proofed and readied before the vote. Are editors demanding rewrites now?

A single slight change in a technical detail can necessitate a total rethink and reworking of an entire plot, or a premise, or even a character; a train station that has recently undergone a refurbishment, a notorious neighbourhood afflicted with gentrification. Even a new streetlamp on the corner of the street can derail an entire plot - because now the villain could have been seen as he buried the keepsake trinket he stole from his victim. The tiny details matter.

Tiny changes are amplified into big rewrites. Slight changes send ripples of destruction through our carefully pruned storylines, how much more an unprecedented event like the UK exiting the European union?

What if the colour of the British passport reverts to blue? What if Scotland and Northern Ireland break away? What if the monarchy becomes the biggest casualty? (Some fool leaked to the press that the Queen was for Brexit.) What if hate crime, geometrically increased in the time since the vote, reaches a height so unimaginable, so un-anticipatable, from which the nation never recovers? What if this newly prominent type of crime becomes so, so dominant that to write of crime in the UK without dealing with hate crime would make your entire plot implausible? 

Implausible? I think not. In my 17 years in London, and my 40 years upon terra firma, only in the days after the outcome of the Brexit referendum did I first experience physical hate crime. It happened in Clapham Junction Station, in the underpass, the busiest station in terms of rail traffic in Europe. A well timed, well planted shoulder into my chest. And when I turned round to accept an apology, the much smaller man squared up to me, poked his finger at my face and through gritted teeth told me to ‘Go home.’

The vote, it seems, has legitimised hate.

Personally, and I think prudently, I will continue to set my books in Nigeria where things are constant and there is no threat of change: there’s still no steady supply of electricity, the police force is still under paid, under trained, under equipped, and under motivated, thieving politicians still make the laws, billionaire pastors are still profiting from fear of God that permeates everything, and the boarders remain as porous as the day they were drawn in pencil across paper maps.


  1. Welcome, Leye! Well met. Of course, one could always set their story in a make-believe place and time (Kittenshire, deep in southern Dimwell, in the reign of the seventh Caesar of Santorini... well, maybe not), or set firmly in a year of your social choosing. But yes, for those who want to write topical "current events" thrillers and such, so is the the thrill and risk of living on the edge. :-)

  2. The limitations...Well put Leye. But then, where there's a will, there's a way...

  3. We are having much the same rise in racially inspired incidents here in the States - without Brexit, but with Trump.

  4. Welcome, Leye. I am so happy you have joined us. AND so sorry you had to experience such an assault on your person and your dignity. I loved meeting you in London and look forward to your posts.

  5. Brexit has a lot to play out still. The amazing thing was, since no one expected the result of the referendum, that no one had a Plan A!

  6. Welcome. Your voice is so needed and appreciated.

    The horrors that Brexit unleashed are underreported in the States, and so horrendous.

    We all hope that sanity and humanity take over and the bigotry stops.

  7. So pleased to see you here, Leye! (We met briefly in Lyon, where you signed a book for me, although I now have to get it in English too, as I prefer reading it in the original). I too hate to see Nigel Farage's smirk and don't understand why he keeps on popping up in the media! I've just moved back to the UK and I have noticed more people seem to be commenting on my 'foreign' name now than when I first came to the UK.

  8. Welcome Leye. So sorry it took me until now to publicly greet you, but I've been lost in New Orleans amid the bubble of reason known as Bouchercon, and detached from the real world known as Brexumpia, where up is down, down is up, truth is irrelevant, and tolerance non-existent. I'd say let us pray, but it appears these days it's more "let us prey." I fear for the direction of our allegedly civilized world. Passions run far too deeply for reason to seemingly plumb.

    Thank you, Leye, for bringing your voice to the match.