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.

To boldly go….

 This is my entry into Shafali’s Story telling carnival;


To boldly go…..


The director’s voice carried sharply over the clatter of the set and the cast seemed to slump at the word.

OK, everyone, take five. It’s looking good!”

Most of the cast shuffled off in search of doughnuts, coffee and in at least one case, a double vodka, but Jemima stayed put, happily ensconced in the captain’s chair. Unwilling to leave a place it had taken her so long to reach, even for a much needed break, she shifted her posture and let her body relax. Her role required that she sit with ramrod straightness but the rigid plastic moulding of the chair meant her tail-bone would be rubbed raw if she didn’t shift a little. She considered asking for a cushion but it wasn’t something her character would use, so perhaps it would be refused.

It had taken so long to get here, in so many ways. So many miles, so many bitter disappointments and let-downs too. She would have graduated top of her class at stage school were it not for the prejudice of the tutors.

To put it bluntly my dear,” said the principal. “For a woman, actual acting ability makes no odds at this age. It’s all about looks. And yours, well, what can I say?”

She had hidden her tears and soldiered onwards, taking on role after role that typecast her as ugly and evil. Often the only work she could find was as an extra in horror movies. Landing her first speaking part (and in “Lord of the Rings”, too) was a triumph; but it was tempered by the bitterness of knowing she’d so wanted to play an Elf, or a Hobbit at the least. The make-up girl had carelessly remarked she liked “doing” Jemima as she didn’t need quite so much make up or prosthetics to fit her for her role as Orc as many of the others did.

Of course it was only a matter of time before she moved into sci-fi. The beautiful bimbos who couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag would have brief and scantily clad roles and then vanished once their looks lost their freshness. But character actors like herself flourished as they just improved with age and experience. In this film, her character had sufficient screen time and lines to count as a major character and for the first time her name would be up their in the credits as Co-star. Hmmm….Co-staring Jemima Riddick. It sounded great to be up there with the big names and not lost in the small print at the tail end of the credits.

The make-up was itching and her prosthetic ears were burning her real ones; the glue was sometimes a serious irritant to sensitive skins like hers. But that was a small price to pay. Other roles had required that she shave her head and she’d been glad to be able to have her own hair and not even a wig for this one.

To tell the truth, she was amused at once again playing an evil villain. It was hysterically funny that human beings still equated beauty with goodness and ugliness with evil, or it might have been had not this misconception led to tragedy on grand scales. The witch hunts for example had claimed vast numbers of females whose only crime was to be old and unattractive. She was so glad she had not been here then; there had been progress of sorts in the intervening centuries.

In her last report she’d said so too, but had also added that it was still so far from the kind of world her people would ever wish to work with.

Perhaps another five or so hundred years,” she’d written at the end.

In the meantime, she’d grown rather fond of this barbarous little planet and had elected to stay a little longer and see it progress. Her acting career was really starting to blossom and unlike her colleagues who’d worked here during the witch-hunt era she faced nothing worse that ridicule and obscurity if she failed completely.

One day these naked apes would grow up enough to understand that what was inside a person was what mattered, not the exterior, and in the meantime she intended to enjoy the many innocent pleasures this little planet offered. That included the art of film-making and she intended to make her mark on this world and show the folks back home what a gal from the wrong end of the nebula could do with a bit of time and patience, not to mention hard work and persistence.

Of course, she could have chosen a more pleasing exterior to start with; there had been plenty in the catalogue. It had been done many times in the past and humans had dubbed them angels or gods, worshipped them briefly and then more or less disregarded them. This way was longer and harder, for sure, but she and her people were in no real hurry. Unlike Penelope Cruz, she had all the time in the world; back home she was barely considered adult yet. It was very much the thing, doing a gap year working with the under-privileged and disadvantaged.

The cast were mooching back onto set and Jemima snapped her spine back to it’s correct stance and waited for the director’s orders.


Inwardly, Jemima smiled and twisted her face into its trademark scowl and started barking out orders to her crew. If only they knew how a starship was really run….!

Bigger Fish

I was sitting in the silence of Quaker Meeting this morning, the room suffused with sunlight, the sound of the birds and the aroma of daffodils and snowdrops on the battle-scarred table in the middle. The atmosphere was humming with concentrated, practised contemplation (if meditation were an Olympic sport, Quakers would win Gold every time) and my thoughts had begun to settle after a busy and tiring day in London yesterday, when to my horror my mobile phone began to make its usual unGodly noise. It’s set to make a horrible jangling tune whenever a call comes in or a text is there, and at maximum volume, simply so that in busy traffic or a bus or amid noisy students I will hear it. I flicked the button to shut it up and saw briefly what it was and then shut the phone down.

Later I had a chance to re-read it and it was a forwarded message from a friend I see very seldom, with a message to send on to anyone I considered to be a BEST MUM. Oh, yeah, it’s Mothering Sunday; I have flowers from my offspring to prove it. I don’t by any means consider myself even a good mother, let alone BEST MUM. It’s subjective; my child tells me she thinks I am great.  Since I am the only mum she’d had(or will get) I guess that’s real enough.

I do a lesson on comparatives and superlatives and I always add mentally to anything that says, “The Best——Ever” the words “SO FAR”. Best is subjective and relative after all. 

There’s a scene in one of the Star Wars films where the heroes are trying to escape a hideous sea monster under water when finally the monster is snapped up by an even bigger sea monster and the line that followed has now become a personal mantra:


When I was a teenager, I was about the brightest and most talented person in my year. I excelled at almost everything. At seventeen I was put forward for the Cambridge entrance exam(long since vanished); all my teachers told me I would walk it. I had some extra tuition in one subject and that was all. I went to one of the bog standard comprehensives, a pretty good school in many ways, but nothing special. I was(with two others) the great white hope for that year. I had my interview, and waited. Shortly before Christmas the letter arrived. It was not what I wanted to hear; they were not offering me a place. I had simply not come up to scratch. I had failed.  To say I was disappointed is an understatement; my teachers all doubly so. If they placed money on me, they’d lost it. None of us got in.

Now with the hindsight of years, I am glad. Life took another path. That experience taught me something very important (well, a lot of things) and one of those things was that even if you are a Big Fish in a small pond, once you are out of your pond, you are going to find there is always a Bigger Fish. There will always be someone who is bigger, better, smarter, more successful….And they don’t always wear a handy placard telling you this. You can find out the hard way.

Some years ago, after a Maundy Thursday service in a cathedral in East Anglia, I got talking with another lady, older than me about how we’d enjoyed the service and I commented it was a pity they’d got the Latin wrong in the anthem in the printed service book. She gave me a strange look and it then transpired that not only did she have a Phd to my humble BA in the subject, she was also on first name terms with my old Professor. Small world, isn’t it, but what struck me was that I had been lucky not to have been in arrogant or boastful mode. I’d met that day’s Bigger Fish and she didnt eat me alive.

It makes me think that I need to be constantly vigilant and aware that while I have gifts and talents, I am nothing very special at all, in the great wide world and that I must take care not fall into my real temptation of thinking myself great when I am really quite ordinary, because in thinking myself great, I automatically make others less.

And not all Bigger Fish are as kind as the lady in the cathedral.