If there is one thing worse than bad writing, it's safe writing. No one could ever accuse Gordon Burn of producing either. His last book Happy Like Murderers took on one of the darkest episodes of recent British history and turned it into something akin to art.
Rose and Fred West were the most notorious male/female killing duo since the horrors inflicted in the 605 by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. All too soon after the discovery of the evils perpetrated within the walls and below the stairs of 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester, book after book of exploitative literature appeared in the name of revealing the truth.
It took a more considered period of time before the most remarkable account of the tribulations and later trials was published. Yet, there was Gordon Burn, a rigorous and intelligent writer being castigated for the way he chose to depict the events which began to seep into British life after the Wests' arrest in 1994.
‘People had a real problem with the style,’ states the Newcastle-born
Crime artist: Gordon Burn
writer as he recalls the more negative reactions. ’It evolved out of the people I went to see who had written accounts of their lives and, by and large, they were people without formal education who wrote in this very interesting circular way which felt like they were groping for something. A lot was indirect speech and things said in the trials and on police tapes and I just moved it around a bit.’
This disturbed some critics claiming that it was merely another form of sensationalising the horrors. ‘Because the style was somehow fictive it was suggested that things were made up - there is not a single fact or phrase attributed to somebody that they did not use.’ Such concerns will no doubt raise their heads again
when Burn, alongside Ian Rankin and Val McDermid discuss the morality of crime writing.
Previous to Happy Like Murderers, Burn had touched on Hindley in his debut novel Alma Cogan and looked at the Yorkshire Ripper in the non-fictional Somebody's Husband, Somebody’s Son as well as being named columnist of the year in 1991 for his sports writing in Esquire.
He may have gained a fearsome reputation for dipping into the dark side but he hopes it may not always be thus: 'It’s strange that you can write five books about murder and murderers can be such a focus. I'm going to try but, to write about happiness and non-morbid things, seems so much more difficult.’ (Brian Donaldson) n For details, see Hit list, right.
LECTURE Marina Warner On Fear And Fairytales
Ghoul teacher: Marina Warner
Marina Warner wants to take you to the dark side via your childhood nightmares and terrifying fairy stories. 'Fear is such an important and exciting part of our lives,’ she insists. ’Despite our revulsion, we cultivate it.’
That growth continues in Warner's latest book No Go The Bogeyman, as she looks at the roots of modern day horror in old wives' tales and folklore. The looming figure of the monster under the bed, which haunts everyone’s childhood, is examined as the antecedent to the violence and terror that pervades our everyday lives now.
Warner sees the dark side as something which has assumed more and more relevance in our society in recent years; the desensitisation towards violence through television, films and computer games is something that is forming our attitude towards the scary and
'Hannibal Lecter and Freddy Krueger as modern day heroes, George Lucas's choice of the name The Phantom Menace, ghoulish sweets at the pick 'n’ mix counter — these are all evidence of our increased preoccupation with death and fear.’ She also points to technology as a major player in this process. ’There is the power and advancement on one hand and a fear of what Faustian monsters we are creating in the other.’
The growth and all-pervasive nature of the media has also been instrumental. 'We have so much power and control over our environment but there is this one big area that is still threatening; turning it into "entertainment" is one way of making it less scary.’ You may need your security blanket.
(Victoria Nutting) I For details, see Hit list, right.
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A magniﬁcent seven bits of lit. Gordon Burn See preview, left. The Morality Of Crime Writing (Crime) Post Ofﬁce Theatre, 16 Aug, 3pm, £6 (£4); Tastes And Taboos (Culture Wars) Spiegeltent, 78 Aug, 4pm, £6 (£4). Anthony Sampson Journalist, author and biographer Sampson has known Mandela since 1951, having followed him from being the prosecuted to the President. Get a rare insight into the mind of a legend. Anthony Sampson On Nelson Mandela (Biography) Post Ofﬁce Theatre, 76 Aug. 5pm, £6 (£4).
Sean Hughes The former cuddly comic now darkly thrilling author reads from his forthcoming lt’s What He Would’ve Wanted, his difficult second novel. Sean Hughes (Lunchtime Reading) Spiege/tent, 16 Aug, 1pm, £6 (£4).
Doris Lessing Meet one of the world's most respected authors whose works have touched on everything from feminist theory to science fiction. See preview on following pages. Doris Lessing (Meet The Author) Post Ofﬁce Theatre, 78 Aug, 71.30am, £6 (£4).
Ian Rankin Crime Quiz Challenge A killer quiz, set by the creator of Rebus for you, the public, and a celebrity team including Christopher Brookmyre and Val McDermid. Ian Rankin Crime Quiz Challenge (Ouiz) Spiege/tent, 17 Aug, 8.30pm. £4.
Marina Warner See preview, left. Marina Warner On Fear And Fairytales (Lecture) Post Ofﬁce Theatre, 74 Aug, 6.30pm, £7 (£5).
Steve Bell John Major’s least favourite cartoonist gives us the sketch on his years in the business. See preview on following pages and Freeloaders, page 11. Steve Bell (Politics) Post Ofﬁce Theatre, 74 Aug, 3pm, £6 (£4).
12-19 Aug 1999 THE ust 93