Graham Greene famously said that there was a ‘splinter of ice in the heart of a writer’ which allowed them to look disapassionately at tragedy and turn it into art. People who don’t write can be a little repulsed by this reaction.
Recently there have been two terrible tragedies – ones where the news has only touched the tip of an iceberg of events. A girl was found alone on a boat in the Norfolk broads, with the two adults she’d been with having vanished. When their bodies were discovered, it became clear her mother had been murdered.
And just this week a British family were gunned down in France – horrific enough in itself – but almost unbearable to realise that a four year old girl had remained in the car – eight hours after the police had found the bodies – hiding under her dead mother’s legs.
Both events read more like crime fiction than reality – and I’m sure have sparked a few writerly imaginations. Is this wrong? At what point do we step over a line from taking inspiration from the events around us, and become horror vultures, benefitting from heartbreak?
Emma Donoghue’s Booker shortlisted novel, ROOM, was inspired by the stories about children being kept locked up by their captors, and in Austria, being born and living their childhoods in captivity. I know a lot of readers who haven’t wanted to read this excellent book (fantastic for showing how to write from a child’s point of view) because of the subject matter.
What do you think? Do you have that splinter of ice or do you stay clear of real-life events?
If you think it's a horrendous idea - what about using real-life events from the past? At what point does a present tragedy become acceptable?