It’s not something that most of us encounter, and from my own admittedly limited experience, I can say that genuine violence is nothing like in the movies. Grown men don’t repeatedly sock each other on the jaw, shake it off as if it were nothing more than a pat on the cheek and keep coming back for more.
Those of us not used to being thumped don’t dust ourselves down and send one right back at the bastard who just hit us, and who is considerately standing there in perfect range – we go into a state of shock and wonder what the hell just happened.
Not only does it hurt to receive a smack on the jaw, delivering one really can hurt your fist as well. Hands are delicate things. If you don’t have an idea of what you’re doing, you’re likely to find yourself in casualty having a sore hand X-rayed to find out just which of the myriad bones in there you’ve broken with that wildly administered haymaker.
It’s years, decades, even, since I last had an altercation with anyone that required any kind of fisticuffs, and I have no desire to go down that route again. A couple of times a week I put on a white suit, gloves and pads and go through the motions, collecting the occasional bruise and cracked rib in the process. That’ll do me just fine, thanks.
I can’t revel in violence on the page. Violence is an ingredient that loses its spice if overused. My personal preference is to keep things short, sharp and nasty, which is the way it normally in reality. If you’re after extended lashings of blood and guts, that’s fine with me but you’ll have to look elsewhere and there are plenty of writers who happily ladle it on.
A while ago I sat on a panel with a group of brand-new authors to discuss sex and violence in our work, and how far we would be prepared to take things. It was something of an unnerving experience, in that we were all retiring types who tutted, shuffled our feet, coughed, and said that no, we don’t like to overdo the violence. Maybe it’s because we’re all British and therefore reserved and shy. But when the discussion turned to the sex side of the remit, there was an immediate release of tension and grins all round, speakers as well as the audience.
Maybe it was because we were all on firmer ground, as most of us have more first-hand experience of sex than we do of violence. But the opinions were much the same – it’s something to be hinted at and used sparingly. Overdo the horizontal jogging and it becomes mundane, not least because it’s so damn difficult to write steamy encounters that aren’t either painful or laughable, or both. On the other hand, a nomination for a Bad Sex in Fiction Award, while mortifying, would also attract plenty of attention – and we’re told that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Fortunately, if sex and /or violence are your thing, there’s plenty to go around. We westerners live in a society where both are on offer day in, day out. Barbie and the porn star ideal are presented as some kind of norm for young women to live up to while big and small screens present grotesque violence with bazookas and better as simple relaxation that doesn’t overtax the synapses.
So, is society collapsing around us, as the Daily Mail keeps telling us Brits, or has it always been like this? Well, the uncomfortable answer is that it’s always been this way. We humans are hardwired by nature to have an insatiable interest in sex and violence, and two (or more) people intent on doing each other harm in public has been a spectator sport for all of recorded history. What has changed is the speed and methods of delivery, all made possible by the same electronic wizardry that’s also bringing you the Reality Check.
So there it is. Sadly my books will probably remain largely free of anything more than modest dollops violence and a mere sprinkling of sex. Unless there’s a chance of a Bad Sex Award, of course.