I used to work in a department store where there was a manager who ruled with something of a manicured iron fist. She actually used to get kicks out of reprimanding staff and subverting their relationships, which she would achieve in very subtle ways. She was a maestro of negativity, conducting us like an orchestra and luring us into making mistakes, just so that she could make a show of whichever poor wretch was on her hitlist that day.
She wasn’t without charm, though, which is why I thought that she would make a great villain. The longer I worked there, the more rumours I heard and the more I saw with my own eyes, the more intriguing she became. She used the workplace hierarchy and corporate targets for her own ends, none of which were actually concerned with profit margins.
This, and certain other experiences led me to study psychology in a bid to demystify the motives in any kind of cruelty, whereupon I learnt about psychopathy and its causes/effects. When writing A Smaller Hell, I took an example of a philanthropist in Joseph Williamson, who built the famous tunnels in Liverpool, and summoned him in the founder of the department store: Commander Clarence Tanner. The idea was to have Dianne Doyle be a personification of slick and shiny corporate psychopathy in contrast to Tanner’s long-standing philosophy of providing work for the families of the town, giving to charity and generally keeping a fire burning for the community to rally round.
I don’t like the fact that business has become all-consuming and all-important. It’s made me uncomfortable for a long time and the more I learn about the skulduggery that underpins the corporate world, the more I become convinced that my fears are well-founded. I find it vulgar – even creepy – when people say “it’s good for the economy” about some morally-dubious initiative that our politicians are undertaking, as if the economy is some kind of god or idol that we should all kneel and worship, even at the expense of our own humanity.
Dianne Doyle is the face that I’ve given to those fears. She is everything that’s dangerous about money and sex. She’s also the mischievous authoritarian and cruel hedonist, whose greatest act of manipulation and deception is charted in A Smaller Hell and unfolds to reveal that “the Devil can sometimes do a very gentlemanly thing”, as Robert Louis Stevenson said.