So for the first time I’m handing my blog over to someone else, Andy Graham no less, and boy has he written up a doozy of a post. Read, Enjoy, comment if you feel the need.
“You want me to write a blog?”
“Anything except politics.”
Here it is, then, my non-political blog post.
‘Trump’s in it for himself.’
‘Corbyn’s an unelectable socialist.’
‘May is . . . well, not sure even she knows what she is given all her U-turns.’
And so on and so forth.
Rattled a few cages? I hope not. I’m just trying to make a point. People try to sum up what happens in the world in soundbite explanations, but a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t always work. Like a big man in a small suit, pint in a shot glass, etc.
The problem is complexity. It doesn’t suit everyone. Most people (including myself) want their politicians to be easy to understand, someone who’s going to give them a simple solution to a difficult problem, someone to cheer and someone to jeer. Just like the characters in our stories, which is what I’m trying to get at.
I’ve read a lot of books where the baddies are bad, and the goodies are good. There’s a moral ocean between them, and no need for a compass to find out which way is which.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s absolutely fine if you want your fiction predictable. And I do, too. Sometimes. But Lord Grimdark (AKA Joe Abercrombie) sums it up best in his novel The Heroes when the world-weary Curnden Craw says: “People like simple stories, but people ain’t simple.”
That’s exactly why people like simple stories. The world is already a complicated place, and belief systems such as politics and religion (don’t worry, I’m not going there!) provide answers. For some, fiction has a similar role in that it gives people something or someone to identify with.
I’m not saying these things should be treated equally, but they can all help in picking out the good guys/gals from the bad, right from wrong, and so on. In doing so, they make a complicated world simple. (Though, if you were to read anything online these days, the pontif**kating Internet intellectuals seem to have life summed up nice and easy.)
Now, before I wander any further up my own backside with my hack-philosophy, what’s this got to do with me and my writing (‘cos that’s kind of why I’m here)?
I’m cursed with the need to see things from the other point of view. I’m forever adding caveats and disclaimers to comments I make when I teach (sports massage) or treat (osteopathy). I’m trying to get my kids to think about facts rather than just accept them (they are making me think much more than the other way round, to be honest). My books are full of anti-heroes and people whose motives are as clear as an oil slick. I guess I could be accused of trying to be everything to everyone and refusing to take sides, but I think I’m simply attempting to write about the world as it is: grey, not black and white.
That is one of the recurring comments about The Lords of Misrule (my main series – dark, dystopian political fiction with a smattering of violence): the books are morally ambiguous. Some people love them for that realism. Others are turned off for that same reason.
So, with An Angel Fallen (my most recent work), I wanted to address that. The result is my most morally binary story to date. I feel it’s also the best story I’ve written. Maybe the latter is because I’m improving as a writer, or maybe the clearer lines I’m drawing in my text are helping.
There is still some ambiguity in An Angel Fallen. One of the main characters is an evil sod, but there’s a sentence which explains why he might be that way. The angel (yup – there really is an angel in the story) is a mash up of vengeance and forgiveness. The alcoholic mother has a reason for possessing the emotional depth of a slug. (And at this point I should apologise to any gin drinkers reading this blog. It wasn’t Mr Juniper’s fault.)
I don’t want to take the ambiguity out completely. I like that style of writing. Moral flexibility is part of the push and pull of a good story. However, as a writer, I have actively realised that readers need islands of security, or even predictability, otherwise they tend to get lost in that moral ocean, wondering what is going on.
I’m learning as an author. My writing is improving. My prose is (believe it or not) tighter. My dialogue is sharper. So, perhaps soon, I’ll be able to build on An Angel Fallen, and stop sitting on my literal fence.
What about you? How do you like your characters and stories?
Andy Graham is a British author currently living in the Czech Republic who will now stop talking about himself in the third person because it’s odd. I have two main collections of books: The Lords of Misrule is a series of dystopian political thrillers set in an alternate world based on life in 21st century EU/ US. I also have an expanding collection of creepy reads that explore the darker side of life, death, and the undead. There are a few unfinished stories rattling around in my hard-drive and some unstarted ones knocking around in my head. They range from disposable airport fiction and YA sci fi to grimdark epics, but they will have to wait their turn. (Unfortunately for my wife, who is waiting for me to write something ‘nice’, preferably with sparkly vampires.) Outside of reading and writing, I’m a musician, qualified osteopath, seasoned insomniac, and father to two young kids who have too much energy to let me grow old gracefully.