Monsters aren’t real … but humans are. And true horror is what we do to each other.
I have decided to be more honest about what Runaway is really about, something I have shied away from so far for a variety of reasons. Yes, it is still primarily an action/adventure yarn with a bit of social realism thrown in. There are punks and skinheads going at each other with fists and boots. There’s Hells Angels. And there’s more than enough graphic violence and gratuitous swearing for people who like such things to enjoy.
But there is also a much darker element to it, and that’s what I want to tell you about now. But first, a bit of history about how the book came about, and why it very nearly didn’t.
Runaway started life as a short story I wrote back in 2009 called Stiggy Unstuck. At the time, I was writing an ongoing punk/skinhead soap opera type thing called Punk Faction, with a new episode posted in various places online once a month, and Stiggy Unstuck was intended to be a part of that.
As an aside, the book Skinhead Away was also originally conceived as part of this ongoing soap opera, until a small publisher in Brighton asked for a 22,000 word story about skinheads, then promptly went bankrupt just before I finished it. Very basically, it tells what happens when the skinhead characters from Punk Faction go to a ska festival in Cleethorpes and get into a mass brawl with a bunch of bikers.
Anyway, back to Stiggy Unstuck. In a previous episode of Punk Faction, Stiggy was last seen escaping from the violence at a Cockney Upstarts gig with Sally, a young skinhead girl he met there, after they had both been smacked around by Joe, Sally’s older boyfriend. Up until that point, Stiggy had only ever been a ‘light relief’ character, always off his head on glue and the butt of other characters’ jokes, and I wanted to explore what he would be like without the glue. It also fleshed out the character of Sally, and explained why she was so timid around Joe – Stiggy learns she lives with him, and he beats her up on a regular basis.
But a question kept nagging away at me long after I’d written it – why would a young girl stay with an older man who does that to her? And the answer I kept coming back to was she wouldn’t. Not unless there was something else going on; either some hold he had over her to keep her there, or the alternative was so much worse that she had no real choice. And that’s what Runaway is really about, as Stiggy gradually learns the whole horrific story of how she ended up living with Joe, and the institutional cover-up behind it.
It’s probably the darkest thing I’ll ever write, and I abandoned it several times because it made me so uncomfortable to have all that stuff in my head. Especially when real life events started to mirror it to a certain extent, in a town not far away from where it was set. So I wrote the more humorous Punk Rock Nursing Home instead, which was also an off-shoot of Punk Faction set 30 years in the future, when two of the characters were in their 80s and living in separate care homes. Then I returned to Runaway, got upset and angry again, wrote something else to cheer myself up, returned to Runaway, abandoned it to write something else, then finally bit the bullet and finished the thing.
Then real life events started to mirror it again in towns up and down the country, and I didn’t want to be seen to be cashing in on all that suffering. I also felt the book would have more of an impact, and maybe even make people angry enough to do something about it on a local level, if they went into it blind. So I pretended it was about something else instead. Until now.
I’ll be changing the book’s description as soon as I figure out how to get all this across in 50 words or less without including any spoilers. Which is a lot harder than it sounds, so it might take a while.