Brit Grit Alley features news and updates on what's happening down British crime fiction's booze and blood soaked alleyways.
This week down Brit Grit Alley, I have a great guest column from Julie Morrigan.
Julie Morrigan is the author of five short story collections, three novels and, most recently, novella-length Brit Grit story, Cutter’s Deal, published by Byker Books.
Take it away Julie!:
'A few weeks ago, Paul asked me if I’d like to write a guest blog for BGA, so of course I said yes.
‘What do you want,’ I asked, ‘anything in particular?’ ‘Something about Brit Grit,’ came the reply. So far, so cool … a nice open brief and a subject I allegedly know something about. Should be a doddle.
And it should have been, but it wasn’t.
The problem is that Brit Grit’s a funny thing. It’s difficult to pin down and can mean very different things to different people. I know that because of the number of things I see described as Brit Grit that for me are something different … a crime caper, a heist, a PI novel … I’m not sure if the Brit Grit tag gets appended as a lazy shorthand or I’m using too narrow a definition.
One thing’s for sure: Brit Grit ain’t new. There are novels going back to the 1920s and 1930s that, for me, fit right into the genre. Graham Greene’s masterful Brighton Rock, for example, or H.E. Bates’s Charlotte’s Row. Then there’s Nell Dunn’s Poor Cow and (of course) Ted Lewis’s Jack’s Return Home, arguably more widely known as the film Get Carter. And there are many more besides, right up to the present day.
So what the hell can that lot have in common?
Power, conflict, betrayal and broken dreams, for a start. You can be sure that no inkling of weakness will remain unexploited and no good deed will go unpunished.
Some of my stuff can be described as Brit Grit, starting with short story collection Gone Bad. A comment made by more than one reviewer is that for all the dark and nasty subjects the stories tackle, there is humour in it. And for me (although I would exclude comedy novels from the genre) humour is a vital component of Brit Grit. It might be as black as pitch, but it’s there and I think it’s essential, not least because people will find humour in most situations; it’s one of the ways in which we cope, especially when what we’re coping with is horrific, relentless, or both. And some things are genuinely comical, even if born out of desperation or need.
I used to know someone who worked for the British Transport Police. They have a pretty big problem with suicides – jumping in front of a train being an effective method of killing yourself – and she told me a tale about someone who had decided to kill himself by lying down on the track with his neck on the rail. Unfortunately a train came along a different track first and instead of being killed, his legs were severed. That’s the kind of hapless person who ambles through Brit Grit land. If there’s the slightest chance that something can go wrong, it will. Mistaken identity; wrong place, wrong time; or just sheer stupidity all conspire to make bad things worse.
A common theme is a person’s inability to consider the consequences of their actions, like the woman who tried stealing a frozen chicken from a supermarket by hiding it under her hat, and who passed out before she got to the front door. (Surprisingly true … I was a trainee supermarket manager at the time and must have spent half my time in that particular store stalking and challenging shoplifters.)
According to a psychologist I did some work with in one of the local prisons, that’s very much the case with many prison inmates, which helps explain why so many people get nicked time and again for the same thing; they don’t think things through, and they don’t learn. It’s very much a case of ‘what could possibly go wrong …?’
So, a lack of hope, the certainty of disaster, poverty, desperation and a sure knowledge that life is cheap … all underscored with dark laughter as fate doesn’t even bother to snigger up its sleeve, but guffaws in your face as you lie in a pool of blood and piss.
Does that get us any closer to what Brit Grit is?
I couldn’t say for sure, but I wonder if the ‘Brit’ element isn’t every bit as clearly defined by jet black humour as ‘Grit’ is by the inevitability of a tragic outcome.'
There'll be more carryings on down Brit Grit Alley very soon, sorta kinda thing, like.