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Getting violent – with a purpose

Neil Broadfoot

So what’s a nice guy like you doing writing violent stuff like this? 

Putting aside the debate on whether or not  I’m a nice guy (hint, best not call my fellow Bloke In Search of a Plot Douglas Skelton as a character witness), it’s a question I get asked quite a lot, and something that reviewers pick up on.  

Since I was first published back in 2014, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for writing books with a certain, ah, visceral edge.  In all honesty, it’s not something I’ve thought much about. But then last week, on a Zoom call with a fellow writer (which, in the Time Before would translate as going to the pub for a pint and a chat), he asked me how I was finding writing during this current insanity, and if my work had turned darker due to the world we’re living in. 

Looking back on my latest book, ‘The Point of No Return’, and the plans for where Connor is going in my next, ‘No Quarter Given’, I had to admit that yes, I am writing darker material these days. 

An admission. Writing violence can be fun. Working out a fight scene or an execution or a murder, then writing it as honestly and unflinchingly as you can, can be a cathartic experience and, as a writer, it’s a challenge you should never shy away from. 

That said, there is a balancing act. I’m always aware that these scenes have to serve the plot. There is a fine line between being honest and being schlocky – when what you’re writing stops serving the plot and starts serving a base, salacious desire for violent titillation. And that line is finer than ever given the world we find ourselves in at the moment, where the urge to vent our frustrations on our characters is stronger than ever and the prism we reflect the world through grows darker as politicians distort reality and nepotism and incompetence take a fatal toll worse than any plot twist I or my fellow writers could come up with. 

For me, violence is a  means to an end, an implement to get across a point to the reader and further the plot. But if I’m writing it just for the sake of it,  or to make myself feel better, then I’ve crossed the line and I’m failing in my duty to the book and the reader. 

Stuart MacBride said that, if you want to understand a certain period in history, read the contemporary crime fiction of the day. Crime writers reflect the world they live in, so it’s only natural the work being produced now will be darker than normal. But look closer, past the bullets and the uppercuts and you’ll find something else. Hope. The concept that actions have consequences and justice can be served. Hold onto those, have a few drinks with your pals in the Zoom Arms and we’’ll get through all this. 

And until then, I’ll keep killing folk (fictionally of course!) in the most inventive ways I can.