Retrospective | Simon Bestwick on Blake’s 7.

Blake’s 7: a science-fiction TV series that ran for four seasons from 1978 to 1981. In a grim, nightmarish future, resistance fighter Blake fought the evil Galactic Federation with a hi-tech spaceship, the Liberator, crewed by escaped prisoners. It tended to be pretty damned pessimistic at the best of times. Blake went missing after season two, leaving his second-in-command Avon in charge; the Liberator was destroyed at the end of season three.

Even so, the final episode was an emotional kick in the nuts by any standard.

The final episode found them on the planet Gauda Prime, trying to find Blake. They succeed- but Avon, mistakenly thinking Blake’s betrayed them to the Federation, shoots him. Dead. While we’re still reeling from that, Federation troops burst in; Avon’s crew are shot down around him. Surrounded, Avon stands astride Blake’s body, raises his rifle, and smiles bitterly… cut to black, and a volley of shots ring out.

I fucking bawled. (I was seven at the time, I should hurriedly add.) Blake’s 7 was a regular fixture, like Dr Who, and it’d just ended in the most bleak, brutal way imaginable. They hadn’t even gone out in a blaze of glory or with Blake and Avon reunited. I hated that bastard scriptwriter (Chris Boucher.)

But now I admire him greatly: that final episode is still burned into my memory thirty years later. Because this wasn’t supposed to happen. They were the good guys (though Avon was a ruthless bastard;) the good guys were supposed to win. Not kill each other in a tragic misunderstanding and be mowed down in disarray.

Welcome to the real world, kid. You keep fighting overwhelming odds for too long, it’s only going to end one way.

Here’s the thing, though: if Blake’s 7 had ended less unhappily, I doubt I’d remember it so fondly, or so well. Ramsey Campbell once said of Stephen King that he gave readers what they thought they didn’t want. That final episode did the same.

The great love stories: Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Heathcliff and Cathy… do they end with love conquering all? If they did, would they be so memorable, so moving?

The lesson: honesty, in writing, beats clichés hands down. Two of your characters might end up getting horizontal: doesn’t mean they’re going to settle down, get married and have kids. It might be the expectation; it might be the easy option- but unless it’s the truth it’s lazy, clichéd, a lie. Where are the characters’ drives and motivations taking them? Look at their final destination and don’t flinch; Look for whatever truth the story and characters have.

I’ll leave you with three quotes to sum it all up:

‘This is my truth; tell me yours.’ –Aneurin Bevan.
‘Never underestimate people; they do desire the cut of truth.’ –Natalie Goldberg
‘What’s important is not what an audience thinks the night they see a play, but what they think six months later’ –Edward Bond

Or in my case, thirty years.

Retrospective | Kat Richardson

The Curious Matter of Inspiration

Kat Richardson

The funny thing about inspiration is that it doesn’t always come from the sources some might expect. For instance, I’m known for writing slightly creepy, hardboiled urban fantasy that is in no way romantic, yet one of my inspirations is Jane Austen. Well, and Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler too, as well as a lot of other writers who never wrote a psychological

So why Jane Austen? Because she was a keen observer of society. She based her stories on the little social interactions of very ordinary people and how they can go horribly wrong. That’s a wonderful ability and it can lead to some lovely plot devices and character actions. And from there it is only a tiny step to writing crime novels, since a crime is often precipitated by little social breakages and personal stresses―camel-breaking straws that set things off on an inevitable track to disturbing or paranormally-inspired paragraph in their lives. Though of course there are plenty in my personal faves list who are nothing if not creepy and bizarre. But it’s not just people who write the way I do who are inspiring to me. I like writers who are articulate and clever and very very good at something a little obscure….

For this reason, I’ve always thought Jane Austen would have been a wonderful crime writer―just imagine how different Pride and Prejudice would have been if, instead of marrying Lydia, Wickham had dodged Darcy’s do-gooding, had his way with the wayward Bennett sister, and then cut her throat…. Elizabeth and Darcy would have finally worked out their differences trying to understand what had gone so horribly wrong and how in a situation much more stressful and difficult for them both. And it would have predated Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White as the first “mystery novel” by almost 50 years! And wouldn’t that have been nice?
Oh Jane, why didn’t you…?

Retrospective | Sean Cregan on Unforgiven

In Retrospective we ask authors to go back and consider what has influenced them in their approach to writing and stories. Kicking off the season we have Sean Cregan author of The Levels and recently released The Razor Gate.
For this retrospective, it was very tempting to go for William Gibson’s seminal NEUROMANCER, but I’ve bored people on the subject before so instead I’m going to talk about the equally seminal movie UNFORGIVEN.
The film’s a great mix of an exceptional cast, wonderfully bleak direction from Eastwood, and a corking script from David Peoples, who it would easy to forget – indeed, I didn’t have a clue until I checked IMDb just now – also wrote BLADE RUNNER. And LADYHAWKE.
There’s a key moment in the film, one of the greatest ‘character’ moments ever for my money, which remains my all-time shining example of how to show changes or internal drama in a character. Allow me to set the scene:
After his long-time friend Ned (Morgan Freeman) decided he couldn’t do it, not like when they were younger, Bill Munny (Eastwood) and the Schofield Kid have killed the two cowhands responsible for attacking a prostitute in town and are waiting to collect their $1,000 reward by a tree on a hill overlooking the place. The Kid, who’s never killed anyone before, shot the last of them while he was taking a shit, and he’s pretty cut up about it, swigging from a bottle of whiskey near tears and swearing he’ll never do anything like it again.
Munny, a former murderer and thief, has maintained throughout that his late wife cured him of wickedness and stopped him drinking (most of his crimes, he says, he was drunk for; even when freezing to death after a rainstorm he won’t touch a drop), and the Kid’s response has basically proved his reluctance to kill right: “It’s a hell of a thing killing a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”
Silky, one of the other prostitutes, rides up to give them their reward; they’re now wanted men, so she’s rushed and a little scared. She then reveals that Ned is dead, that he was found riding back to Kansas, identified as one of the killers and whipped for information by the sheriff, Little Bill. Munny protests that he was innocent, but she explains how Little Bill got angrier when he found out the second cattle hand was dead and that made the beating worse until Ned died, and now they’ve got him on display outside the bar.
Munny doesn’t shout, doesn’t rant and rave. Without the camera making a big deal of it, he takes a swig of the Kid’s whiskey.
That’s it. And it’s all you need to *know* that, in modern parlance, shit just got real. Eastwood makes no play of it, but his character’s just gone against everything he held dear before, dipped back into the old badness that once ruled him. It’s a little act, very low key, but so important and so well set up.
That kind of character moment, if I’ve got the skills (debatable), is the sort I always aim for now.