This week has shown some of the best and worst aspects of the human race – just like every week.
We lost a beloved performer on Monday, and the world wept; that was touching, and unifying, and we shared one another’s grief. But, of course, there had to be some people who felt it was their right and privilege to harass the family of the deceased online, posting mocked-up autopsy pictures to Twitter (one of which I inadvertently came across yesterday morning, and which almost made me physically sick) and seeming to enjoy the notoriety – because notoriety equals fame which equals status, in their eyes – which came with it.
I personally cannot understand what would drive a person to create a mocked-up autopsy picture, the single most gruesome thing I have ever had to see, and put it up online. I cannot. But I share my humanity with the person or people who did it, and so I have to conclude that they have cauterised whatever compassion or kindness they may once have had; I cannot accept that I have anything, besides my mortality, in common with someone who could cause such deliberate agony.
All the love the world shared, and all the remembrances, and all the shock, and all the beautiful tributes, may as well never have happened now.
For me, it’s not enough to simply shrug and say ‘well, that’s life. That’s human nature.’ I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. It’s not human nature. It’s very much a human construct, and one which we’ve created. There has always been cruelty, of course, but now it has legitimacy, and a platform, and it confers infamy and gets people talking – and yes, I appreciate the irony of this, even as I post about it – and that, somehow, makes it seem less heinous. It makes cruelty seem like a career path.
What has happened to make us this way?
My mind has been swirling with thoughts like these for the past few days, and that’s not a good thing. My thoughts tend towards Worst Case Scenarios even at the best of times, and I find it all too easy to get lost down all the dark paths. So, I knew I had to do something to divert my thinking and make things seem better, even if the only person it benefited was myself.
Earlier in the week I finished (after a marathon, power-through-it day) the edits on the book I’ve been calling ‘Web’; I’m not saying it’s done, just done enough for me to put it aside for a while. The end still isn’t strong enough, but overall I’m happy with the story arc, and I think I’ve fixed glaring plot holes and issues with characterisation. One of the main things I feel I had mis-handled with this book was its scariness – you may recall it features a ghost, and not one who is happy to sit in a corner and rattle its chains. This is a ghost set on revenge, and so it had to be scary. It had to have reasons for what it was doing, as well as a method. Giving it reasons and method was the easy bit. I mentioned a while back that I don’t really know the ‘horror’ genre as well as I could, not being a person who likes scary films and whatnot, and I had been spending too long forcing the ghost into a box marked ‘Wooo!’ by giving it a shark’s head, and talking about it screaming all the time, raising goosebumps and hackles alike. I reread those bits a few days after I’d first written them, and I rolled my own eyes in boredom.
Stop trying to make it scary, I told myself, by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it. Stop and think about what makes you scared, and use that instead.
Well. I scare easily. Things like weird shadows where shadows shouldn’t, at first glance, be can make my blood run cold. The idea of a whisper in my ear in an empty room makes me lose my reason. A stifled sob from an invisible throat would freak me out more than a maniacal laugh. So, I went with that. It was out with the shark’s head (which, on reread, was ridiculous), and I toned down the screaming. And it was much better.
Then, I revisited Eldritch. It’s been so long since I worked on this book that I’d forgotten what state it was in, and that was brilliant – it was like reading someone else’s work. Polly – who, when I first submitted this book to her, wasn’t yet my agent but just a dream, a long shot – had recommended that I shelve my idea of having Eldritch as the first part of a trilogy and instead write it as a standalone book, and so I’d started the process of doing that, months ago.
But the best part is, I hadn’t realised quite how far into the work of rejigging the book I’d managed to get before something else – no doubt another story – had dragged me away from it. I was over 45,000 words into it, which felt like being given a present. That’s about three-quarters of the way through what will become a new first draft.
So, I began to read Eldritch, and it made me laugh.
It’s not David Walliams funny, or Andy Stanton funny, but some of the dialogue between the protagonist Jeff and his friend Joe pleases me hugely, and the chemistry between the two boys – their obvious long-standing friendship, and the comfort with which they poke fun at one another, fun which conceals a deep affection – made me happy. I am in the throes of writing a new ending to this story, which promises more fun ahead (as well as Peril and Danger and Derring-Do and Magic), and it was the best thing I could have done to lift my mind out of the mire of the world I have no choice but to live in. I have made a hurried, scribbled, general outline of what I want to happen, and ideas are drip-dropping into my mind all the time, slowly but with great richness, like balm falling onto wizened skin.
Revisiting Eldritch reminded me why I want to write stories. I want to create a little bit of magic, and stimulate wonder. I want to leave a little fairy-dust behind me so that when I’m gone, people will know I tried to help. I tried to encourage compassion and fellow-feeling and laughter, because in the end they have to win out over cruelty. Otherwise, what are any of us doing here?