Sunday, August 10, 2008

Blood, guts and violence

A comment from Radio Dunedin man Owen Rooney during an interview made me a very happy girl. And, no, it wasn't "I thought your book was brilliant," or anything fawning like that.

Owen made the comment that he liked the fact my books didn't dwell on violence and rely on graphic descriptions of pain and suffering, and compared them in that respect to Ian Rankin's Rebus novels. Naturally, any sentence that teams me up favourably with Ian Rankin is going to make me very pleased.

But it was the reference to violence and graphic imagery that thrilled the most. That yes, someone had noticed.

As a reader, I am put off by what I consider to be gratuitous descriptions of violence and suffering. I have read books with scenes that have left me feeling repulsed, mentally and physically with the nett result that it has tainted the entire book.

As a writer, I decided I wasn't going to go down that track. So in the Sam Shephard books, I have described a violent or nasty scene with enough detail for the reader to get the idea, but not so much as to detract from the story. The way I see it, given a few cues, the readers imagination will come up with far worse, or more graphic than I could describe - so why not let the reader do the work?

This is one of the reasons I enjoy Ian Rankin's work. He uses the same philosophy. Actually, Ian got himself into a bit of a media spat a while back with Val McDermid, because he suggested the worst offenders when it came to gratuitous violence in novels were women.

Gratuitous blood, guts and violence may work in splatter movies, but it won't find a place in my fiction. Call me timid, even call me squeamish (which I'm not, by the way) but I prefer to treat my readers as intelligent people who have a vivid imagination of their own.

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