I’ve been pondering on the seeming contradiction between Mandy the wimp (who rescues spiders from the bath, mice from the cat, catches and releases blowflies, can’t even listen to violence on TV and films) and Mandy the writer (who writes pretty damn graphically about both sexual and physical violence, and isn’t averse to adding the odd ‘fuck’ here and there.) How is it I can do this – and why do I go to these dark places at all?
I think it boils down to authenticity and truth telling. I write because I have identified something that I feel needs further exploration, and I want my readers to engage in the particular issue I’m addressing as well. Not that I expect people to think and feel the same way I do, but because I want to open a discussion on the ethics of each situation... present a point of view that isn’t always canvassed in so-called ‘mainstream’ media, then leave it to the reader to think about and rule on.
It seems to me that we are all at risk of gross desensitisation to violence, given the diet we are fed on TV and film in particular. Violence (or crime) on TV, for instance, has become so prevalent on our screens that the underlying horror of these situations is often buried beneath the stylised slickness of the production. We accept that every week, in an increasing majority of programmes, we are privy to dead bodies, acts of cruelty and a general meanness of spirit that feeds into our everyday lives. I’m not asking for a return to The Waltons (well, actually that would be nice!) or Pollyanna, but a little more compassion and kindness depicted in creative content sure as hell wouldn’t go amiss!
So, why then, you may ask, do I write about violence in my books at all? My hope is that by creating characters that the reader really cares about (and truthfully depicting violence in all its sheer awfulness) we get to see the real horror and damage wrought by violence, rather than the Hollywood hype (i.e. poor old Coyote may be able to rise from the dead time after time when Roadrunner nukes him but real people can’t!) I believe young people need to understand that there are long term consequences for both victim and perpetrator – that there is nothing sexy about a dead body, a gun battle, domestic violence or rape; that they are all gross violations and the perpetrators, far from being admired (or glorified, as is happening more and more often these days), deserve our condemnation.
The writers of that ghastly programme Dexter work hard to make you care about a serial killer; so too the writers of the latest crop of programmes about motor cycle gangs etc. In the CSI genres the bodies are chopped up, pontificated over and totally dehumanised, while in the shoot-‘em-ups the heroes always dodge the bullet (this, my friends is not the case in real life). Violence hurts people and can destroy whole lives, families, communities, nations... if we’re going to address this creeping desensitisation we have to reveal the real consequences of these types of violent acts. I believe it’s my job to make my readers want to vomit at the thought of my characters suffering violent death or injury, if I am ever going to help shift the mindset of the next media-washed generation to a more peaceful place.
I guess all this is by way of saying that if you’re horrified by the violence in my books, well, so am I! That’s why I write it: to debunk those dangerous media myths.
As for bad language... I’m sorry, but really, in comparison to all the terrible things going on in the world, does it matter? As a writer, it’s my job to create a convincing character on the page – one who you can believe would think and sound exactly as a real person would. If I write an 18 year old boy in today’s world, then chances are his vocabulary is going to contain the odd shit and fuck! Get over it! Expressive language never killed anyone – lies, deceit, lack of respect for others, greed, brutality, power and control are the killers we should be outing with such moral enthusiasm! If we’re going to be hyper-vigilant about the content of our books for young people then target these!
Herein ends the rant!