Do you need to fight a bull to write about it?’
This was a question that I posed on the ‘Writers Studio’ panel last weekend at the True Believers Comic Festival in Cheltenham. I got to sit down with Antony Johnston (the writer of The Coldest City, The Fuse and more), Rachael Smith (creator of The Rabbit, Wired Up Wrong and more) and Mike Garley (the writer on the Samurai Slasher series and The Kill Screen).
One of the answers related to empathy and having the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes. The other answer was ‘Research’. We talked about how you didn’t really need to walk those miles to describe them.
It’s something that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently. As I am now writing for money and trying to push the different aspects of the craft for improvement I wanted to know these fine peoples opinions.
But I felt that it needed exploring it a little further. The world is never quite as simple as the media and ‘those people’ think. It never presents us with the yes or no answers, although many think it does. Different situations require different approaches, questions and possible answers.
Fiction is the only real truth.
I decided to use Cockney Kung Fu as an example. Let’s go through the plus and minus columns.
For those that haven’t read a copy yet this is a series written by myself and drawn by Nick Prolix. It features martial arts in 1970s London. The central character is a female in her late twenties.
What would I know about that?
I’m a man in my late forties. I grew up in London and am very much in love with the period and the setting. I have been stalking the streets of Central London, the dirty South, the West End and the pre hipster crafty East End for years. It’s a fascination of a time and place that occupies me to this day. Chapter one features the infamous ‘Porn Alley’ at the top of Rupert Street in Soho. This is an area that has changed substantially. An area of sex cinemas, peep shows, brothels, strip bars and sex shops. It is virtually unrecognisable now and is mostly boarded up for one stretch of this scary lightless alley. But I walked that passage many a time over the years and wanted it to be a character in the story in the way that it used to exist. Nick pulled it off with style in the first issue. You can hear the clomp of Red’s boots as she walks. You can smell the reek of body odour, cigarettes and booze.
But....I’m not a woman. Yup, I’m not. I’ve met quite a few over the years and whilst I would never claim to understand anyone I’ve always had a couple of best friends who are from the ‘sensible sex’. I also felt that it added some cool to the story and a certain vulnerability to a female character in that time period especially. Adding a female central character to a dangerous situation in a world that hadn’t really begun to deal with equal treatment seemed like a good idea. From deciding that I had to cope with how she would walk and talk like a 1970s woman but with that Soho Red toughness. I read and watched a lot about the period. I wanted to hear her speak and move and punch.
Fighting. This is one that I will stick with regarding realism. A fight is an anger driven, chess match. It is not and never should be a choreographed ballet as some people think. A fight between two people is a brutal minute. I have to admit to having been in quite a few fights over the years. It is fought with strength and speed and a connection is made between the eyes of those taking part - and nobody else. ‘Hit first, hit hard and hit fast.’ This is what I see as Red’s philosophy in a tough world. I don’t recommend that people go out and get in a fight but use the feelings if you have in your past experienced one. A fight is something unlike anything you’ll read or watch as it happens in your own emotion and aggression. I wanted this communicated in the basement fight. Red is a scrapper, she can take a punch and come back stronger. There is never a requirement for melodrama. Just lay one on him, do it hard and where it will hurt them. If you ever took a punch on the nose, or had your brow split and bleeding, or been booted on the balls then you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.
One punch can kill someone. It happens.
Write with truth not glamour.
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Many thanks for reading.