Sunday, March 22, 2009
Too Close for Comfort?
by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
I was a little disconcerted when I read in my old local paper from Melbourne Australia, The Age, online about the weekend's shootings of four police officers in my current home town of Oakland, California. It wasn't the incident (tragic though it is) that was the cause of my disquiet- sadly Oakland is all too frequently associated with violence and crime these days - it was the fact that the news had travelled thousands of miles across the Pacific to become a headline there. No doubt we will have to fend off worried phone calls from family in Melbourne as they lament (as they always do) the current state of America...but it also reinforces the global reach of news these days and how fear, like tragedy, is imported day after day till it's firmly embedded in our psyche to the point that we become either overwhelmed or inured to it. This made me consider why I write what I write and what is for me 'too close for comfort'.
Why, for instance, do I write a historical series rather than a modern day crime series dealing with the very real fears we all face? On one level I like the sheer escapism of writing about another time and place and I love immersing myself in historical research but on another level I think perhaps I'm also avoiding writing about things that cut too close to the bone. Call it 'dread avoidance' - the art of skirting around the very essence of fear itself. Stephen King I believe once said that he wrote 'horror' because at some level writing it protected him and his family from it ever happening to them. I think for me the opposite is true - not writing about it a kind of protective measure (which seems a slightly pathetic admission doesn't it from a mystery writer?)
There is obviously plenty of room in the world of books for stories that both confront fear and those which provide a heady escape from those fears. For the development of my own craft, however, I know that one day I will have to set aside my inhibitions and face 'the darkest dread' in my stories. What I want to know is how you as a reader or a writer feel? Are there some things too close for comfort that you could neither read nor write about? How do you face the challenge of confronting these issues as well as these fears? If you write about them does it make it easier or harder to confront?