Is truth stranger than fiction?
Given that I am currently writing a serial based around what is best described as a ‘delicate’ subject, I woke up thinking about how people often refuse to believe things, because they appear to be unbelievable. When you read a horror or fantasy novel, you know that vampires and werewolves don’t exist, and you suspend belief so that you can just enjoy it. Much the same can be said for traditional romantic fiction, where serving maids or tavern wenches end up married to princes or dukes. We know it doesn’t happen very often (if at all) in real life, but we seek a diversion, and a happy ending.
But what about books (or films) dealing with the bad things that really happen? Serial-killers, child molesters, other sexual deviants, or unrelenting psychopaths who leave a trail of carnage in their wake? Such things sadly happen all too often in the real world. But unlike most popular novels or films in those genres, they usually don’t end up tied up neatly, with the perpetrator behind bars, following the dedicated work of an ace detective. There are currently 212 ‘official’ unsolved murders in Britain, one dating back to the 16th century. Add to that more than 3,000 unsolved sectarian murders reported during the Northern Ireland troubles, and real life shows us that it is all too possible to kill someone, and get away with it.
What about those stories where someone goes missing? Because they like to have a neat ending, they are usually found, again by a detective, or perhaps a dedicated friend. If not, then we might read about the discovery of their body instead. But few books or films conclude with the ending ‘never found’. It is known that that almost 275,000 people are reported missing every year, just in the UK. The majority of those eventually return, contact the authorities, or turn up somewhere else. But at least 18,000 are never seen or heard of again. Read that number again. 18,000. In the USA, the number is far greater, with around 2,000 people reported missing every day. Yes, every day. That’s 730,000 a year. At least ten of those reported daily are never seen or heard of again, leaving a missing total of 3,650, not accounting for the many thousands who are found dead soon after, or much later.
If I read those numbers in a novel, I might have decided that it stretched my credibility.
If any of you have ever read any of my ambulance stories, you may well agree that many of them sound far-fetched, almost unbelievable. In fictional medical dramas, people who suffer terrible injuries almost always recover, thanks to the dedication of the familiar staff. Should someone suffer a cardiac arrest, a few pumps on the chest or two zaps from a defibrillator will see them up and about in no time. They are usually leaving for home with a smile, as the closing credits roll. In reality, that rarely happens. If you ask anyone who served alongside me in the London Ambulance Service at the time, they will confirm that, I am sure. We had a saying, ‘Dead is Dead’.
And surely nobody ever calls an emergency paramedic team because they are having trouble passing a hard stool? Oh yes they do.
So to my current serial, and its dark themes of child abuse, and consensual sex between statutory ‘minors’ and adults. We know that happens, but obviously don’t like to dwell on it. Few of us know a family or families where that sort of thing goes on. That is something that happens ‘somewhere else’, and you look on in disbelief as you watch it on news reports, unable to comprehend how the other parent could not have been aware. Hardly anyone has ever personally known an outwardly respectable man, living a seemingly blameless life whilst secretly sexually abusing his eight-year-old daughter or son, after all.
But I have. And I had no idea, until it was exposed. I saw the effects on the confused wife and strangely sexualised young girl first hand. And it was far more disturbing than anything I had ever read in a book, or seen on a film.
So I have to conclude that the old saying is correct.
Truth is stranger than fiction
You couldn’t make it up.