Friday, 1 May 2015

WRITING FOR REVENGE by VALERIE LAWS

Writers who get their evil on. Bwahahahaha!
Just musing, should I murder my ex? Hmmm. A fellow-writer, fictional but then aren’t we all one way or another, Richard Castle in the eponymous TV series, says There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking about how to kill people: psychopaths and mystery writers. I’m a crime writer (and not a psychopath at all, honestly. No, really.) And I suspect that quite a few authors have bumped off or tormented in print those they have reason to dislike in ways the law of the land unsportingly refuses to sanction.
Advice for writers

‘I like to write when I feel spiteful. It is like having a good sneeze.’ Thus DH Lawrence, and it is obviously true, he must have felt malevolent when he saddled us with his whiney novels and cluelessness about female orgasms. But perhaps writing for spite is more common than gamekeepers shagging posh birds? (Oops, unfortunate kinky image conjured up there! You’re welcome!)
Sean Bean as Mellors, ultimate Bit of Rough, justifies entire prose output of DH Lawrence. 

This may sound unhealthy and bitter, but it can also be seen as a Good Thing – working off resentment to create Art to be enjoyed by others – dealing with one’s demons by making them work for us and even earn us a few squids. As a poet, novelist and playwright who knows a lot of other writers, I’ve witnessed this phenomenon several times in various genres. Not surprisingly, it’s often ex-lovers and -spouses who get the chop or comeuppance, not just from crime writers but literary or romantic novelists, or poets. Sometimes the output of a writer can form a chart of a relationship. First, a rapturous novel about a Great Love, in which they themselves, just recognisable despite loss of weight, wrinkles and less attractive habits, fall into the arms of an equally recognisable, to those in the know, lover who is strangely more needy, devoted, and grateful in fiction than their real-life counterpart. Fast-forward to the acrimonious break-up, as the not at all needy inamorata moves on with barely so much as a ‘you are so dumped☺’ text message, and the broken-hearted author’s next oeuvre consists of the still recognisable but evil, heartless ex being offed in numerous ingenious, horrible but clearly cathartic ways.
'No, I expect you to DIE for dumping me by text, you heart-breaker!'

Poets perform rapturous pieces about the beloved and sometimes share rather more about their sub-duvet activities than you really want to hear, especially when the subject of the sex is in the audience. Then the love object seeks duvets new, and howls of pain crafted into blank verse result. There are people who serially date writers and poets, god knows why, but some of them do get around, and their love life is more or less an anthology waiting to happen.
I'd rather write my revenge than sew it, but each to their own! Zero Twitter followers, ouch!
There is an element of revenge in many books or poems, not only on exes but also other enemies. I confess that my second crime novel THE OPERATOR in which surgeons are inventively murdered and mutilated to mock the operations they perform, may well involve some left-over hard feelings from my months in hospital and years of treatment for disabling injuries – the occasional cold-hearted, callous or even seemingly sadistic consultant makes you feel even more helpless and vulnerable when you have just lost your autonomy and life-choices, are in horrible pain and unable to go to an actual toilet when you want to.
Exciting action packed thriller, or revenge for cold bed pans and being woken up at 5am?
What about the school bully who beat you up and terrorised you, or the teacher who picked on you, casting a shadow over your childhood and still lurking at the back of your subconscious? What about the nasty boss who belittled you, took credit for your ideas, and sacked you to make way for their nephew? They could be an excellent choice for the victim of an unpleasant end, or years of suffering, or indeed, they could become the villain of your story. Not only writing about this, but the retrospective analysis from an adult perspective may reveal things about the situation which enable the writer to forgive, if not forget.
Thinks: 'When I grow up, I'm going to make you suffer in my novel, shame you can't read!'
We each have our own Villains’ Gallery of ready-made characters, all the more vivid because of the intense feelings we have about them. Writing primarily for therapy, in the sense of pouring out feelings onto the page or screen, may be helpful for the individual but may not create books others would want to read. An element of detachment is required for that, to say nothing of skill and insight. However, Revenge Lit may produce top quality reading, as the revenge is only a facet of the whole work. As writers we often grow fond of our characters, even the evil ones, because we understand them and what drives them, which may help us to put our past into perspective and gain peace, as well as a stonking good story. So dig out some grudges, let them see the light of day, and do unto them on the page what you were much too civilised to do in real life. In the meantime, I’ve been commissioned to write a crime story for an exciting anthology, so whom shall I murder next… hmmm… bwahahahaha!

Visit my website valerielaws.com to see what else I'm up to: follow me on Twitter @ValerieLaws.

MY play about John Simpson Kirkpatrick, beloved hero of Gallipoli THE MAN AND THE DONKEY is on at Customs House Theatre in his birthplace South Shields from 19th-23rd May for the centenary of his death saving lives with his donkey. Do come if you are in the area.

Some of my thirteen books are now on Kindle UK US, iBooks UK USKoboNook and more, on all platforms worldwide.

12 comments:

Jan Needle said...

Brilliant. (Except for Sean Bean. Don't fancy him at all. Sorry)

JO said...

Oh yes. I know two people that I have to see regularly (no names, for obvious reasons) who are truly unpleasant. I manage them by observing them closely, changing names and circumstances but putting them in a novel - which they will never read as they can't see the point. It makes it possible for me to spend the time I must with them without wanting to smack them!!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Fabulous, funny piece. And I cannot tell a lie, I've done it more than once in more than one book. Some characters have affectionate borrowings of traits from people I have known and liked - but one or two are quite definitely little pieces of revenge. It's almost easier to do that with minor characters I feel, because you're right - with main characters you do get to know and understand them. I can think of at least one character who - I realised via the novel and a heavily disguised fictional creation - wasn't just as bad as I'd thought her! With you on Sean Bean too.

Sandra Horn said...

Great stuff! I tell children in school workshops that you can turn a bully into, say, a slug in a story and no-one but you (and anyone you care to tell) will know.

Chris Longmuir said...

Two writers of my acquaintance who write best-selling books in the traditional way, and I'm mentioning no names here, swap murders eg if they have a run-in with someone, the other author murders the offending person, and vice versa.

Lydia Bennet said...

Thanks all, and Chris, Strangers on a Train re-worked, swapping murders, love it!

Susan Price said...

Great post, Valerie. Made me laugh aloud. And I fancy Sean Bean too, though more as Lord Stark than Mellors.

I think it's mostly political hate figures I've given a kicking too. Windor, in the Sterkarm books, is firmly based on a hated politician - but distressingly, as I characterised him, I came to think he was quite often right, which wasn't what I wanted at all.

But I still do hate the politician he was based on. Of his own free will, and fully aware of the results of his actions, he worked for THAT party...

Reb MacRath said...

I'm in the act of murdering two brothers in my newest. Well done, Val!

Mari Biella said...

Brilliant! The writer's revenge may be subtle, but it is very, very long-lasting...

Bill Kirton said...

Great, Valerie. And you can definitely add me to the list. I even took revenge on behalf of a stranger in one of mine. He was a waiter who served us dinner one evening. He had a west country accent (and we're in Scotland), I remarked on it and said he was a long way from home, whereupon he told me he needed to get as far away as possible because a drunk driver had killed his wife and two daughters and served only 6 months of his sentence. AS the waiter put it 'That's 2 months for each life. I felt so sorry for him that I eventually wrote The Darkness. It was of no use to him, of course, but I exorcised my own feelings about it.

Anonymous said...

Of course the snag comes when you write someone in revenge and your editor says nobody could be so horrid.

Umberto Tosi said...

A long time friend, Lewis Perdue - who has authored dozens of successful thrillers - does something of the opposite of what you describe. He names minor characters after friends (with their permission) and kills them off. I had the honour of being bumped off in one of Lew's nail-biter novels back in the 1990s, when my namesake met a gruesome end at the hands of a hit man hired by international conspirators (naturally). It's become something of an exclusive club: friends who've been "murdered" by Lewis Perdue.