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The Author Giveth, and the Author Taketh Away

Updated: May 15, 2021

To all the ones I've killed before...

I’ve never been one to get sentimental over significant firsts: my first ‘love’ was a one weekend wonder set up by my best friend and her boyfriend – one of his work mates. We shared their spare room after a heady night of bingo down the Miners’ Welfare. I don’t recall any romantic details, just that his name was Lee. I suppose I thought myself heartbroken when I returned from the phone box, clutching the number he’d given me, scrawled on the back of a beer mat, but the hurt was as fleeting as the heads on our pints. First car? Never owned one. First Home? I lived there for a year or so before signing everything over to my ex and walking away with nothing, so no wistful trips down memory lane there. A sure way to get your request played on the radio is to attach a little story about where you were the first time you heard so-and-so or the first such-and-such gig you went to. I can count on one hand the bands I’ve seen live and non were exactly formative experiences. I couldn’t live without music, but I can live without muddy fields, queuing in the freezing cold, over priced alcohol, late starts and spending longer in line for the loo than I spend standing up in front of the seat I’ve paid over the odds for. Not to mention the monolithic oaf in front, obstructing my view of the stage and the fact that I’ve paid to listen to a bunch of tone deaf pilgrims massacre some of my favourite songs. And don’t even get me started on festivals. It was bad enough putting up with has-been rockers disgracing themselves on reality TV shows; now they’ve been given licence to churn out their back-catalogue to a whole new audience and release new material. They’ve convinced themselves and apparently the entire hipster zeitgeist that they’re still credible, when in fact they are just watered down, insipid cover versions of themselves. Since when did listening to your dad’s record collection become dope… or Gucci… or whatever word passes for cool these days? If I was a Gen Z’er, I’d be protesting for a music scene that speaks for me. Let’s face it, we’re a dead species walking – can’t someone come up with a descent extinction score to play us off our spoiled coil?

Well, that took a direction I wasn’t expecting. I actually set off writing this here blog intending to ruminate on my first kill.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the characters I’ve killed off. I don’t know if it’s a ‘writer thing’, but I feel more attached to some of my characters than the real life humans I spend most of my workaday time with. Maybe it’s a side effect of living alone and spending hours upon hours in my own head. The first character I killed was Justin. He died too soon, his battery life barely into its first hour. He was impaled upon the tusk of a narwhal statue years before Darryn Frost fought off a terrorist using the lance that has since become as legendary as the beast itself. It seems that life can indeed imitate art. And this first has stuck with me. Whenever I plan a hit, I remember Justin and the painstaking effort I put into the set piece of his demise. Every Boonhill bod I’ve bumped off since has prompted a moment’s silence for the dearly departed Justin; their deaths must attest to his sacrifice. Because, let’s face it, in the fantasy that is my life as successful novelist, Justin’s death will go down in chat show history. So yes, there is no doubt at all that he was my first.

Or was it the doctor’s husband? Does it count if they died in the backstory? Kieth Moncur met with his end when a session of autoerotic asphyxiation went wrong. Predating Justin by an entire book. And then there was good old Trotsky, the poster dog of True Labour – stuffed and mounted in the annals of Boonhill’s deceased. But no, that one definitely doesn’t count because he died of old age. And I mustn’t forget hard drinking ne’er-do-well Nobby Nixon, I didn’t even honour him with a cause of death. He only gets a mention at all to develop his long-suffering widow’s character; her graveside serenades really bring her to life. I suppose these ‘dead-alreadies’ are the fictional equivalent of still-births really.

Something that could hardly be said for Grace Hardwick’s second child. His mother meets her end when Teddy Hardwick causes her to fall down the stairs of their end terrace house. If you’ve ever shifted furniture up and down the stairs of a terraced house, you’ll be familiar with that heart-stopping moment when your foot slips and your own obituary flashes before your eyes. Grace dies and the son she was carrying is her albatross in the afterlife – she is forced to drag around her ghost child who is still attached umbilacally. More of a still-death that still-birth.

Evaluating my proclivity for doing in my own creations, I could put it down to a self-destructive streak. Remember that house I walked away from? I did that TWICE. I could say I was following the advice of my short story tutor at Uni to ‘murder my darlings’, but that would be obtuse of me. I could get all Stoic and claim that my often irreverent death narratives reflect the transience between life and death and the need to embrace our own mortality. I could cite Existential theory and claim that the deaths of my characters represent some symbolic death, resulting from a great struggle for identity. Or am I just on a power trip? I have to say, when I swept young Justin up and thrust him onto that spike – I did get a writer’s rush.

Yes, death is part of life’s inevitable cycle. But what of abuse and cruelty? These are distinctly human creations, are they not? When I chose to subject the male population of one book to a regime of psycho-torture, was this a vicarious vengeance for the years of gas-lighting and coercion I had experienced? In real life, I detest bullies; I’m a pacifist and I have the white poppy to prove it. I can’t even kill a fly or a spider, so conscious am I of the sentience of all things. I’m a ‘good person’, but if I was a character in a book, I’d be a crashing bore. There’s a reason we have a crime genre but no ‘do-gooder’ alternative; we’re fascinated by the dark side of human nature. Partly because it is so far removed from our day-to-day reality; but also, because there are moments when all of us wish we could stab through the heart our boss; our partner; that lout three doors down who always parks in our space, leaving his souped up Mondeo’s alarm blaring while we’re trying to watch Hollyoaks; that officious call centre operative; the driver of that Audi who cut us up at the last lights; that sycophantic, talentless fop who took our promotion; or the IT technician who asks if we’ve tried a restart (especially when that’s all it takes).

So, I’ll go on Making Bad and being boring. I’m currently cooking up the death of my latest victim; I’m watching her movements and gaining her trust. I think it’s going to be my best yet.

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