Category Archives: TV

Mills & Blood

Those of you who have been with me a long time may remember a blog I wrote back on Blogspirit entitled, “Wesley Snipes is Dracula’s Bitch”. This blog complained about the emasculation of Dracula, and the vampire in general, rendering him into a Ninja fighter with no sexual threat at all.

Well, I am now happy to eat my words, thanks to Twilight and True Blood, and the endless stream of sickly, shitty, crap pap being produced by brainless, idiotic women writers all over the world.

If you are ever looking for a legitimate reason to hate women, look no further. Misogynist Haters of Women Novelists of The Paranormal is just aching to be born.

I’ve just finished watching the first season of True Blood and all I can say is, WHAT THE FUCK?

And that’s not easy for me to say. Every annoying bastard on the internet screams WTF? At the slightest provocation. Well, I have just become one of them, but the provocation was great.

True Blood is a great awful series, or an awful great series. I’m not sure which. It is one of the strangest amalgamations of good writing and utter drivel I have ever seen. In fact, I’m not at all sure how they pull it off.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, it has a very simple premise: vampires have ‘come out of the closet’ with the advent of synthetic blood. They are now living ‘in the community’ but, unsurprisingly, they are universally hated and mistrusted. This, of course, leaves the way wide open for assertions of parallels of black emancipation and gay rights. Parallels, I might say, that are some of the most dubious I have ever deliberately not thought too hard about, lest I be forced to punch whoever’s stupid enough to offer this nonsense up as an ‘argument’. Seriously dodgy parallels, e.g., nearly all the vampires in True Blood actually are bad: they attack humans, they’re obnoxious; they are arrogant, dangerous, self-important. If, then, this vampire outcast idea parallels the bigotry against blacks/gays it must be saying, “Blacks/gays actually are dangerous and nasty and threatening, but, hey, some of them are good. You know, the ones that want to be like us”. There’s a Brownie point for right-wing Americans right there. They’ve said all along that blacks and gays who follow the American Dream are okay… My relief knows no bounds. I hope all you nice black/gay viewers are suitably grateful to be included in this generous way.

So let’s just leave the “It’s a social comment” aspect out of this discussion, as it will only embarrass Charlaine Harris and HBO later. Instead let’s talk about those fucking annoying women that brought us the Sookie and Bill concept, for it can hardly be laid just at the feet of Charlaine, for there are many like her.

Oh, Sookie and Bill, are they not the most annoying hero and heroine in the history of ‘literature’? (We use the term loosely here.) Sookie is our eye-rolling, big-hearted feisty heroine. Bill is a ‘mainstream’ vampire, i.e. he lives normally: without Goth clothing and dodgy bondage gear.

Okay, let’s just get this out the way right now. Why the fuck do vampires dress like Goths? Who says so? WHY? Stop it. Just stop it. It’s a cliché of a cliché, and it needs to die, because my boredom and irritation factor are through the roof. If I have to look at one more pansy in mascara attempting to be ‘threatening’ while wearing more flounces, zips and hair lacquer than a female impersonator, I will do serious damage to any cunt who writes another paranormal romance. Seriously. Stop it.

Now Bill is the (anti) hero. And he falls for Sookie, and Sookie for him. Now this love affair is meant to be doomed, tragic, star-crossed, ill-fated, tortuous… you could go on all day. Trouble is, it is NONE of those things. Sookie and Bill are the deeply irritating couple ahead of you in the queue at Marks and Spencer’s, having a tepid argument over whether to get rose or red. If they were any wetter they’d be news anchors, X Factor contestants. They are so bland and middle-of-the-road you could be forgiven for thinking they’d wandered in out of a different TV programme entirely.

Sookie spends her whole time in very short shorts lisping like Shirley Temple on crack. Bill brings his fangs out occasionally, to prove he can be a bad lot, but resembles nothing more than a cowboy without his horse who’s been accidentally miscast from an episode of Bonanza – and all that implies for dated good guy stereotypes.

Bill is not threatening, and Sookie is annoying. If the programme was left to them there would be nothing in it worth watching.

It’s left to all the sub-characters to give the show some oomph, and a reason to watch it. The sub-characters who are not vampires, incidentally – although one is a shape-shifter – how’s that for irony? Their lives are interesting. Jason Stackhouse – Sookie’s ne’er-do-well brother – is way more interesting, and far more of a bad boy, than Bill. And don’t even start me on Eric.

Eric. I kid you not. What kind of name is that for a vampire? They might as well have called him Fred, or George, or Cecil. Bill and Eric. They sound like plumbers rather than a potential death squad.

Eric is blonde and gay-looking. I’m not being unkind, but the man’s a big girl. If he was any droopier, you could be forgiven for thinking he was just languishing there, waiting for his soft furnishings to arrive. He looks like he bleaches his – assumably supposedly Nordic – blonde hair and never conditions it. It’s this odd unmoving helmet, which is far more fear-inducing than he is. When he’s on-screen I find myself watching it to see if it will move when he tilts his head. It doesn’t. When he bends his head forwards his hair stays where it is, now projecting off the back of his neck like an Alien head out of… well, Alien. He has a One Tree Hill jaw. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking he was Dan the man’s long-lost black sheep brother, and instead of playing basketball he sucks blood. Probably because it doesn’t mess with his hair.

Of course, all the other vampires just posture and do pretend Calvin Klein style ‘lust’. They run around in see-through shirts and short skirts and flirt with homosexuality. I don’t know who the hell thinks that makes for ‘threatening sexuality’, but it doesn’t in my book. Not unless the threat is they might steal your make-up bag.

Fortunately, Sookie and Bill do not get all the air-time, but I find myself longing to follow the obnoxious Tara and her wonderfully mad drunk mother, or Jason and his seriously psychopathic girlfriend, Amy – any of them, as long as it’s not Sookie and Bill.

This is what women have done to the vampire story. We are to blame. Wesley Snipes maybe turned Dracula into Bruce Lee, but this is better? This appalling Mills & Boon nightmare that they’ve dragged us all into is better? This so ‘dark’ it’s milk chocolate universe; saccharine sweet do-gooder vampires with the character of a floor-mop; this is what women want? ‘Love’ stories where the most dangerous thing in them is whether you’re going to tangle your white nightie on a bramble bush as you run about the interesting Louisiana night barefoot (don’t they have lots of snakes down there?) are now the pinnacle of women’s ‘popular’ writing. Well, fucking hoorah for us. My how we’ve come on.

Poor old Dracula, he’s gone from being a sexually neutered kick-boxing monster carrying a virus to the sexually neutered boy band singer carrying an Amex card so he can buy his victims flowers – you know, to show he cares.

Anne Rice started this trend, but it says something about women, and mainstream women’s writing, that these pot-boiler morons have taken Anne Rice’s florid, but still sexual, vampires, and made them into a non-threatening boy band with no body hair and nice manicures and haircuts. From being ancient decayed creatures of evil they’ve turned into tortured heroes of the American Civil War, wandering the countryside looking for virgins, but not so they can drink their blood – no – but to have a nice relationship, a nice car, and probably a dog and 2.2. blonde vampire-lite children who teach people about AIDS in charming outward-bound community projects – while selling Girl Scout cookies..

Mills & Boon has invaded the vampire story and taken it for its own, making sure the romance lovers of the world get their little tingles of fantasy without anything to make them uncomfortable or uncertain. There is nothing ugly about these vampires’ lives. They never have ugly thoughts or use their power to do ugly deeds. Even the bad ones think turning a human into a vampire is the height of wickedness. Oh well, scare me to death, as long as you share your fashion tips once I’ve turned.

True Blood is one of the most ambivalent TV series I’ve ever seen; full of sex and bad language in the world of its guttersnipes, and oddly chaste in the world of its vampire ‘heroes’. I find its success worrying. Not because it proves, yet again, that people have no taste, and that dumbed-down is the only way to go, but because HBO made it. If this is very financially successful for them, will it be the thin end of the wedge? Will we see all their programming go the same way? Will the complex insanities of the ‘John From Cincinnati’s be shunted aside by the dull certainties of the True Bloods?

HBO is providing some of the best TV on TV, consistently imaginative and envelope-pushing. This invasion of mainstream ‘Twilight with swearing’ makes me feel very uncomfortable indeed. There are very few places where I can see the programming I like. Please God, do not let Mills & Boon readers invade my world.

And as for all you spineless cows who call yourselves authors, leave Dracula the hell alone; otherwise I might just have to send him to rip out your goddamn romantic throats. And you can be sure this time there will be no tasteful Gap bondage gear in sight…


Hidden in LOST

“‘This literature course has made it easier to find the deep, hidden meaning,” my college students sometimes write on evaluation forms. Occasionally they remark, ‘I like the way we discussed this novel’s deep, hidden meaning.’

“‘Where is it hidden?’ I once cried, flipping a book upside down and shaking it. ‘Come on! Where’s that deep old thing hidden?’ I peered into the binding. I tossed the pages all about. But my students gazed knowingly, arms crossed over chests, slight smiles on their lips, as if to say the meaning was indeed hidden in there, they were not fooled.” Bonnie Friedman

Hidden meaning. Every good novel should have some. If it doesn’t it’s just a pot-boiler, not proper Art, not real writing. All great literature has a hidden meaning, or two. Really important literature has lots of hidden meaning. Sometimes so much hidden meaning it’s difficult to find any meaning at all, on account of all the hidden hiding that’s going on. This is where big, fancy and obscure words come in so handy. Instead of the author having to hide his meaning through hard work, he simply describes something with a big word that no-one knows and – bingo! – his meaning is lost forever – or at least until you get off your arse and go to the dictionary.

I have hidden meaning in DANNY; lots of it. I took it all to pages 224, 876 and 569 and buried it there. Yes, you will find the deep hidden meaning of everything in DANNY right there, and it will answer all “the unanswered questions”.

I saw a review today of Lost season 1 (Click here to read this and the two other priceless reviews of our on-line critic); it was the very first review up on the page and the author was complaining that the series’ writers obviously did not know what was going on. He had liked the series at the outset but now it was losing the plot and, subsequently, he was losing interest.

To quote many, many people on the internet, WAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Oh, how little he knew. There have been five more seasons since then, mate, and still no questions answered. Every new revelation has brought new questions and no fucking answers whatsoever. But here’s what I want to know – did Skekurc keep watching? Or did he give it up for The Dresden Files or Supernatural; you know, something where you can see telegraphed in the first two minutes what’s going to happen – and it never disappoints.

I recently bought The Dresden Files and sold it again after episode 3. We had intended to persevere through the first four episodes at least, to give it a fighting chance, and couldn’t face it. Maybe it gets great at episode 10, but I won’t be there to see it. And not because it kept me baffled and annoyed but because it had a faggy ghost living in a skull (not as fun as it sounds), and ‘cases’ that an eight year-old might find taxing in terms of wanting to keep on watching.

But did Skekurc keep going with Lost? Did the fact that he never got an explanation for “the monster” straight away send him packing? More importantly, was he able to fight the peer group pressure to keep watching? How many people sit through shows on TV they don’t really like simply because all their friends are watching, or because all the media they see hypes them to hell and back, so that it feels like ‘not fitting in’ (a sin worse than death) to not like what you’re so obviously supposed to like?

Skekurc couldn’t find the hidden meaning in Lost. In fact, he sat in his high chair, expecting the writers to bring the hidden meaning right to him: “Now, half way through the first series, it seems long and drawn out. I get the feeling that we will never know the answer to the mysteries of the island, I get the feeling it will end on a cliff hanger or at least ambiguous, I get the feeling that none of the characters will even speculate about their own existence on the island and i get the feeling that the writers/producers are making it up as they go.

“i find this not very compelling watching anymore, and get bored by how drawn out it seems.

“I wish the programme makers had the courage to answer a few of these questions before they move on to other questions….”

It’s so plaintive, so sad. He’s sat there, diligently waiting for the monster to show up again. Listen to how excited he sounds in the very opening line of his review: “The first episode of the first series was excellent. I thought to myself, this is interesting, they have included a monster.” But only two lines later he is already disillusioned: “…there are so many questions they keep raising about the island and they never solve or even speculate on any of the riddles. The monster, which seems like a hook to get the viewers watching is hardly mentioned. And they keep deterring [sic] from one unexplained story to another.”

His distress is palpable. As is his mystification. He simply cannot understand why they do not resolve or embellish his monster. He doesn’t want hidden meaning. Not unless it’s only hidden for the forty minutes of each episode. He wants Smallville, Buffy, anything where Monster of the Week shows up and we get just enough intrigue before they find a note/mystic medallion/special power that allows them to tidily ‘fix’ the hidden meaning so it is no longer a mystery. Hooray!

But Lost goes on and on, piling mystery on mystery, non sequitur on non sequitur, nonsense on nonsense, intrigue on intrigue, until there are so many plot threads running you can’t begin to imagine the story-board they must have at ABC to keep the Writers’ Room straight. Unless, of course, they’re winging it and they don’t have the slightest idea what they’re doing, like the telegram Raymond Chandler once received from his editor asking him who had killed character X in his latest book, to which he replied, “How should I know?”

Hidden meaning, of course, is far deeper than mere plot mystery. Hidden meaning is when DANNY is an allegory about the British class system, as one reviewer criticised it for not being (Steven Hart). Hidden meaning is when “layered narratives” become satires on American life, or politics or religion. The implication of hidden meaning is that the surface meaning is irrelevant. Unless you can see something deeper, more valid, it’s not a real book.

Like Stephen King, for example. Stephen’s early works in particular had incredibly elaborate, complex stories, but don’t expect to get them past any academics/critics any time soon, unless you can find deep hidden meanings in vampires and reanimated pets. (Truthfully, I’m up for that. Bet I could prove it too.)

Take John From Cincinnati. Unless you’re American (and even then you’d have to be a diligent ‘alternative TV’ watcher), you probably won’t have heard of this, let alone seen it. I watched the series recently – just before Lost, in fact, which I’m re-watching from scratch because I recently bought Series 4 so I’m catching up, see if it helps any… But John From Cincinnati… obscure doesn’t begin to describe it. We watched the entire series and not one single episode (of 10) made any sense whatsoever. There was an ongoing mystery of who John was, and some individual mysteries about the characters, but the bigger mystery was what was it all about?

I’m quite smart, as is Max, and even with both brains together we didn’t have a clue. Not one. I am less edified after I watched it than before. Part of me would dearly love to give it to Skekurc for review. No doubt he’d get fixated on the levitation (a character finds himself floating) and spend the entirety of the rest of the review plaintively whining, “I don’t think the writers have the courage to tell us who John is…”

The big difference is he could dump John From C with ease, as did the studio, unresolved (nowhere near resolved) at the end of the first series, leaving us all twice as mystified as we were before watching it. His friends would not watch it; there would be no peer group pressure. In fact, he could cheerfully join the many message board threads headed, “CRAP!!!! Worst show on TV!!!” , which John of Cincinnati has a-plenty.

Equally well, of course, you have people who will not watch a show (or read a book) unless it is obscure. I once had a friend who collected vintage movies, and animation in particular, on Super8 (a small gauge film stock, for those not in the know). I remember him being a cross between crestfallen and furious when a British company made available a cartoon short that previously had only been available as an import. It wasn’t because he’d lost the £46 he’d paid (in 1985; why, that was worth £782 then), but because it was no longer obscure, inaccessible, elite. He’d been rendered ordinary. It’s these people who love writers who construct whole novels about nothing much, or who like to insert every second chapter as a historical flashback complete with minutely researched politics-of-the-day accuracy. But we should be thankful for readers such as these. Where would novelists such as Booker winners be without them?

It tells you something about television, or TV watchers, that it can’t support such a cognoscenti. There is no late night cult of John From Cincinnati watchers for whom the studio continues to run season after season on some forgotten time slot. It either gets the ratings, has the ad revenue, or it hits the decks like a dead fish. No matter how good it is.

I’m not even sure how good John From C was, but I’m not sorry I watched it. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to see more of it so that I might have stood some chance of understanding it. Now I never will. It’s the Skekurcs of the world who are deciding this for us. They are beyond the realms of hidden meanings. Hidden meanings are an anathema to them. They have no pain threshold for not understanding. Skekurc couldn’t stand not to have everything about the very first season of Lost resolved just part of the way through it. He had to see the writing on the wall, and if he couldn’t that was because the programme makers lacked “the courage” to tell him everything was going to be okay by flagging the plot clearly with Denouement To Come Shortly. Now. No delayed gratification or discomfort at all.

It’s hard not to visualise Skekurc like Homer Simpson, standing in front of the microwave yelling, “One minute?! One MINUTE?! Can’t you go faster?!”

There’s nothing wrong with Skekurc being Skekurc, needing certainty, blaming his lack of tolerance on others’ cowardice, but it’s all the Skekurcs who are driving your movies and your TV, if not your books. Even there they are driving the bestsellers, driving what the publishing houses, the shops and Amazon wants to sell (and therefore buy).

Skekurc is demanding less of everything creative. He wants less intrigue, less mystery. He wants less back story, less character. He wants more genre, more monsters. He wants everything to follow the same predictable plotline; he wants less diversity, less originality, less disruption. He wants the same, always the same. If he doesn’t get more of the same, where he expects to get it, at the speed he expects to get it, and in a form he both understands and approves of, he will change channels along with all the other Skekurcs, taking all that ad revenue with them, off to Smallville, 24, CSI Miami – the list is endless… And you will no longer be able to watch John From Cincinnati, Carnivale, Life, Dirt, and all the other quirky, weird series with no pat endings, conventional characters or predictable story arcs.

I don’t have to have a hidden meaning in my art. I don’t have to have obscurity, difficulty and confusion, but it doesn’t hurt me when I do find it. I can take a little pain, a little uncertainty. Contrary to what Skekurc would have us believe, it takes immense courage for a TV writer to produce a show like John From Cincinnati. He knows it’s going to be a hard sell: to the producers, the studio, the public. He knows it probably won’t test well because he knows all the Skekurcs will be in the focus group, scratching their heads and muttering, “I don’t get it…” He’s seen them so often before, and he knows how the studio loves them; they’re Joe Average, the dumbed down that the studio relies on to make sure nothing – nothing – goes over Everyman’s poor addled head. It takes huge courage to write something you know people might not like or understand, to go against accepted literary or entertainment traditions, to fly in the face of Skekurc wisdom.

Fortunately, every once in a while something left-field becomes sufficiently mainstream, like Lost, to make it through the turbulent waters of not being predictable enough. And, equally well, sometimes drivel like The Dresden Files, finds itself axed because it’s just too bloody boring to even pull in the bottom-feeding mediocrity that is Skekurcs. Surely there is some kind of karma in that…

I’ve just watched the 2007 TV version of Oliver Twist, starring Timothy Spall as Fagin, and it gave me a moment of satori.

First, let me say it’s a very good series, verging on excellent, not least because of the ambition and ‘bravery’ it exhibits. Everybody who takes on the dramatisation of a ‘classic’ knows they are up for potential verbal assault, and anyone who attempts to change a ‘classic’ knows that they will be reviled for it.

It’s a given that you cannot touch a ‘classic’ without being slapped down for it. Not because of the mistakes you make, but just for the act of doing it at all. It doesn’t matter how many savers you put on by way of apology – “inspired by…”, “loosely based on…”, or even a desperate, “based on characters by…” – you will be punished. In fact, even announcing your proposed project as purposefully “new and different” in the hopes of pulling some kind of pre-emptive strike will only make matters worse for you. You have already bet on the lose-lose horse.

If I was to announce right now that DANNY V1 is being considered for a graphic novel (it is), fans, detractors and even people who have only heard of the novel, not read it, would immediately start to surmise the end result: how in God’s name would you make a graphic novel of DANNY? And who would draw it? And how long would it be? And how would they get that past a comic shop’s doors? And will you see the sex? And, and, and…… The conclusion would, of course, be reached that it couldn’t possibly be as good as the original and they shouldn’t tamper with it, and why did they have to make a graphic novel of it anyway?

I’ve never quite understood the public’s constant carping on this or that proposed TV/cine production. What the hell do they imagine is going to be left for them to watch if all the directors actually took the criticism seriously? Working in an alternate reality for a moment, where writers and directors actually listened to ‘fans’, and the public in general, that would mean that we’d still all be watching Shakespeare, with men dressed as women and only seven basic Greek drama plots in circulation. After all, that’s what entertainment would be if we always “respected the classics” – static, stale and dead. Nothing would change. Allegedly this is what the public wants.

My arse. They wouldn’t know what they wanted if it jumped up and bit them.

But my satori. It was this. The 2007 Fagin was written by one Sarah Phelps, a markedly working class, blunt author who obviously has a very firm handle on what Dickens was about, and exactly what is not relevant – for want of a better word – to a modern audience. In short, she took away the niceties of Dickens pandering to a Victorian readership and updated the story to modern sensibilities. And very well she did it too.

Predictably, the audience rating on IMDB is only 7.3 (go along and give it more stars, if you’ve seen it – help creative justice be done, and annoy the hell out the ‘leave our classics alone’ crowd.) That’s a good rating, but not quite great, dragged down by every fourth thread on the discussion forum shouting stuff of this ilk (sic), “Is there any period of English history that [the BBC] will not insert a non European ethnic character in. Yes thats right they have done it again with Oliver Twist in which Nancy is played by African actress Sophie Okonedo. All part of the BBC policy of altering the perception of the past to fit its PC agenda.”

Dear God, in Victorian London there were no black people. Who’d have thought it?

Aside from the fact that peterking7777 obviously doesn’t have a clue about Victorian London, and that he really ought to learn about it before shouting his mouth off (when do they ever?), does it actually say anywhere in Oliver Twist that Nancy isn’t black? Unless there’s a description talking about her fair skin and peachy cheeks, she could have been black.

But why, I wonder, is that so terrible when in Lost in Austen, for example, the actress who plays Elizabeth Bennett is clearly way too tall, not just for Eliza, but for the Regency period at all. In fact, the actress is too tall for anything historical and she would never get her rangy modern frame into the tiny kid shoes and gloves of the badly fed, unsanitaryily housed ladies of the period. Where is peterking’s rant on that glaring inaccuracy?

The idea that departing from a character’s looks (unless they play an important part) when translating to the screen is somehow unforgivable is utterly barking, not to say unattainable. Of course, the use of terms like “PC” in peterking’s post tells you that what we have here is a (not so very) closeted racist rather than an academic purist, but he’s very far from rare.

It would be nice to believe that peterking is outraged on behalf of Dickens. Indeed, that all these Outrageds of Scunthorpe care so much about the purity of the author’s vision that they simply must rush to defend it.

Not true. The real reason behind peterking’s outrage is a whole hell of a lot more to do with what Dickens stands for: a view of the world that peterking wants to be true. In the good old days (of child prostitution and turpentine Gin) everyone was white.

It’s hard for us now to appreciate that Dickens was in any way controversial in his own time, and it’s true that historical context shows up the disparities and the weaknesses in his fiction. London in Victorian times was heaving with prostitutes. It’s hard, in fact, to overstate this. As a general rule of thumb, in any poor district or slum all the women were prostitutes, even the ones in ‘gainful employment’. Was this because the Victorians were randier than any era before or after? No, although they were more sexually repressed – make of that what you like. But the fact was, that if a woman (or child) faced starving, or having sex up an alley with a ‘toff’ – guess which choice won?

Is this rampant prostitution discussed in Dickens, dissected, revealed? No. Do you imagine that if you dramatised Dickens’ and had some of the poorer women, the ‘good’ ones, also being part-time prostitutes, that Horrified of Burnley would take that lying down, it being historically accurate and all? Would he hell. Suddenly peterking’s argument would do an abrupt body-swerve. No longer would it be “lack of historical accuracy” but “unnecessarily graphic”, and “an insult to a master of literature”, and “pure sensationalism”.

In the eighties I found a set of “Life and Labour of the People”, a rare Victorian work on the everyday lives of everyday Victorian pond scum. Unfortunately I sold it, because it was a great book. (That and one on food adulteration, which I also sold, another great book. Regret parting with them both.) But it painted a picture far worse than Dickens, with starvation, and lead poisoning, and squalor, and violence not seen since medieval times – and not since. Victorian London was detestable. That’s why Dickens wrote the books. He’d been there, at the arse end of reality. But, for better or worse, he’d realised that he had to tone it down for his readership. There was no way the educated classes of the time were going to read the truth about prostitution, and gonorrhoea, and child labour, and gin shops, and the general filth, depravity and disease these poor sods lived in. So he wrote his sentimental version, his cleaned-up version, where unmarried mothers die repentant, and women never get drunk and aggressive, and kind rich people rescue all the poor, but innately genteel, Olivers.

It’s this aspect of acceptabilising (ah, Americans are loving my verbification skills right now) the uglier aspects of life that made him loved then, just as it makes him loved now.

This is the same difference between Charlotte Bronte (the ‘nice’ Jane Eyre saved by wealth) and the not nice Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights – no-one saved by wealth; in fact, pursuit of gentrification is what ruins them all). This is why, when the world and her pink-coated Chihuahua cloned the romantic ideal, they all chose to rewrite Jane Eyre and not Wuthering Heights.

When Sarah Phelps came to adapt Oliver Twist she decided to gritty it up, make it more resonant for a modern audience: There would have been black low-lifes round the London docks – why not make Nancy a half-caste? Oliver comes from the work-house, he shouldn’t talk like he was educated at Eton (the norm for ‘stage’ Olivers). Bill Sikes should look like he grifted on the streets, he wasn’t born evil. Fagin should have a fragile mental state, facing anti-semitism at every turn. Worst of all, when Oliver is ‘saved’ by the rich, it might just be open to interpretation that he has saved his own neck at the expense of all those who get left behind. In short, a Dickens where the rich get rich and the poor get poorer, just like real life.

All hell promptly lets loose – even here in Aberdeen where Max found it unacceptable that Oliver doesn’t try to save Fagin, in fact promptly forgets him, in his hurry to get back to his nice rich family and his nice suit of clothes.

So, not only was that too severe a picture for Dickens’ England, it’s still too severe a portrait now. Who cares if it’s real, we want Happy Ever After. No-one has a right to mock romantic novelists for this, it’s all around us.

And this was my satori: it’s exactly the same problem that DANNY hits, over and over. Look at this mini-review from Goodreads about Cult Fiction Kaye gives one star just to the idea of DANNY, a short idiot’s guide (that’s the guide that’s short, not the idiots) to The DANNY Quadrilogy, where you only get a 20-odd page excerpt from V1. The rest of the book just talks about the ideas in DANNY, but this was still Kaye’s response. “Vulgar, graphic, explicit and in your face objectionable.” Because, of course, violent sexual abuse is never vulgar, graphic, explicit or objectionable. Usually it’s wistful, covered-up, politely worded and tasteful.


The only place it can be, in books, in films, on television. In the real homes of the degraded and humiliated, the abuser takes out his penis and shows you it – flagrantly and without apology. He does not turn his back, put out the lights or murmur endearments. In the real homes of the abased and degraded, the abuser uses spit, rubs semen in your eyes and makes you sniff the unwashed parts of his body. In the real homes of the hurt and wounded, the irrevocably damaged, the abuser pinches your skin, burns weeping sores into your labia and makes you drink noxious substances till you vomit, then makes you sleep in the vomit. You don’t get the privilege of tastefully concealing garments, privacy, decorum and the protection of your delicate sensibilities from words like fuck, cunt, shit, piss, whore, slut, pig, bitch, bastard, bugger, suck, lick, come, screw, poke and prod.

But, of course, Kaye is right, she shouldn’t have to be subjected to this outrage, because even although she didn’t read to the end of the copy (no “fine print”, she just didn’t click on the “read more” button before she rushed to sign up for her freebie; lazy Kaye) she did see that it was described as “gruelling”. Of course, Kaye took the Random House meaning of that word – “This book contains 2 nasty scenes where the word fuck is used”. How audacious of me to rewrite the meaning of gruelling back to its original meaning of harrowing, relentless, exhausting, difficult, severe, harsh, arduous, punishing and backbreaking.

But, of course, poor Kaye is just another innocent bystander in all of this brutality, a member of The Great Reading Classes who, I’ve rapidly come to learn, are not who I thought they were.

Being well-read does not educate you; it educates you in the way of books. And that is a very specific and circumscribed world. Believe it or not, it is nowhere writ (other than in every publisher’s house style guide) that when I, or anyone else, writes the truth we are not allowed to write THE ACTUAL TRUTH.

It may be the fashion or the taste to write it to suit your audience (victim faction), or your era (D.H. Lawrence, Dickens, William Faulkner), or the BBC (any ‘hard-hitting’ drama you care to name), but I am under no obligation to do that.

Even more unbelievably, this does not then make my book an examination of the class system (Steven Hart), or objectionable (Kaye), it just means that it’s my truth. It may not be your truth, or what you would like the truth to be, but it is the truth. And what’s more, my truth is far more deserving of that name than theirs. When they can produce police records that show me abusers do tasteful things, refuse to use bad language and are never explicit in their sex acts then I will accept their values about my work.

Until that day, I reserve the right to be on the side of Sarah Phelps, defend the use of black Nancys, be unsettled by Olivers who are just a little smug, empathise with Bill Sikes who are perversely sympathetic, cry for the arbitrary injustice towards Fagin and applaud the swearing and sluts in Deadwood.

If I may just quote from the acknowledgement (to Nora Roberts) in How to Write the Perfect Novel (I do like to quote myself, however indirectly; it was Salman Rushdie who actually said this), “It’s very, very easy not to be offended by a book. You just have to shut it.”

Of course, all this book shutting is doing nothing for my book sales. Damn. Guess I’m just going to have to do a Dickens and rewrite DANNY to suit the tastes of the day. I’m thinking a mini-series on Nickelodeon, or a Young Adult abridged version, 80 pages, say. Or maybe an MTV one-off special. No, a talking book, in Braille. I could circulate it to the Women’s Institute. No, the Tunbridge Wells Reading Group. Ooh, and the Daily Mail. They could give excerpts away on Sundays in Tesco’s, and we could get the Blue Peter presenters to act in it. Yeah, whatsisname would make a great John……….

P.S. That reminds me. Watching OT, I was forcibly struck by what a good John Tom Hardy, who plays Bill Sikes, would be. He’s not as powerfully built, but everything else is perfect, including the full mouth and psychopathic eyes. I looked him up to see what else he’d done and found he’s doing a Wuthering Heights with the same director (Coky Giedroyc – a woman, by the way). Oh, excited doesn’t begin to describe it. I am baiting my breath even as I speak. They better be releasing it on DVD. And those of you who have TV, please let me know if it’s any good when it airs…