I love evil; I embrace evil. And, on a daily basis, I earn a living out of evil.
However I am not, despite what you might suppose from the sinister photograph at the top of this blog, an evil man.
If you asked those who know me, they would tend to describe me quite otherwise. ‘Cuddly’ might be a word you’d hear. ‘Half-soaked’ is an adjective that is frequently associated with me. And ‘absent-minded’ is a term my wife will often use, in conjunction with other less polite phrases, at around the date of our anniversary, whenever the hell that might be.
And yet, in my professional life, I am both a student and a master of evil. I write about murder and horror and genocide and atrocities so terrible that I feel ashamed of my own dabbling in horror. And I’ve been doing this for many years. so my excursion into evil has become, amongst other things, a habit.
Without evil we wouldn’t have villains; we wouldn’t have suspense; we wouldn’t have innocence defiled; we wouldn’t have happy endings, snatched out of the jaws of terrifying climaxes.
Like most writers of course I live a sedentary and often humdrum existence. And yet, from time to time, I have come within recoiling distance of real evil. I have met a murderer, in Wormwood Scrubs Prison, and I drank a cup of tea that he made. (Before being told, by amused prison officers, that this man had been convicted of poisoning his wife.) I’ve attended the post mortem of a woman murdered by her own lover; the killer had, incompetently, left his bloody fingerprint on her naked corpse – and when I saw that, I shuddered with genuine (not imagined) horror.
I’ve met relatives of murder victims, and felt the stain on their souls that evil leaves.
I’ve also met career criminals. I spent a night in a Peckham pub with a recidivisit blagger (i.e. bank robber) who at 6pm was blind drunk. He told me tales of villainy as, bizarrely, around us several other customers engaged in a bar-room brawl. But he wasn’t evil, merely sad.
I also spent a day with another armed robber who took me around the scenes of his various crimes, including Wembley Stadium, where he and his fellow crooks had stolen the proceeds of a charity concert held on behalf of handicapped children. To make their getaway, they had their wives and kids waiting in cars parked around the corner, loaded with holiday suitcases, as a perfect cover in the event they were stopped by police.
To involve your own children in an armed robbery is a terrible thing to do; a wicked thing to do. But this man wasn’t evil either. This is when I learned the difference: wicked is different to evil.
There has always been a great deal of evil in the world, and these are not the best of times. Private firms embezzled billions from the nation of Iraq in the early years of the war; everyone knows this and nothing was done. That’s evil. And there are other stories, even worse stories, in the papers every day. Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds; and the corruption of the ruling elites in nations around the world beggars, it seems to me, belief.
And I abhor all this. Of course I do.
And yet! All the stories I write these days celebrate evil in one form or other. In my first novel Debatable Space I have a character called Flanagan who early on in the story beheads an innocent man; and he’s the nearest thing I have to a good guy. And in Red Claw the dystopian vision is bleak in the extreme (though fear not! there are plenty of jokes too!) and the characters all behave so badly that at times it may be hard to see who the actual hero of the story is.
For it seems to me that to combat true evil, you need protagonists who are themselves touched with evil, smirched with darkness.
And, what’s more, such characters are invariably more interesting than pious, moral, entirely honourable heroes.
Have you heard the song that’s in the charts at the moment, by that sexy beautiful singer off the X-Factor? It’s called ‘Good Boys’, and it has the chorus:
The good boys are always catching my eye.
They are so sweet, reliable and cuddly, it really spins my mind.
And I know they’ll never let me down, they’re always punctual,
And well-mannered, and neat, and always study hard.
Me neither. There’s no such song , nor will there ever be.
Evil is a candle, and we are the moth.
And when a character is tempted by evil, dabbles in evil – but chooses a nobler, truer path. Well, that’s where the good stories tend to start.