Piece on gore in books (particularly Age of Iron) written as guest blog for Karen Miller

Gore in books

I’m going through the copy edit of Clash of Iron – Age of Iron book two – at the moment. The copy edit is the second last edit before publication, when an expert reads your book and says ‘this bit doesn’t work, that word’s wrong’ and so on, then you get to go through what they’ve said and lament how they just don’t understand you and change it all back…. Not really, my current copy editor, a man named Richard Collins, is excellent (the final edit is the proof edit – basically a spell check).

Anyway, reading this copy edit almost a year after I finished writing the book, I’m surprised to be surprised by the gore. It’s not wall to wall by any means – most of the book is humour-stuffed and more about the relationships between the main characters – but the battles are pretty visceral and there are some shocking episodes

I think there are two reasons that it’s gorier than I remember.

First, and most annoyingly, is that I’ve become a father since I wrote it. That’s annoying because everyone says that once you have a baby violence on telly, in books and so on becomes harder to stomach. ‘You won’t understand until you become a parent yourself’ they said, and I wanted to bite them. So I’m now incensed that they were absolutely right.

Second, sitting alone and typing, it’s easy to get carried away and write loads of individual words and sentences that mount up to have a stronger effect than you originally intended. I didn’t think it was particularly gory when I wrote it. Reading it back, there’s an argument that it does go too far and there are sure to be people who don’t like it.

So am I going to edit it to avoid complaints?

Fact was that the Romans, who feature heavily in book two, were horrible. They were not the noble men who were all blaring trumpets, marble buildings and manly American accents that we see in films, nor the weedy soldiers, bumbling bureaucrats and greedy merchants from Asterix books. Well some of them might have been, but an awful lot were keen torturers and murderers.

Crucifixion was a much, much nastier death than certainly I knew before I researched it, yet the Romans used it willy nilly. Ten years before the events in my book they crucified six thousand former slaves who’d revolted along with Spartacus. When Caesar conquered what’s now France he killed about a million people and enslaved many more. And why did he invade France and Britain? For adventure, wealth and glory, the same reasons the Romans conquered the rest of the world. They raped, pillaged, tortured and killed millions, simply because they could and they enjoyed it.

So, given that my trilogy is about the ancient Britons defeating Caesar and sending the Romans packing for a hundred years, I have to make clear the threat that our British heroes are dealing with. The stakes have to be so high that losing is simply not an option, despite the hardships, terrors and grief that they have to go through.

Plus, it’s really what happened. I’ve researched the colour of senators’ togas, and the legionaries’ weapons and tactics etc, so surely I should describe the battles accurately? The Roman sword was designed to gut people, to deliver a blow in an instant that would leave the enemy dying slowly. How can I leave that out if I’m being historically accurate?

Of course, I’m being a hypocrite. Everybody in the Roman world did poos, but I don’t describe that, so the argument that I have to describe everything is nonsense. The argument that the reader needs to understand just how much peril the heroes are in is possibly stronger, but I could probably have done that without describing the crucifixion of a kid…

Fact is, the book had some gory bits, which I’m not going to take out. It you really hate them, just skim over then or read them then abuse me on Twitter – @GusWatson. Thanks!

 

 

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