Thursday, 23 September 2010

Who's Side are you On?

On the discussion yesterday about what informs our writing, B.R. Statham posted the following:

'For me, it's the concept of Justice. Or the lack of it in the literary world. The bad guys are taking over. Anarchy is now the King. Long live the king! Naw . . . not for me. I want heroes. Honest to god heroes. They may be cops. They may be an assassin (I write about both, by the way). But they've got to face the darkness. . . the anarchy . . and make it pay.

It's just that simple. For me, at least.'

Apart from being a great post, it made me realise I have never once ever contemplated writing a story where the mc is what you might call 'on the right side of the law'.  All my characters, I hope, fit B.R.'s brilliant description of the anarchy, and I would consider each of mine a hero, in my view, anyway.  But the thought of writing from the pov of a detective or a cop with the same characteristics just never occurred to me.

In my stories, I always  try show the broken and the dispossesd, the ragged, in a human light, be they killers or lunatics.  But what is it to be on the other side, the side of the law?  Keeping these killers and lunatics in check, tracking them down?  Is their a morality that come into play here?  Right and wrong?  As B.R. says, justice? 

Or can it be, and I'm thinking of my experience as a counsellor here, just two damaged people sitting opposite eachother in a room? 


  1. You got me thinking Ian. To me, it'd be proper hard to write an honest, dead-straight down the line hero. The bad-folks we write about have no restraints, so to me the hero has to break the rules to get the job done. Bad .v. Justice is a footy pitch where the bad-guys goal is slimmer than the ball, and justice's is big enough for fourteen Anneka Rice's bottoms.

  2. It's that underdog thing, isn't it, Lee? Sort of runs in the English blood. If we are wanting to write likeable characters, characters our readers can identify with and will to succeed, if that really is the point, then even the cops need to be just a heartbeat away from the crims. But then, hasn't that dodgy cop who gets results by any means necessary really been done to death? Enough to be something of a cliche, even? I reckon that's where the PI comes in. To all intents and purposes a normal, flawed, individual, not one representing an organisation, just a bloke with a job to do. Nick Quantrill's Joe Gereghty being an excellent example.

    Apart from Anneka Rice's arse being a crime unto humanity itself, I never thought it would be so difficult to envisage writing a character on the 'right' side of the law.

    Cheers for your thoughts, Lee. Much appreciated.

  3. Just off the top of my bonce, the flawed heroes work best,for me, anyway. In films, for example, you don't have to look for extremes. Cary Grant in North By North West & Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window & Vertigo are more interesting to me than, say, Rambo.

  4. Agree with you a hundred per cent, Paul. That's what Nick does so well with his Joe Geraghty character. I think it works so well in Nick's Broken Dreams because Joe, although technically on the right side of the law, is up against Big Business and a notorious gangster. If a cop were to invesitgate the crime, he'd have to be pretty flawed for me to identify with. Flawed criminals, I get. Flawed PI's, I get. But I find it really hard to identify with a flawed cop. L.A. Confidential has loads of them, and as much as I love that book, I can't say I ever really felt for any of the characters.

    Might be just me.

  5. Mark Billingham does the flawed cop well in Bloodlines.

  6. Not read any of Mark Billingham, Paul, to my shame. But he's on my ever-expanding list. I wonder if there's a difference between the English concept of justice in the sense B.R. talked about, and the American perception. When you mention the likes of Rambo, and all the gung-ho sorts over there, I begin to wonder what the literary differences are in the crime/noir genre. Perhaps an argument for another day. Tomorrow sounds good :)

  7. Ian, I'm not talking about a Rambo kind of hero. Nor, for that matter, the hero found in a Raymond Chandler novel: the cynic who looks at the world as a gigantic pit of lost souls. No. I'm looking for a hero who has his own limitations, his own foibles . . .who sometimes bends the rules to the point of breaking . . .but in the end realizes its the rules which keep us from becoming the carnivores of the world. Where you are either the hunter or the hunted. Without rules there is not civilization. There are no humans.

  8. And it's that fine line, isn't it, B.R., that breaking point where we find the seething pit of noir. Agree with you wholeheartedly about the limitations thing, about being the hero of your own life. Still not sure the character on the side of law and order - the hunter - has as much licence to push the boundaries as the character on the other side of the fence - the hunted, but perhaps that lies solely with the skill of the writer. I suppose I'm just not up to that sort of challenge yet.

  9. Oh, I agree with you, Ian. The crook, the madman, the bad guy HAS no rules to follow. He's perfectly free to do whatever he wants since he has no conscience. But the hero I'm talking about does. Has a conscience. Has regrets. And ever time he steps over the line, which we all do ocassionally, that conscience kicks in and there are consequences he must live with for a long, long time. To me, a far more interesting character.

  10. I think I'm seeing where you're coming from now, B.R. Both perp and cop caught in a system. I'd like to think the perp, the interesting ones anyway, also might have a code of ethics. Have you seen the film 'In Bruges'? The nutter gangster in that has this thing about that if you ever kill a child, even by accident, you blow your brains out on the spot. One of his men kills a child by accident, so the gangster puts a hit out on him. After a number of events, the end of the film has the gangster shooting the man, and thinking he's shot a child at the same time(the child is in fact a dwarf in a school uniform - part of a film shoot). On the spot, the gangster puts the gun in his own mouth and pulls the trigger. A warped sort of integrity, but makes for such an interesting character.

    I feel I've learnt a little bit more today.

    Thank you, my friend.

    All the best,