Monday, 25 July 2011
Licence to be Extremely Thrilling - by Nicola Morgan
BUT. The fabulously best thing - in my opinion - about writing historical fiction for young people is that someone like me who likes to take it to the limit, cross the edge, dangle the reader off the precipice of fear and let them contemplate the worst, can do much nastier, crueller, more gruesome, more shocking, things to our characters than we can easily do in contemporary fiction. Why? Because the reader is secure in the knowledge that "it won't happen to me or anyone I know."
So, mastectomy without anaesthetic in front of an audience? Young mother drowned at the stake in front of her daughter? Teenage girl trepanned after drowning? No problem in historical fiction. I've done them all and many writers on this blog have done these things or worse. (OK, perhaps not worse than the beginning of Fleshmarket - may I claim that one?) You've got Celia Rees, Mary Hoffman and Theresa Breslin and many others choosing cruelly troubled times and settings and creating brilliantly real worlds from the past.
Thing is, we all know full well that grotesque cruelty is not confined to the past. The most shocking and unspeakably cruel things happen in many parts of the world today, including in our own country, usually (but not always) outside the personal worlds of our particular readers. I'd like to be able to write about them, too, as I don't think we should be allowed to think that bad things only happened in the foreign country that is the past. So I've written a contemporary novel - about human trafficking, prostitution, rape, drug addict parenting, brutality, murder and torture, and the political aftermath to a genocide that has happened within our lifetime (and for which a man is currently and prominently being tried in a court). It's set now, and here - in London, under our feet. It's called Brutal Eyes and it's my modern Fleshmarket. But I suspect it won't be published. (Unless I do it myself.) It crosses some lines, you see. And it's contemporary. I've gone too far and brought it all too close to home.I know who will like it, but it may not be enough.
It crosses the lines that you can cross in historical fiction without even being questioned. But maybe looking at the horrors beneath our own feet, testing the cracks in the veneer of our civilisation, maybe that's a step too far. After all, it's a thin veneer, isn't it? Especially when you can see it.