Friday, 2 February 2007

On cosy murders

Readers, I present you a puzzle. I have in my mind the detailed outline of a super series of books which, based on what I now know about publishing, ought to do stunningly well. Now before I come onto my puzzle let me outline the books. They are set in an imaginary but picturesque part of South Wales, not a million miles removed from where I live, in a more or less present day setting. The protagonist is an ungodly university-based geologist, in his early 30s, with more than the usual hangups about life, women and most things but with some sort of traditional morality which stops him from having the language and behaviour that gives a writer problems. He lives in a wonderfully picturesque and rundown cottage given to him (with strings) by his aunt in wooded countryside that runs down to the sea. There he lives alone with a battered Land Rover and a black dog who out of sheer perversity he has named ‘Snowy’. As the book opens we see how, in order to supplement his meagre income, he is forced take on as a lodger an American theological student who has a living faith and a very different attitude to most things.

So we have the 'buddy movie' thing and also the conflicts over belief. During the course of these books it will transpire that our naive right wing American actually, has something going for him. All this, course, is mere background to the murder story that emerges involving a sinister and powerful figure in the science world with a lot to conceal. Book 1 ends with the murder solved, and the murderer dealt with, but hints that there were people who protected him. In book two we are introduced us to our American’s beautiful sister and glimpse more of this sinister group of people who get up to a lot of skulduggery.

Isn't it just wonderful? I could see it running for about five or six books; each 100,000 words longs with only gentle violence, but full of deep and pious comments on life and the universe. (and the dog). Can you imagine the television series? 'Fantastic,' I hear you say, 'what's the problem?' Quite simply, it is this. I just can't get excited about the idea. Oh, if it was between writing these books and being unemployed I’d do them. And if you offered me a million dollars I'd write them. But somehow, I just can't fall in love with the books.

Now it could be this is because, deep down inside me, there is a genuine artistic streak, and I'm not simply a hack writer. My guess is that it's not that, but possibly something related. I think it is that I believe that writing should in some way push against barriers and the job of the writer (and particularly the Christian writer) is, to use the phrase often used of preaching, ‘to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable’. Interestingly enough, I suspect, the worst and probably most accurate criticism of Christian writing from outside the faith, is that it is simply too cosy.

And even murder stories can be cosy.