Thursday, July 1, 2021

"Let's be kind to everyone" and other raging controversies.

TRIGGER WARNING: survivors of childhood abuse who are in danger of PTSD episodes -  1. You are amazing and your grit and courage light up this world. 2. Don't read this blog, or at least stop reading when I suggest you should, about two thirds through. Love and loud cheers, Cx

Q: Have you written about any controversial issues or created controversial characters in your books? Do you raise issues of conscience or do you steer away from moral questions?

Great question. Great pair of questions, actually. 

The answer to the first one is . . . I don't think so. Or at least not deliberately. Which is to say, it's a big world and it's got some very strange people in it so there's always going to be someone who finds controversary somewhere, but I haven't mined stuff that I find controversial in anything I've written yet.

Exhibit A: not a controversy-soaked tale

So, for example, I genuinely don't know what I think about physician-assisted suicide. I can appreciate the arguments on both sides, and the repercussions of both extremes, and I've never been able to make up my mind which way I'd jump if it came to a vote. I've also never written about it.

The stuff I have written about - cannibalism, physical abuse, psychological torture, and of course murder are issues that most reasonable people agree are pretty poor sorts of things on the whole.

Folk find religions controversial, don't they? I've written hysterical fundamentalists, but I've also written compassionate priests and deacons, and some of the sweetest nuns who ever donned a wimple. (It might be controversial to choose to depict kind nuns running an orphanage - given what we know about forced adoptions and the mass graves of infants. I didn't mean it as a denial of our harsh reality though. If anything I meant it as respite from it, the same way mysteries where justice is served are a respite from the endless grind of corruption and indifference.)

More details here

And then there's politics. Again, I wouldn't say I've written anything controversial. I've never touched on deficit reduction v spending, the best way to encourage energy conservation, sensible approaches to the funding of public education. Call me a quitter but I don't think politics would fit comfortably into any of the stories that bubble up in me. Of course, I write things that some other people would find political, because some other people have a self-serving habit of calling their own vapid cold-heartedness a reasonable position, and calling any criticism of it "dragging politics into everything". But we're onto them, right? So when I write about love, compassion, acceptance, fairness, and the profound joy to be had in celebrating diversity . . . there ain't no politics involved.

(If you look very closely you might be able to see what I did there.)

The second question - about conscience and morals - is another matter. I think we all write about them all the time. If our books look amoral or uninterested in conscience, we've probably made an even stronger statement about both than if our characters constantly agonise about doing right and frequently realign their compasses as they let life in.

Anyone with the PTSD I talked about above should stop reading now. Love and hugs, Cx

There's a character I would love to write, who would be a fascinating - to me anyway - nest of conflict. And that's a "virped". The term describes a virtuous paedophile; an adult who has paedophilia as an unchosen aspect of their personality, but who recognises it as inherently wrong and never to be indulged. These people are heroic, in my opinion. If you are not a paedophile, it's very easy not to commit paedophilia. And most of us - let's be honest - give way to our (massively much milder) worst selves sometimes, don't we? The "virped" lives a more moral life than me. 

But. And it's a big one - I have never written a solemn book. I've written gothically dark books but always set at the place where gothic darkness tips over into hilarity. (See the amateur taxidermists in The Reek of Red Herrings, for example. Wouldn't you agree that any self-respecting dotty taxidermist has the same dream . . .?) So, I'll never write about a virped. I don't want to write a book sombre enough to earn the privilege. And my kind of book, with black humour and a delight in absurdities, would be an conscienceless moral outrage.

More details here

Instead, I'll stick with my little bit of ivory two inches wide: the corrosive nature of secrets, the unbearable weight of respectability, the search for found family, the mess of life with its moments of transcendance. 

Although - and this only just occurred to me as I write (Now that's what you call a pantser!) - my new book, A GINGERBREAD HOUSE, out in the US next month, does have a plot element / theme that one foreign publisher said was too dark and too upsetting for their list. I'm not sure that constitutes controversy, but it's the closest I've come. Hey - why not read it and decide for yourself? It's out on the 3rd of August and I have no shame.

Buy links here


Ann said...

Having read all of your collection that's "fit to print", so to speak, and I pray you keep on keeping on with what you do.

BTW, those taxidermists in THE REEK OF RED HERRINGS? Might be the creepiest thing you've written and the one that made me laugh the hardest. I do hope that was intended.

You are one of the kindest and funniest people I know, but then I'm prejudiced

Catriona McPherson said...

Of course, you were meant to laugh! I laughed as I wrote it. I laughed when someone at a signing in a bookshop in Scotland suggested it. We were all wracking our brains for the most schlock-gothic trope we could imagine . . .

Lori Rader-Day said...

The Reek of Red Herrings is possibly my favorite Dandy and that is saying a lot as I love them all. And the contemporary ones. I see what you mean about some topics not matching the time of your books. Good points.

Gwen Mayo said...

I love both of your series. Your humor kept me going through some very dark times. In the years when I couldn't write and came close to getting lost in my own PTSD your books helped me fight my way back. Dandy is a delight and you, my friend, are sunshine and laughter, kindness and hope, dancing through pages of murder and mayhem.