Over the last six months I’ve written about a lot of horrible things. The ideas have turned over in my head until they’ve all but come to life. I hope that when people read them in me stories they, too, have felt that it’s as if the events were real. In my imagination I’ve had characters run people over with trains, assault old ladies, use guns, set fire to human beings, use blow torches as weapons, break fingers, hang folk upside down and chop off body parts. You name it and I’ve probably considered letting someone do it. You may have even read some of theses deeds in publications, here on the blog or linked up to other sites.
I’ve read a lot of books, too. Dark and heavy tales, serious noir, work I’ve admired and enjoyed yet work with crazier shit than I have going on. Some of the fiction’s even left me worrying about my own state of mind it’s been that disturbing (and that good).
So how am I going to feel when a man, a real life guy, takes to the streets with a couple of guns and shoots the life from 12 people and leaves others fighting to keep breathing. Do I revel in the pain he’s caused? Admire his cruelty? Obsessively watch all the news I can and hope I can borrow a few tips for my characters?
To all of the above the answer is no.
I hope you knew that before I spelled it out.
I’m saddened by it - for the people in Cumbria who are left behind with their grief, for those in pain and for the people who are mopping up the mess. I offer my sympathy to them all even though I know none of them.
What I am curious about is motive. I guess that many of us are. What led this guy to commit these atrocities then take his own life on Boot Hill is a story that’s yet to be told. It’s what I want to know. It’s that piece of the jigsaw that fires me up as a crime-writer.
We’re all different. Our wiring is different, our cultures and experiences walk us along different paths and we react to situations in a huge variety of ways.
I love the idea of twin studies, for example, that demonstrate the influence of society upon character, mental health and achievement. They suggest that if you were swapped at birth and experienced a completely different set of circumstances you’d end up with a similar root profile but a very different as a very different person.
And there’s the rub. Put us in a different place, throw a pile of rocks at us and who knows how we’d have ended up?
Just what made Derrick Bird go out on his misguided murder mission, his Whitehaven wipe-out, we’ll never really know, but it’s through works of fiction and my imagination that I feel I can get to understand a little of what goes on within the heads of others. Perhaps it’s what keeps me sane.
I’m not going to stop writing about horrible things and horrible people because of events like yesterdays. On the contrary, it’s things like that which drive my efforts to understand with a greater sense of purpose. I hope that by taking myself and my readers into the unknown that I help a little with the stuff that bother us.
And just for the record, Derek Bird is no relation and the fact that he was known as ‘Birdy’ is just a little bit too twisted even for me to get my head around.