Learning from Unsafe Acts

Some friends have written blogs consisting of interviews with characters from their books. It’s creative, imaginative, entertaining and an excellent way to extend the fiction’s ‘reality’ and draw readers into its world. With the latest Jack Carston book now being available for a free download on the 19th and 20th of this month and the need to say something about it, I wondered whether to follow that route, too. The problem is, I don’t think he’d let me, so instead, this is about the book itself.

It’s called Unsafe Acts which, as well as being a term often seen in safety brochures and videos, applies to the other layers in the story. There’s the possibility of sabotage on an offshore platform, the ugliness and dangers of prostitution and the depressing reality of queer-bashing and the law’s ambivalence towards punishing it. On top of that, the actions of one of Carston’s incompetent officers threaten to mess up the investigation, while Carston’s own acts over the years have irritated his superiors so much that they’ve decided to charge him with indiscipline – all of that right in the middle of a double murder case

I think we always learn something from our own books. The very fact of researching subjects opens them up in sometimes surprising ways. In this case, I think the book made me aware of several distinct things.

The first and maybe most important was that, despite the progress that’s been made and the apparent ‘tolerance’ of civil partnerships between homosexual men and women (apart, of course, from those with a direct line to God who know for a fact that He ‘hates fags’), anti-gay prejudice persists – not only in unreconstructed males and certain bishops and cardinals, but in some surprising institutions. The law, for example, is supposed to be impartial and yet statistics seem to bear out that, for anyone accused of assaulting a gay person, self-defence is a viable plea. All you have to say is that you were propositioned and the likelihood is that that will earn you a degree of ‘sympathy’ and a lesser sentence or acquittal.

Many years ago, I wrote a radio play which was broadcast in the UK and Australia. Two of the characters happened to be lesbians but I’d structured the play around a pretentious idea of exploring themes of expansion and contraction. As a result, I forced my characters to use my words rather then giving them the usual (and essential) freedom to be themselves. The result was that one critic began his review ‘This is a tiresome play about tiresome people’ – and he was right. So did that mean I should be embarrassed about it? Well, yes, but…

In the summer vacation about two years later, I was sitting in my room at the university when there was a knock at the door and in came a female student who’d graduated the previous month. She’d been in lectures of mine but not in tutorials so I knew who she was but knew nothing much about her, so I was surprised to see her.

She’d come to tell me that a mutual friend had lent her a recording of the play. She  said she’d liked it but wished she’d known I ‘understood’ the problems faced by homosexuals while she was still a student. Because she was gay and she had no-one she could talk to. We had quite a long chat and, at one point, she said that she’d been miserable throughout her years as a student because, among other things, she couldn’t just walk through the campus hand in hand with her girl-friend, a simple fact that carried so much heartache. And I remembered it when I was writing Unsafe Acts and felt angry and baffled that those negative old attitudes still hadn’t completely disappeared.

But this blog’s already too long so the other things I learned from the book will have to wait for next time. I’ll just say that, despite appearances, I don’t write conventional crime novels. And, on that bombshell … well, just download the book on the 19th-20th. It’s free.