Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew

 

Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew

I’ve always loved Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry but the following poem was recently brought back to my attention by a musical version of it by Natalie Marchant.

Spring and Fall:

to a Young Child

 Margaret, are you grieving
   Over Goldengrove unleaving?
   Leaves, like the things of man, you
   With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
   Ah! as the heart grows older
   It will come to such sights colder
   By and by, nor spare a sigh
   Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
   And yet you will weep and know why.
   Now no matter, child, the name:
   Sorrow’s springs are the same.
   Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
   What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
   It is the blight man was born for,
   It is Margaret you mourn for.

For those of you that are not poetically inclined, the poem is addressed to a young girl who is distressed that the leaves of her favourite woodland are falling. For a child, the seasons have not yet become predictable and the certainty that we as adults may feel that the spring will come and the trees with again be crowned in green is not present. The grief of the child is palpable in the words Hopkins writes; she is too young to have the assurance of spring. And yet, Hopkins does not dismiss this. Indeed, he says that even though as she grows older and becomes more hardened to such things, she will still weep for such things because the origin of the sorrow will always remain. Essentially a poem about the grief our own mortality can bring us, it is one of such compassion and understanding of a particularly sensitive child that I felt it speak to me personally.

Death has become the last great taboo in our culture and the thing that divides us most. People would rather not think about their own mortality at all and those who do are labelled as morbid or negative. Yet the fact remains that we all die. How and where and when are the great unknowns. And what comes next, if anything, is the greatest mystery of them all. Unlike children who learn by experience that after the great unleaving of the trees in Autumn and the cold, cold days of Winter, the Spring returns without fail, we cannot discover by experience and rest easy in that knowledge.

So the smaller deaths in life, the partings and the endings, become focuses for our anxiety and need for reassurance. Moving house, as I have done many times, becomes a grief beyond the mere hassle. So much of my life has been bound up within those walls. Changing jobs. The death of others close to me. All these endings. They’re hard to bear. Really hard to bear. And the temptation is to leap ahead for comfort, to try and see the future where things do not hurt. To know that the Spring will come again.

And yet, this is something that denies the reality of the moment. The death of a friend even when you are sure in your heart that death is not the final curtain but a change of state, should hurt. It needs to, because it returns you to a state of innocence, that of Margaret in the poem, where you grieve in a pure state.

In our busy society, without time or inclination for either rites of passage or time to grieve, to be allowed to grieve is a blessing. It allows healing to happen. If you cut that time short, you cut yourself. And the longer you defer or postpone or refuse that grieving, the more you may find waiting for you later.

  Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to grieve, because in some ways, you are grieving for yourself as well. 

A sermon for the first Sunday in Lent ~ asking the whys and finding a way

Another of my husband’s sermons. If you wish, skip the Bible readings and go straight to the sermon itself. 

 

Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7: 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 ¶ And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

1 ¶ Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 ¶ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Romans 5:.12-19: 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Matthew 4.1-11: 1 ¶ Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Sermon

I looked at this morning’s readings and everything seems so simple and straightforward.

I read that Eve gave in to the tempter, the serpent, Adam sinned and ever since all people have suffered and all people die.

Then I read that Jesus the second Adam came, took our punishment, died and everything is now OK.

This is how the Gospel is sometimes explained. Nice, simple and neat.

Choose Jesus and live – stick with Adam and die.

But I have chosen Jesus. I have stuck with Jesus and everything is not OK! I am not OK. You see this sort of simple explanation can be useful, but the reality is always far more complicated. St. Paul knew this, the Old Testament writers knew this, as did the Gospel writers.

This week I have seen pictures and heard stories of the horror, of the fighting in Libya. I have seen the pictures of the devastation in Japan. You must have seen the same.

If I take this simple idea of salvation; if I take it literally; I should say that all those people killed in Libya, in Japan have gone straight to hell, at least all those that weren’t Christians.

If I stick to this simple idea; I should say that it was just and right that they should all die, they had clung to Satan’s lies and they had paid the price for their choice. A simple, straightforward and brutal truth.

But I can’t.

I can’t do that. I see those people and I weep for their suffering – I can’t help myself. I pray to loving God I know to be with the survivors, and helpers – that God may give them some comfort and the strength that they need.

I cannot accept that the God who cared so much about the world to send his Son into it and to die here, would abandon those people.

I cannot accept that the God who loves all of us, would just kill over a thousand people, on a whim, grab their frightened and confused souls, … and just throw them away, like rubbish, into hell.

It must be nice to be a fundamentalist, or at least life must be pretty simple. But I refuse to be taken in by neat, simple answers that don’t fit the facts.

So let’s wipe the slate clean. Lets start again.

I start by admitting my ignorance.

I admit that I don’t know why that earthquake happened. I know a little about the earth shifting, a little about the physics behind earthquakes and tsunami but I can’t give you, or anyone else, a reason why it happened now, to those people.

I suspect that there isn’t an answer to that question, even that that is the entirely the wrong question to ask.

Then admitting my ignorance, I move on to what I do know. I read the our Old Testament reading and I know that God created me, everyone and everything. I know that what might have been idyllic is so no longer. That this world is no longer perfect. I also know that some of our problems are of our own making.

So I know that God cared enough to create us and our world and he still cares enough to keep it running, even though it seems far from perfect. God still cares enough to stick with us, even though we fail to do what is right, again and again.

Then I look to our New Testament reading, and I see that God is not only putting up with us. I realise that God loves me, you and everyone. That he loves us so much that he sent Jesus to pull us out of the pit we have fallen in to. Jesus came to save us from ourselves and all that is wrong with this world, and at great cost.

So now I can look up from the individual trees, the narrow arguments and see something of the forest, the overall picture of God’s saving action in history.

The Bible tells us that God loves those people in Japan. God wants the best for them and for their families and for their land. God’s love is universal. We are called to see everyone as our neighbour, and to love them as ourselves. Why, because that is what God is like.

We become Godlike when we love. So our love and concern should reach out to those people in Japan.

Through the God who is everywhere, in everyone, we are linked to those people. Over all those miles between us we can join our tears with there tears; we can know God’s power to give us strength and hope in times of trouble, and we can pray for the same for those people in Japan.

Prayer is a mysterious thing, but it is powerful. In prayer we enter the presence of God, we share our fears and distress, as well as our joys and happiness. In God, through prayer we are in some way linked to the object of our prayer, the people we see in Japan. We can join with God in sharing their pain. We can join with God in bringing hope.

So we should pray, and pray hard.

We should also act, if that is possible. Sometimes we have the opportunity to do more than pray. Sometimes, we can step in and help those that suffer. Sometimes we can sent money.

Sometimes , when the trouble is nearer to home, we can join with God in practical caring for the sick and the distressed. We can sit with the bereaved. We can hold the hand of the sick or the dying.

We can cry with those that cry and laugh with those that laugh – any one who has spent time with the bereaved will know that the pain can make people cry and even scream out, but the next minute they can be laughing at some silly thing their loved one used to do; then the laughing may turn without warning to tears once again.

In being a part of this world; in not hiding ourselves from its joys and its sorrows, we are like our God who sees and feels all.

In our prayers for the people in Japan we come closer to the God who already cares for them. We stand with our Jesus who weeps over the loss of life, as he wept over Jerusalem.

So, finally, I want to turn to our Gospel reading: The temptation or testing of Jesus.

First, Jesus was tempted and so we will be tempted too.

Second, Jesus overcame his temptation and so we can overcome too.

Third, to save himself Jesus turned to his Bible and his Jewish tradition, as well as to his personal knowledge of God, his Father.

So just as I have tried to do this morning, we can overcome our temptations by looking to Scripture, to our Christian tradition and to our own experience of the God of love.

Weeping with the people of Japan is a reminder of our weakness and need of God, and of the power of God to save. So perhaps weeping for Japan, for Libya, the pain around us and our own failure, is a good way to begin our lent.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Night Shift ~ for those who wait with the dying

 

Night Shift

(for those who wait with the dying)

 

I want to hold back Death:

Impossible of course,

But every time I try,

Standing in the way,

Arms outstretched

As if to halt

A bolting horse,

It passes through

As if I, not it,

Were insubstantial mist.

And I feel a touch

Across my face

Of trailing cobwebs

Or frosted feathers

Stiff with ice.

 

The Comfort of Ashes ~ an Ash Wednesday poem

 

The Comfort of Ashes

There’s something clean about ashes;
Rubbish reduced to uniform powder.
No heaps of trash to hurt the eye,
No rotting corpse to hurt the heart.
Clean
Simple
Impermanent.
A gust of wind, a wash of water
And it’s gone for good:
Dissolved
Dispersed
Disappeared.
It does not disturb me that I am such dust;
What the fire cannot touch
Never can be touched
By hand or flame or even eyes.
Let then the residual ash be blown
On the wind and be gone,
Returned to the kind earth
Whose bones gave me form
And let my soul go home unhindered.

“Society does not value artists. Society values entertainers.”

 

Society does not value artists. Society values entertainers.”

Words above are from Frankie and they moved me to tears by their simple truth.

I’ve always (like the media) lumped arts and entertainment into the same camp. They do seem to go together. If they were animals, you’d find them in the same habitat at the wildlife park or zoo. They’re closely related. Like lions and tigers, or horses and zebras, there’s enough genetic similarity for them to breed. When kept in unnatural conditions of captivity, they do breed. Their generative equipment matches sufficiently for them to try without any need for test tubes. Modern humans and Neanderthals were similar enough genetically to reproduce; that said, even today there are plenty of folk who will screw anything if it has remotely the right shaped holes and lies still long enough.

I digress.

Arts and entertainment are close enough to mix; you get entertaining art and you get artistic entertainment. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure which is which. But society has always favoured that which entertains; as far back as Juvenal’s rather biting Satires, the understanding has been that you need to keep the masses entertained to keep them from revolt (panem et circenses~ bread and circuses) so the hybrids that succeed are the ones that have a higher percentage of entertainment in the mash-up.

There’s another interesting parallel to do with hybrids in the animal kingdom. The vast majority of the ones created in forced environments like zoos are sterile. They cannot breed. The offspring is the end of the process; there are too many differences for the genetic reproduction to go any further than say a Liger, a Tigron or a Zorse. I wish this were the case with the analogy I am using but these extreme hybrids between art and entertainment seem to spawn a whole new genre of soul destroying rubbish. Eventually though, they run out of steam and go back to find something to bring new blood into the arena.

In the animal kingdom, if you allow a domestic cat and a wild cat to breed, do you know what happens? Logically, you would assume you can breed for domesticity but in this case, you’d be wrong. The wild cat (by which I mean the real Wild Cat) cannot be tamed. The offspring can’t either. If you breed a wild cat with a house cat, the kittens will always turn out to have as wild a nature as their wild parent, but physically they will be smaller and lack many of the characteristics and strengths of the breed.

If I want my art to be strong, it needs to stay wild. It needs to stay away from things that might tame it, producing weaker and weaker offspring.

It’s no wonder the Wild Cat is an endangered species, but unlike many such species it’s not doomed to extinction by the elimination of the species but by etiolation.

Don’t let’s have that happen to Art OR Entertainment, eh?

Society does not value its artists ~ an examination of systemic contempt

 

Society does not value its artists ~ an examination of systemic contempt

  

I made myself quite unwell over the last four days, gnawing at a festering sore of an issue without really understanding why it bothered me so much. If it had been on my skin, you’d have thought I was merely picking at a tiny scab and making it worse. But that tiny scab hid something much deeper, just as skin cancer lesions can seem unimpressive and fail to convey the threat they pose to health. I thrashed around, snarling a lot and feeling incapable of articulating quite why I was in such distress over what many other saw as a small thing, barely worth noticing.

To backtrack, I’d discovered that a project I had thought both nurturing of writers and of spiritual awareness had turned out to be nothing more than a run-of-the-mill attempt to make some money off the backs of writers and poets. No law had been broken as far as I know, but it reduced the whole thing down to yet another “send us your writing so we can publish it and you can buy your own work back from us as part of a book” scheme. Many poetry contests use this format and unless it’s for a well-known and prestigious prize, it is seldom worth bothering with; I got caught with one a few years back, and needless to say, I never bought the book they offered me at some exorbitant price. If you want to see your work in print, fine. I am aware that many of those who took part in this initiative are delighted with it and have bought multiple copies of the offered book, which had the merit of not being overpriced. But I would be willing to bet that very few people will buy the book who are not somehow connected to the project in some way either by virtue of having work in it or knowing someone who does.

There was something deeper at work in my obsessional worrying at this; there always is and troublesome as it may be to others to see me go through this process and deeply distressing as it is to me to do it, I do eventually dig my way through to the truth at the heart of the matter and this time it is a very ugly truth indeed.

It’s so ugly you may not be able to bear it. I know I can hardly bear to look at it now I have unearthed it.

It’s simply that not only do I see that my work with words is not valued by society, but that all the work with words by writers dead, alive, published and unpublished are viewed with a contempt that runs so deep that we are seldom even aware of it.

Do a straw poll today and ask people to think of the names of writers. Chances are the names you get will be Dan Brown and Katie Price unless you have a fairly literary set of acquaintances. Do the same for poets and I suspect you may find a dead silence and a scratching of heads before someone says, “Oh yeah, Shakespeare. Oh and Wordsworth.” Great results hey? Two beach read purveyors and two very dead poets.

The contempt goes into the industry; anyone who has ever submitted(now there’s a suitably bondage-orientated word to set your hackles rising) work to a publisher knows about the slush pile. Note the choice of word: slush, that half-melted mucky stuff you see piled at the sides of roads after a long period of snow, filthy and useless. If you’ve ever got rejected, the first ones you tend to get are without any sort of personalisation, a stock slip without reference to you as a person or the work you sent them. I have plenty of letters back praising me and telling me to keep going because I was good; they just didn’t have a niche, or they didn’t love it quite enough to take a risk or whatever reason they chose to give. Each time, it sawed at my soul and in the end, I’d had enough. Enough of being considered but rejected. I may have got further than many do, but it wasn’t far enough and the damage it did me was incalculable. That’s why I think this recent brush with more contempt hurt worse, because I’d begun to hope for better, especially among writers (the organisers of this were supposedly both writers and spiritual)

As a society we consume the work of artists (the words of writers) without paying any attention to the artist. We feel ourselves qualified to critique art without knowing anything about the process. Listen in at a gallery sometime, especially somewhere like Tate Modern; the sentence you will hear most is usually, “I may not know anything about art but I know what I like.” I’ve said it myself, which is a lie, because I do know something about art (but there’s another story) and while I understand that appreciation of the finished product is subjective, the understanding of the process of creation is not.

When it comes to writing, any moderately literate person can write. But to write well, that is another matter entirely. I think it may be this accessibility to the basics of the art that means that society has long since lost any sense of appreciation of it. We consume it without tasting it, without tasting the work that went into it. Writers are the milch cows of the media; if one withdraws there are thousands of others to take their place. If you buy books from Amazon, you get suggestions of what to buy next on the basis of what you have already bought. “If you liked Dan Brown, then why not try…” I’m sure you’ve seen this sort of thing. If the Dan Browns and the Katie Prices vanished, there’d be more of the same homogenised and sanitised crap to buy from the pen of someone else. There always is, and for good reason: the desire of the writers ourselves to have stab at immortality through our writing. Most of us know that the chances of winning the Lottery are better than the Best-sellers’ Sweepstakes, but we think, hey, buy a ticket, you never know. It could be me, it could be you. Yeah, well, I have never even bought a Lottery ticket. I’m not a gambler and hoping to make it big through writing is probably the biggest gamble ever, short of throwing yourself off Beachy Head and gambling on the rapid evolution of wings.

I’m not sure where this systemic contempt for writers and artists originated but it goes deep and I have no idea of how to reverse it. For myself, it may involve a giving up of hope for myself and my work. Because perhaps what holds me back is that hope that one day I may be up there in the panoply of literary gods, like Dan Brown and Katie Price (OK, so I was joking there but you know what I mean) and that hoping against hope in a market place so massive that ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined it could exist outside of science fiction I might have a hope of being noticed. WordPress alone has over 400k blogs; hundreds of thousands of books are published every year. I am a speck of dust in the universe.

But even a speck of dust in the right place can be the start of a whole new world. Just look at the Big Bang.

Negative feedback loops ~ why they are so hard to escape from

 

Negative feedback loops ~ why they are so hard to escape from

 

This one is from the heart!

I’ve got myself ensnared a few times this last week with situations where my head has been locked in mortal combat with intangibles. Intangibles like worry about money(Monday) worry about family(Tuesday) anxiety about work or lack thereof(Wednesday) and incandescent fury at exploitation and injustice (Thursday onwards).

I think I may have figured some of it out.

Not the answers to the worries, but rather why they become resident goblins in my skull and refuse even logic, meditation and distraction as palliatives. Last night, I was pleased with the fact that I managed to get to sleep despite my roiling skull filled with fury and righteous anger, but this morning I was awake at shortly after six and ready for battle.

The first part of the answer is imagination.

I’ve got a five star solid gold imagination and it’s sitting there twiddling its thumbs waiting for me to use it. And use it I do. When I am not writing stories, I devise strange entertaining extras to add to the shopping list just to make my husband wonder what I meant by Klingon repellent. I create tiny tableaux out of random stones and leaves. I make up silly stories on the fly, just because I can. Why why why…is my constant question, about peoples’ behaviour, clothes, the world around me. Constant questions and constant imaginational overload.

The second part is idealism.

I believe that things could be better. The world, people, me, my home, publishing, art, literature and so on. I take this further and believe that things should be better.

Put the two together and you get a potent mix. Someone who thinks things should be better and has a vivid idea of ways it might be.

The third part is a destructiveness of self that comes back to a default setting of disaster looming and the sheer hopelessness of it all.

So the very things that make me a good writer are also the things that mean I can get so entangled in certain things I am unable to extricate myself. The recent post Scammed (still protected; if you want to read it, please email me for the password) is an illustration of this. I have been unable to let it go because it presented a way for the world to be a little bit better for many people and then it failed dismally to deliver and indeed, has continued to be a serious concern. It feeds into my helplessness at making the world a better place and while I feel helpless I almost gnaw my own leg off to try and change things in some way.

There are few ways I know of to short-circuit this cycle. It usually has to run its course of sleepless nights, anxiety attacks, panic disorder and finally a sort of resolution of walking away knowing I will come back again and again.

One day maybe I will learn a way of dealing with all of this while remaining a sane human being. I suggest if I ever do, you better shoot me immediately afterwards. It’s kinder than crucifixion.

Black Dog

 

Black Dog

Hunt me down then,

Stalk me, track me,

Pin me down and corner me,

Pursue and torment me.

I’ll fear your shadow

Even in noonday sun;

Scrape of claw on stone,

Fetid breath, panting tongue.

The silent nights

When I wait to hear

The footsteps on the stair,

And know you’re there.

Black dog, you worry me.

 

Scammed?

I’m angry with myself for being naive. I should know better by now. But apparently I don’t. Almost 45 and I am still so bloody naive. I expect the best in people, even when I know that people always disappoint.

In January I took part in what seemed a lovely scheme to write a short piece every day; I chose to post mine on my blog, so did many others. I didn’t really think about it; I had been pretty ill over Christmas and so the idea of focussing on a single thing and writing about it seemed a good practise for being glad to be alive. I registered that the organisers of the scheme intended to collate some of the entries in a book but again, I never thought about it much. I sent in when asked ten of my entries. When I was then asked to submit them not as attachments but in the main body of an email, I complied. I assumed that because I use Open office, they had been unable to open them. A week or so later, I was informed that a piece had been selected, and slightly edited. I was unhappy as the editing was done so that the piece ceased to have any context or personal connection to me; I protested but the response was that context was not needed. I had also been surprised at the choice; it was the first piece on my email, and not the best.

This morning I get an email announcing the launch of the book and was encouraged to buy not one but many copies of the book that has about five sentences of my writing in. More than 300 people had also sent in their entries. To me that means that virtually every single person(except sour pusses like me) will buy at least one copy of the book; probably multiple copies, to give to friends and family. I also discovered this morning that 72 copies sold overnight.

Now when it comes back down to it, the organisers have been provided with free and willing content, not to mention a probable captive market of people who are delighted to see their words in print, and since the book is print on demand, their only outlay has been to buy 1 (yes, just 1) copy of the book themselves as proof copy. A few days of work collating the entries, writing introduction and putting together a very lacklustre cover, and the intention of doing the whole thing all over again in July~ a nice little money maker don’t you think?

Before you ask, contributors get nothing at all. Bearing in mind it is possible to offer a free download using this format, does this not strike you as a very clever scam? Write us a book and then buy a copy of “your” book.

Hmmmm.

I feel like I have been stitched up very nicely.

What do you think? 

Going to the Dark Side ~ villains in the writer’s psyche

 

Going to the Dark Side ~ villains in the writer’s psyche

Having touched briefly on where heroes come from yesterday, my dark side felt neglected and asked me to look at the other side of the coin.

I like to think of myself as a good person. I might actually BE a good person, but that doesn’t make me the woman without a dark side. A couple of years ago, I got into a rather harrowing battle with someone I’d thought of as a friend; it knocked me rather badly at the time and when the issue was resolved (though the friendship was never restored) I found that though in my own head I was the hero, in the mind of at least one other person, I was the villain. That gave me a pause for thought. Every villain of fiction, film or history is the hero of their own internal story.

When it comes to villains on screen and in books, the more complex the nature of the villain, the more convincing that baddie is for me. One of my favourite villains of the screen is Scorpius from the TV series Farscape, because while initially he seems simply evil, as the story develops, it becomes clear that his evil is mixed with a fairly massive dose of good. He’s far from black and white, and his motivations in doing the terrible things he does are confusing. He’s possessed of some measure of pure altruism, of humanity. In fact, were the story told from his perspective(as indeed it is in one episode) he would be the hero.

For me one of the least convincing villains of book and screen is Lord Voldemort. I am aware that the books were originally written for children and the depth of all the characters increased as the series went on, but that said, even the mitigating factors for Voldemort’s nature were for me unsatisfying. I believe pure evil exists, but it’s incredibly rare, and Voldie’s descent to the dark side is too fast and too complete for me to accept it. At least Darth Vader’s evolution into the Dark Lord took some pretty awful things to bring it about; Voldie’s is unconvincing if you are an adult with some understanding of what makes people tick. You are expected to accept that he was born with a strong tendency to evil and little motivation to resist it.

So, the big question now. Where do villains emerge from? Well, in my experience, they come from my darker side. I feel a shiver of shame in even admitting it; I’ve had my baddies do things that I’d never do, but the fact that I can think of them is proof that perhaps I do have it in me to do terrible things. In one novel I crucified my main character, and I do mean, literally. He had no idea why he was being tortured, and for a guy like him, not knowing why it happened was a huge part of the torment afterwards. But for the villain who did this to him, the motivation was clear and almost pure; in his story, the hero deserved it. In another novel, the roles of hero and villain are deliberately confused for much of the narrative and it’s only in the second half that the real villain starts to emerge, brought to evil by thwarted love and a strange twisted sense of righteousness. Not one of my villains would see themselves in that way; they would always see themselves as the hero of the story.

For me, this fits with my world view that pure evil is a truly rare thing, and that much of it consists of ordinary people getting things wrong. Venial sins of selfishness, minor cruelty, omission of duty, weakness, addiction to power and others wrongs are usually what aggregate to be what we see as evil. Evil is not something that emerges fully formed and ready to roll; it’s something that grows. It was Edmund Burke who said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Perhaps then this is what fiction is all about; the struggle between good and evil, the hero’s journey and everything else you find in fiction may be the writer’s attempt to understand the darker side within their own psyche and to integrate it in a creative way. I am told that Stephen King, who writes some of the most spine-chilling mainstream horror fiction is one of the nicest men you could ever meet. Many murder and horror writers are described as being lovely people, contrary to the content of their books.

I’d like to think that my own writing has been a journey into understanding and integrating my shadows, but I also hope that the tales I have created on the way with their heroes and heroines, villains and human monsters may help others understand their own psyches, as well as providing a good read or two on the way.