I know I’m doing this all out of whack, but yesterday I managed to sneak into a panel with a seriously fantastic panel – not only was the brilliant Julia Crouch (she could be my favourite moderator) holding things down (and telling us about her strange fascination with ‘squeezing spot porn’) but there was also Mick Herron (creator of the much-loved Jackson Lamb series of spy novels), Sabine Durrant (whose Lie With Me has been wowing readers for a year now), Stave Sherez (who, similarly, is wowing people with his latest, The Intrusions) and Canadian writer Shari la Pena. They were discussing the subject of endearing monsters, and it was a cracker.
Things off with the panel trying to explain what a monster actually is. Sherez said that ‘monsters’ do things selfishly without thinking about the impact on other people’s lives; someone who is sadistic. We all probably have these evil thoughts sloshing inside our heads at one time or another, but the difference between us and those who carry out unspeakable acts is that with the large majority of the population those thoughts exit our brains as quickly as they arrive.
Shari La Pena, who writes suburban-based thrillers, said that domestic noir doesn’t have monsters per se, but her books show how one person can go on a journey, starting from one point and becoming something else entirely because of circumstance and environment. These people aren’t necessarily monsters, at least to start with.
La Pena also said that in horror fiction monsters exist much more, but in crime fiction there’s more ambiguity and character have to have reasons for being bad or else they become almost cartoons.
Sherez then said, to many nods of agreement, there are more monsters in real life than fiction these days.
Mick Herron, whose Jackson Lamb was described by Crouch as almost a Falstaffian character, said that damaged people are much more interesting to write about. (As reader and watchers I can concur that it’s the same for us, too.) Sabine Durrant then furthered this, by saying that nice characters are boring. Actually, nice characters in life are boring, and that flawed people are much more charismatic. The skill as a writer, she said, was to create a character who’s flawed and readers can empathise with them. That’s the real trick, to provide that ambiguity.
Sherez said that the worst monsters are the ones who think they’re changing the world, and have a perceived ideology. They think they’re being rational, but actually, they’re rationalising emotional impulses. So it was a really fascinating discussion, which took in nature versus nurture and tried to answer the question that crime writers the world seek to answer: what makes a person do bad things, and why, as readers and watchers, why we like to consume them.
NB: I write this really quickly, so forgive any typos and strangely-written sentences