A 1,000 words or so on ’eight things I want my readers to know’? Not too challenging for someone who calls himself a writer you might think. Trouble is, it assumes two things: first, that I know, as a man, how to write for this strange and terrifying beast, a women’s website and, second, that I have the confidence, nay arrogance, to think that folk are interested in what I have to say in the first place.
But Female First has had the courage to ask for it, so here it is, although I’ve changed the question slightly to read ’eight things I want my readers to know about my book’. That makes more sense to me. Otherwise, I could write an epistle about why I’m a Brexiteer and 50% of you will switch off immediately! So, to the question, although a small word of warning; you might find some of the themes controversial and provocative.
1. Things are not always what they seem. A truism you might think. Indeed, some might say things are rarely what they seem and this uncertainty about people is something I like to put in my writing. Who wants predictable right? The main antagonist in A Good Death seems like a cold-blooded killer. May be he is. May be he’s the real hero of the book? May be he’s a victim? Maybe he’s all of those.
2. People are complex. Another cliché perhaps, but a lot of writers go with simplistic definitions of characters, often based on conflicting and artificial personalities. In life people are rarely either good or bad. John, the main protagonist in A Good Death is 26, middle-class, with a ‘good’ job and he drives a new Audi Quattro. Superficially, then, the world is his proverbial oyster. Inwardly he’s stalled, frustrated with life and his job holds no satisfaction. His relations with the opposite sex remain largely sexual and meaningful relationships are what he reads about in novels. The future seems boringly predictable. Like many people, he’s looking for an outlet and a new challenge.
3. Pubbing and the boys’ culture. Believe it or not, despite the #Metoo movement and the oft feminist chant that gender is a social construct, there is still a ‘boys culture’ and it usually takes place in that wonderful institution, the English pub. On Friday nights, up and down the country, men will gather with other men to laugh and share experiences. It’s an escape and a feeling of belonging; a shared culture, where men can be themselves and not be judged for being what they are. It’s not toxic and it’s not anti-women. It’s simply pro-men. I wanted to reflect this ethos in the book and John, together with his two close companions, discover most of their ideas over a ‘few pints’ in The Coal Scuttle.
4. Vigilantism. The book is also about whether some people deserve to die and whether others should you take the law into your own hands? An old chestnut maybe, but we’re not talking here about historical figures like Hitler or Stalin, or even current figures like Putin, but ‘ordinary’ people and acquaintances that we meet in the normal course of living our lives. As John’s father says: “Maybe that’s what I’m returning to; a kind of atavistic justice. Why should bastards get away with monstrous actions simply because they don’t break the law?”
5. The hypocrisy of the established church. It’s often forgotten that the Church of England, just like the church of Rome, is a hierarchy, where jobs can be lost by saying or doing the wrong thing at the right time. Follow a cause of which the bishop disapproves and you could find that canonship is now out of your grasp. In A Good Death does the young chaplain do his Christian best for a friend in trouble before he considers his career?
6. The importance of time. They say the leopard doesn’t change her spots. That may be true but people do change and some more than others. Stressful events have a habit of causing behavioural variations and these can easily become permanent over time. The book plots the characters over three time-zones - 1991/2, 2013 and the present, 2028 - so we see these character changes as they occur. And, of course, time changes people anyway, simply by travelling through life.
7. We control our own destiny. Writers often rely on the notion of luck to develop a character or embroider a plot. One of my three main characters, for example, spots something from an airplane that endangers his whole mission. Luck affects us all the time. But what about fate? “Nothing happens by accident; God is directing every one of your steps”. If this were the case then what would be the point of making choices? Focusing on the notion of fate is an excuse for avoiding the hard work of true explanation because, mostly, things happen for a reason and, as a writer, it’s my job to make those links of plot and character.
8. Men’s rights. Know what you’re thinking. Men’s rights? We exist within a patriarchy don’t we? Surely it’s women who need more rights; a view fostered by most mass media and, now, by the British Government. The current feminist narrative, it seems to me, holds all men as the wicked and undeserving recipients of privilege and all women as oppressed.
Well, it won’t surprise you to hear that I fundamentally disagree with that assessment and I have a tremendous sense of injustice for my persecuted gender. In my view, this zeitgeist drives a wedge between the sexes. The truth is that, while women have enjoyed emancipation and the fruits of countless policies aimed at advancing them, men still suffer a shed-load of disadvantages in modern Western societies. The system, in the UK, is in fact set up against men and I wanted to show this in a novel.
You can’t cover all gender injustices in one book, though, so I concentrate a small part of the book on domestic abuse. According to the media, this is something that is only committed by men against women. In fact, research has consistently shown that, although sexual abuse is largely the preserve of men, about a third of all domestic abuse is committed by women. Some researchers, such as Elizabeth Hobson, believe that as much as half of domestic violence is committed against men.
A Good Death, by Michael Bagley, published by Clink Street. Available at Amazon and all good bookshops.
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