This is a post from a couple of years ago. My excuse for reposting it is that from today (October 17th), the third novel in my Jack Carston series, The Darkness, is available as a Countdown Deal. That means it’s now $0.99 or £0.99 for a few days, the price then increases to $1.99 in the USA until the 24th when it’ll be back to normal. This is my feeble attempt at marketing. The first bit of the post is a three minute pitch I gave to some readers in a lovely wee independent bookshop in Glasgow called Lost in Fiction (now, sadly, defunct). This is it.
The question we’re always asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ In the case of The Darkness, it’s central to how I wrote the first draft and how it developed into the published version. Many years ago, I was having dinner with my wife and some friends at a restaurant just outside Aberdeen. The waiter serving us had a West Country accent – English West Country. I said to him ‘You’re a long way from home’. He said ‘Yes, I needed to get as far away as possible’. I asked why and he told me his wife and two young daughters had been killed by a drunk driver. He’d been caught, sentenced to eighteen months, but got twelve months off for good behaviour. As the waiter said, ‘That’s two months for each life’.
I felt so sorry for him, and the story stayed with me. I wanted revenge on his behalf and the first version of The Darkness was exactly that. My agent sent it to Piatkus. They liked it but didn’t want a stand alone thriller at that time but said they’d be interested if I had any police procedurals. So I wrote one. They bought it. And I wrote some more.
I started thinking about making The Darkness part of the series, but it was crude. It was me, red in tooth and claw. My own vigilante tendencies bother me. When it comes to capital punishment, imprisonment and so on I’m a liberal, I’ve corresponded with a prisoner on Death Row, and yet I know for a fact that if I could get my hands on some of these paedophiles and so on, I’d do very nasty things to them. And I’d do it knowing it was wrong, but I’d still do it.
So, in the end, I wrote and rewrote The Darkness over and over again, exploring the balance between the law and justice, revenge and compassion. The motives and the personnel changed. It’s now the third Jack Carston novel and it taught me so much about my characters and the whole business of crime and punishment that it affected the way I wrote the two which followed it. The sixth (and final) one hasn’t been written yet but I know it’ll be directly affected by the events of The Darkness.
Given what I’m claiming for the book, it was nice to read in one of the reviews that ‘When you read The Darkness be prepared to be manipulated and have your moral compass reset’. And the same review ended by saying ‘get yourself a copy of The Darkness and ask yourself this; what would you do?’
That was my spiel – and I meant it, and it was true. But recently, reading an article about books being made into movies, I suddenly remembered reading First Blood, which is the first of the Rambo stories. I haven’t seen the movies and have no desire to, but that was a well-constructed thriller and a good escapist read. (If you’re planning to try it, stop reading this now because there’s a semi-spoiler coming.) At the end of the book, I felt frustrated and cheated by a choice the protagonist made. It was about revenge. But his ‘failure’ to exact the full revenge, while morally ‘correct’, was out of character in the context of the story. This isn’t a criticism of the writing, it’s just my take on the morality involved.
The point, though, is that it made me want to write a novel which featured a revenge impulse. Many people deny experiencing any visceral eye-for-an-eye urge but it doesn’t do to pretend that it’s not there. I’m not proposing a free-for-all, but it’s honest to acknowledge that it’s a factor, even in the most liberally-informed debates.