To ignore or denounce violence as a storyteller seems irresponsible, since conflict is fundamental to the art, as far as I can see. I wish that I could agree with my staunchly-pacifist friends who look like they want to kick my head in every time we lock horns on the subject, but I know that the most violence they’ve had to contend with is being thrown in a bush at school and therefore, our weltanschauungen are just different. Some of them even blame me for propagating violence by writing about it, which really shows how little they understand it.
My parents had a nightclub and three off-licences in town. When I was four, I used to clean the sick out of the toilets and save the empty bottles of Newcastle Brown for jukebox Jimi Hendrix money. Violence was a part of my life from as far back as I can remember, whether it was my nan throwing boiling chip fat over protection racketeers, the bouncers kung-fu-ing the shit out of some unlucky bloke or my mother being threatened with a syringe full of HIV+ blood, it was always around. I had death threats sent to my school at the age of six from local gangsters, happy about neither my father’s resistance to their proposed protection schemes, nor the scars from the chip fat. By sixteen, I was sitting in vans with bouncers, waiting to go into tower blocks to retrieve bin bags of stolen cigarettes; guarding ram-raided premises with a baseball bat all night; confronting would-be armed robbers before they pulled the gun/knife on my family working in the off-licence. The following day I would have to be back in school in my prefect’s cape, trying not to fall asleep in Latin lessons on Cicero’s speeches to the senate.
When I was 19 and studying English and Philosophy at Liverpool University, I was the victim of a violent crime that would change me forever. Sleep became a thing of the past: impossible until I reached the point of exhaustion after a few days and pass out, but even then I was tortured by nightmares, mostly regarding the illusions that we not only live by, but survive by in a so-called civilised society. I suspended studies for a year and in that year, they reintroduced tuition fees, making the option of returning more difficult. Having worked with OMD and Atomic Kitten in a Liverpool studio for a few years, I pursued a career in the music business and left for Nashville, which was almost as traumatising as the violent crime, but that’s for another blog post, perhaps.
Please bear in mind that none of this even made it into A Smaller Hell: when I returned from Nashville, LA and New York with nothing and started working at the department store in town, the violence became more nebulous than a simple punch in the mouth or knife to the throat. The whole thing was like some bizarre psychological experiment, shot through with elitism, sexual weirdness and Machiavellian cruelty. And this is from someone who had been working in the music business for a few years.
It was at this time that information about corrupt corporations and governments began to leak on to the internet in a big way, and I began making comparisons between the store manager and these larger-scale villains. I also began to delve deeper into the part that narcissism played in all of this, and that helped me to forge the character of Dianne Doyle. It felt like a process of zooming in and out of various concepts for both comic and disturbing effect, which is reflected in the title somewhat. It was the absurdity of the manager’s craven need for control within the outdated, grandiose crucible of a traditional department store that really inspired me. Her psychological violence was always calculated, insidious, subtle and usually, amazingly effective at bending staff members to her will.
I am not championing violence by portraying it in accordance with my experiences: I hate it more than anything. However, to water down what I have learnt through painful experience would render my writing redundant, not only to me, but to anyone reading it. I find it difficult to apologise or even sympathise with anyone “offended” by violence in storytelling, because existence itself is a form of violence: as a consequence of sexual congress (itself a violent act), our spirits are plucked from the dark shelves of the netherworld, stuffed into pink bags of flesh, bone and blood and ejected through some poor lady’s bits into a world where the screaming never ends. Who would choose it? The rest of the multiverse would have to be hellish in comparison.
Have a nice day.
Check out A Smaller Hell and let me know what you think in the comments.