GUEST BLOG: That Bergerac moment
21st April 2014 - David Mark
Former crime reporter David Mark is the author of three crime novels featuring Highland investigator Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy - Dark Winter, Original Skin and, newly published, Sorrow Bound - a series that combines the detail of the police procedural with the sinister thrills of the serial killer fiction.
Here he explains the lessons learned from childhood viewing of Bergerac (and the animated TV series featuring He-Man) about convincingly developing a character so frequently exposed to the worst of human depravity without losing readers' sympathy.
Read David's previous blog for Foyles, in which he talks about how his previous career as a crime reporter proved invaluable
I was about six years old when I discovered that I had a basic understanding of the fact that what you experience in life can alter you as a person.
I was playing with my He-Man figures at the time and my dad asked me the story of the game. I told him that the hero was out to avenge his brother, who had been killed by the baddie. Since the murder, the hero had taken to drink and lost everybody who mattered. So he was going to find him and cut his head off.
My dad looked at me with a mixture of pride and concern, then went back to doing something important, like shouting at the telly or unfolding the corners of the Argos catalogue where my mam had folded them down. I went back to my game. Apparently, I had taken an important step on the road to becoming a writer.
In truth it was partly thanks to Bergerac. Remember him? John Nettles in a leather jacket and a really cool theme tune. I remember my dad saying he didn't like the show as much now Jim had become 'a bit of a scoundrel'. When I asked him to explain, I got a sort of hazy idea that if grown ups spent all their time dealing with murderers and villains and live on an island named after a jumper, they lose their capacity for compassion and being nice to people. But they also lose fans.
I'm not sure I'm ready to live my by life by the Tao of Bergerac but I certainly remember the lessons that He-Man and John Nettles (and Malcolm Mark) taught me. Grown-ups are a constant work in progress.
So it is with my fictional protagonist, Aector McAvoy. Sure, he's a handsome hulking Highlander with scars to his body and career, but it's the person on the inside that readers have taken to and I have a duty to ensure that the things that happen to him affect him as they would any ordinary person.
By the third McAvoy book, Sorrow Bound, he's apprehended a couple of serial killers and been stabbed and blown up. Personally speaking, even getting a bad cold can force me to look at how I am going to live my life when I get better. So seeing life and death at its most raw is bound to cause a few flickers of something otherworldly behind the eyes. In reality, most successful fictional heroes would be in a mental hospital rocking back and forth and muttering unhelpful things like 'He ate her FACE!' over and over again.
I pride myself on creating remarkable crimes in an authentic setting and to that end, McAvoy must behave like a real man. That doesn't mean he's going to become surly and start drinking and treating his women like dirt. There are plenty of other writers who have those characters already.
But I always have one eye on Aector's mental state when I'm writing. He's a man with an over-abundance of soul. He takes things personally and feels a need to do right by the people that murder leaves behind. He's a little obsessive and very conflicted and if it wasn't for the love of his family, he would have a lot more bad dreams. I hope that a few books from now, people find his evolution to have been a gentle but believable thing. But then, I know what the future holds for him and not much of it gentle.
I just never want anybody to have that Bergerac moment. McAvoy a scoundrel? How very dare you.