Last Tuesday, 6th June, I awoke to a world without Vin Garbutt in it – a world less bright, a world less funny. For those of you not in the folk music world, Vin was a unique performer, A Teessider who for nearly fifty years sang about (mainly) social issues in a deeply personal way, but between songs had audiences in stitches with his hilarious patter which often lasted longer than the songs. He took his music around the world and had legions of staunch fans who consistently filled venues wherever he played.
Vin was not only a singer I admired greatly, he was also a client on my music agency roster and, more importantly, a personal friend. This is not the place for an obituary. I’m told obits will be out soon in the Guardian and the Telegraph.
Vin’s untimely exit from the stage (at the age of 69) set me musing on life and death and how we sometimes portray it in the fictional world.
As a science fiction and fantasy author I often put my characters through hell. Indeed, one piece of advice is to work out what the worst thing that might happen to your characters in any given situation, and then write it. This is usually a whisker short of death for main characters (unless their death is significant, i.e. Has Meaning ™) but there may be any number of other characters, good and bad or somewhere between, who kick the bucket, buy the farm, pass over, or any other euphemism for die.
I’m not advocating not killing off characters when it’s necessary for the story, but my thoughts this week have taken me in the direction that everyone is someone’s child, or father, or lover, or brother, or friend, and that killing characters should not be done lightly or without consequences.
Some books and movies have body-counts in their thousands, simply dismissed as collateral damage. As readers (or viewers) we shrug it off, but as writers we should think more about the consequences.
In Nimbus (due in October from DAW) I killed a relatively minor character in the first draft and then ‘unkilled’ him in the revision. His life was in the balance in Crossways, too, though he survived to the end (once more having been killed and unkilled). I always had it in mind that he probably wouldn’t reach the end of Nimbus alive, but I think I’m going to let him live to enjoy a peaceful retirement. He deserves it, and my main characters deserve to see a friend survive.