TW: fear, violence, animal abuse, trauma, lynching
The shadow of Noirwich, the annual crime-writing festival, descended upon the city of stories. From this darkness emerged three writers: Catriona Ward, Femi Kayode, and Greg Buchanan, connected by their shared experience as alumni of UEA’s writing programme. I caught their 11th September conversation with host Lee Randall.
Ward introduces her debut crime novel, The Last House on Needless Street, which features trauma after the disappearance of a child. When asked about a cat being one of the narrators, she said “it bends the genre a little bit; is it cosy because it has a cat in it, or is it more like magical realism?”
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the behaviours and tendencies of cats, they are anything but cosy, despite our perception of them as soft and cuddly. A killer is being used to narrate the story of another killer. What I find interesting about using the perspective of such a vicious animal is, much like human killers, the readers will not assume these violent tendencies until they are evident.
Buchanan’s novel about a forensic veterinarian investigating the discovery of the 16 horse heads is aptly named Sixteen Horses, and focuses on animal abuse. Like Ward, it also features non-human characters to relate the vulnerability animals face at our mercy. Forcing the reader to relate to systematically mistreated species blends this vulnerable fear with the guilt of knowing we are responsible. Within the realm of the novel, we are the victims; outside, we are the killers.
“There were no street lights, not this far from town. If you stood in the field that night, you would not be able to see anyone, even if they were standing right next to you, even if they were looking right at you. You wouldn’t see their grey-hooded gas mask, you wouldn’t see their tight rubber gloves.” These lines electrified my nerves with goosebumps; knowing you are seen without being able to see is pure vulnerability, and anyone who has been left in darkness can relate.
Kayode, the author of Lightseekers, writes about a different fear of the unknown, describing a public lynching of three students held in daylight. “Tearing flesh draws short-lived screams from tired lungs. The men fall but are swiftly pulled up and dragged through the streets to a place no-one picked out, but everyone seems to know.”
Buchanan exposes the fear in not knowing whether you are being watched, Kayode exposes the same fear on a societal scale. We find safety in mundanity, consistency, the comfort of knowing tomorrow will be like today. Kayode’s novel, based on a true story, shows how quickly groups who may be watching you with ill intent could hold a sudden and uncontested execution unbeknownst to you. It is interested in future studies, which tracks current trends and speculates how a desired or undesired future can be created, flashing a torch on the overt and covert systems which influence society and the horrors they create.