Politics And Mr Bryant
Like all authors, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I read some of my Amazon reviews, and the other day one surprised me. A reader said she was going to stop reading the books because Arthur Bryant was ‘a mouthpiece for (my) politics’.
It’s surprising for three reasons; first, nobody really knows what my politics are because it’s not something I talk about. Second, Bryant is a fictional character. Third, Bryant happens to be a humanitarian Londoner who believes in education, fairness and basic decency.
But I take this sort of thing seriously. As she was talking about ‘Wild Chamber’ I picked up a highlighter and tried to find the offending sections that had caused her to drop the book in horror.
Never try to find clues in your own work because you’ll be too blind to them. When you live with the prose over many many months you cease to see it anymore. Maybe the part that caused her to shrink away from the page with her fist at her mouth was where the businessman lost his job and became a rough sleeper, or where the park was the subject of a privatisation scheme. I hope not, because like most of the other plots in Bryant & May books, both of these elements were carefully researched from ongoing cases in London newspapers. In fact, they’re so fresh that they’re still ongoing after the novel has appeared.
As well as taking the plots from today’s headlines, I de-fang them a bit by removing the more strident political elements from the news stories, because these are mystery novels, not political tracts.
Then a horrible thought hit me. Had she muddled the books? Was she referring to the refugee-on-the-make character in ‘Strange Tide’? Did she in fact think I was a UKIP-voting anti-immigration writer? While I do keep politics at a very low level in the stories, that would be where I draw the line.
As a Londoner like Bryant, my job has never been threatened by an immigrant crowding me out of my home and my rights, although I appreciate that there are those who deeply feel the country has suffered. But most Londoners are aware that what the rest of the country has suffered from is government neglect, ‘managed decline’, abandoning the North and pockets all around the country to fend for themselves, and I do feel very angry that people were so easily diverted to the wrong targets.
I have wonderful friends around the country who find themselves barely able to earn a living wage because of across-the-board party politics that have either mismanaged funds through incompetence or deliberately allowed their towns to fail in order to line their own pockets. And the danger is that if my detectives explored the rest of the UK the series would become genuinely political. Because the one target I have consistency attacked is government-level and council-level corruption. Without that grain of grit and truth, the books would become cosy little Agatha Christies. And that’s not somewhere I’m prepared to go.