In 1978, Edward Bond wrote the quote below in his second volume of collected plays, called, PLAYS TWO.
Like George Bernard Shaw, Bond wrote long and thoughtful introductions to his plays and both introductions and plays are well worth reading.
His whole life he has written of the effects of violence which he was introduced to very young with the bombing of his London.
“I write about violence as naturally as Jane Austen wrote about manners. Violence shapes and obsesses our society, and if we do not stop being violent, we have no future. People who do not want writers to write about violence want to stop them writing about us and our time. It would be immoral not to write about violence.”
Powerful stuff. His plays were prosecuted under the censorship laws of the day and were a key factor in bringing those laws down.
The quote is still true. Our society not only exercises violence on a daily basis but takes a snide thrill from it – as long as it happens to someone else. Each news bulletin on the radio or TV begins with the tastes of crime, the more bizarre the better. Our politicians know there are cheap votes in calling for harsher laws. It is Bond’s belief that the inequalities of living that our society promotes are the deeper causes of crime and that we are doomed if we do not fix them. He has given his life to that belief and I have had the good fortune to have acted in aproduction of one of his plays.
But for me, his statement made me look again at the crime novel.
I have always believed there is no subject unfit for writing about, no subject which cannot be made the object of a joke – as long as, and this is crucial – the quality is of a high standard.
No matter what we write, we are in search of quality, just as we are with the lives we lead.
But prejudice, as Jane Austen knew, can be deep and insidious. Despite my beliefs I had tended to put crime writing aside as a lesser category.
Bond made me look again. And then of course I awoke to the power of serious crime to disrupt the normality of life. Authors I loved like Dickens, and Steinbeck, and Stevenson, and the Russians knew about this force and used it so well because they wrote so well. I cannot write like them, each author should be unique, but I can aspire to their standards.
I have also read clever pieces of detection that make novels as cold as stone and not nearly as interesting. I understand now that just as people go to McDonald’s to be sure of getting a hamburger exactly like the last one they got there, so some readers return to the same book written under different titles by the same author.
Those readers are in a backwater eddy of life and will go around and round for the rest of their time, helping to change nothing. And either we do change and go forward or we stay still and atrophy.
We must not turn our backs on the ills and crimes of our society, we must examine them with quality writing. It’s not easy, who said it should be? And honest writers stumble. But as Bond illustrates, quality crime writing is necessary.
Which means we must rise to the occasion.
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