The BBC have chosen Danny Dyer of Eastenders to present a history programme for children. He has looked up his ancestry and found several famous people, including William the Conqueror. I assume something connects these two facts.
Why would I be surprised at his royal ancestry?
This is certainly not in any way a comment on Danny. What surprises me is that he has managed to trace his ancestry as far back as he has. Most people hit the buffers after a few generations. How diligently did your ancestors keep and hand on relevant records?
Why am I not surprised at his royal ancestry?
I wrote an article some time ago which shows how closely most of us are related. All of us in Britain, excluding recent immigrants, go back to the island’s original few inhabitants. Well, not original. Originally nobody lived here. Just when a few people had settled here, they all left because a lot of ice arrived. All our ancestors came here after the Ice Age. However, the population shrank a lot in the fourteenth century due to bad winters and the plague. The survivors became our ancestors. Since the population is much bigger now than it was then, the same people must occur on most of our family trees many times over, whether or not we know who they are.
Are you proud of your ancestry?
As we all have two parents, we must all have four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. The number must double each generation and, however far back you go, famous people, nobility and even royalty will all have the same number of ancestors as common people, and many of those ancestors will be the same. Of course, if you could get the full picture, you would almost certainly find a fair number of rogues, vagabonds, ne’er-do-wells and lunatics as well as the great and the good, on your family tree.
This means that nobody has any right to be too proud of their illustrious ancestors or too ashamed of their notorious ones. We’re all in this together, Danny.
That old saying is good advice, but I believe most people ignore it. In the same way, we too often judge people by their appearance, accent or other superficial features. They say the cover and the title are the most important elements influencing book sales.
What about the one for Accounting for Murder, Double Entry?
The tone is bright/light like the tone of the book
What’s wrong with this cover?
Some people think it suggests an accountancy textbook, perhaps How to produce crime statistics for the Police or the Home Office, because it does not tell you it is a novel. If many people think that way, it will be bad news for me, in losing sales, and bad news for them in missing an enjoyable read.
What do you think?
I would welcome your views and any suggestions for an improvement.
Fiction on TV and in print usually reflects real life.
If you exclude some kinds of fantasy, you will probably find that most fiction writers try to make their stories depict life as it really is. However, we do allow some ‘poetic licence’to make a story more readable or watchable. Some people say that drama on TV is closer to real life than any ‘reality TV’ as the latter is so contrived.
What aspect of modern fiction is not real?
Most people have loved a lot of the recent dramas on BBC and some on ITV, especially Bodyguard. One of the few negative criticisms has been that Bodyguard and several others show women in important roles, such as home secretary and senior figures in the police. The critics point out that in real life there is still a lot of discrimination against women and that the successful ones are the exceptions. Most modern novels also show women in powerful roles, not just as victims or heroines to be rescued. I hope you like the way I dealt with my female characters in Accounting for Murder. What about ethnic minorities? Do provide feedback.
Why object to this kind of thing in fiction?
You might think that the complaint came from misogynistic males, who wanted to see women in their ‘proper place’, but you’d be wrong. The critics are mainly women who think it’s wrong to give young people the impression that the glass ceiling has gone away. You could think it’s now easy for women to rise to the top. This will lead to false expectations and thus severe disappointment. They want more dramas about women struggling to overcome prejudice. (It’s never easy for anyone to get to the top of anything).
This reminds me of the way black people have been depicted in fiction.
I remember the days when black actors complained that they were offered only roles which required a black person. These were usually in dramas about racialism. Of course, there have been some important books and films about the issue. However, black people complained that it gave the impression that they were always part of a problem. They were not just ‘people’. Lenny Henry once complimented Eastenders for allowing black characters to be involved in plots that had nothing to do with race. Others have expressed approval of the modern trend to show black characters in all kinds of roles. Some have played successful business people, politicians, professionals and police officers. That’s not fiction: they do exist, even if they are still the exceptions.
Can’t fiction help us see society at its best?
Showing women, black people or others in important roles can surely help encourage young people to be ambitious. They need not be defined by their sex or colour. It can also help everyone to accept social change. Nobody should think it odd to see a person in authority who is not a middle-aged, middle-class, white male. It might also be good to remind some women and black people that not everyone else is a misogynist or a racist.
Society is changing. Let us writers play our part in hastening the change.
As I mentioned recently, I encountered the reality of detective work, when I was talking to a former detective, who now writes crime fiction. I noted that his knowledge of police procedures and culture was an advantage. He recognised that my background in risk management was also relevant to my writing. I have spent a lot of my career investigating insurance claims, auditing accounts and looking for the real causes of accidents or losses. That is similar to my fictional hero Frank Hill in Accounting for Murder, Double Entry.
What part of reality am I missing?
However, we agreed that I would not have made a good detective in reality. To be a detective in the police, you have to begin as a police officer in uniform, carrying out all sorts of duties. You would have to break up fights, drag bodies out of canals, search premises, search woodlands and chase cars. You would have to advise members of the public on all sorts of matters. It helps if you have limitless patience for tiresome people and the ability to defuse potentially explosive situations. Doc Martin would not hack it, and neither would I.
Is that the reality for detectives too?
If you could survive an initial period as a copper on the beat, would you then enjoy being a detective? Unfortunately, detectives also find themselves having to do a lot of the things I mentioned. Sometimes they are helping their uniformed colleagues, but, even in the course of actual detective work, life can get messy.
How about a reality check?
If you think you are good at solving real or fictional crimes, and enjoy puzzles, don’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion you’d make a good detective in reality. Think about all the other aspects of the occupation. I’ll stick to reading and writing about it.