Som ni vet har vissa av våra bloggare (läs: Susanna) ett mycket
gott öga till den brittiska deckarförfattaren Sharon Bolton. Därför är vi (läs: Susanna) löjligt glada över att få presentera henne som gästbloggare.
I samband med att hennes senaste bok "Små svarta lögner"
kommit ut på svenska reflekterar Bolton över hur försvunna barn påverkar och förminskar hela samhällen.
Losing a child – any child - is our biggest fear and our greatest failing.
Children belong to us all. We feel this, at some deep, primal level. When we hear of a child being sick or injured, empathy can only partly explain the pain we share with those closest to him.
The instinct to protect children is strong. A child stumbles in the park; our reaction is to assist, and whilst our hands might be stayed from fear of being mistaken for a predator, the instinct remains. When children are made to suffer, we all share both the responsibility and the shame. A child’s death lessens us as a community.
When a child dies violently, or disappears, it impacts upon us all. This is something we should have prevented, either at societal level, by putting in place the systems and safeguards that keep children from harm, or individually by being there, spotting it and doing something. Give me a trip in a time machine, and I’m off to the New Strand Shopping Centre, Bootle, on the 12 February 1993, to step in with a timely, ‘Hang on, lads, where are you taking that little boy?’
Does anyone who remembers James Bulger feel differently?
Communities that cannot protect their children (even though the fault is in no way their own) suffer the collective pain of failure. Understandably, the people of Dunblane dealt with crippling grief and burning anger following the 1996 primary school massacre, but the impact of that day went beyond the misery of immediate friends and families and became manifest as a diminishing of our nation. With the illogical but unerring instinct of the victim to self-blame, Dunblane and the nation shared a sense of shame. What did we do to deserve this? How could we have stopped it?
If violent deaths of the very young are hard to deal with, unexplained disappearances are worse, and it was this communal reaction to tragedy that I wanted to explore in "Little Black Lies".
When a child vanishes we see an initial rallying together of the community. A huge amount of emotional energy pours out as we join in the search, support the parents, make tea and freely give up our shoulders to the weeping. We rejoice when the child is found and the ending is happy. But when it is not? When our energy comes to nothing and the child remains missing? Then our communal reaction turns darker.
Then, societies start to turn on themselves and to blame those to whom they should show most sympathy. It is the parents – not us – who are at fault, for failing to take care of their children and thus bringing shame upon us all. When 3 year old Madeleine McCann vanished from the small Portuguese town of Praia da Luz in 2007, sympathy and support among local people gave way to hostility towards the parents, for bringing the condemnatory eyes of the world on their quiet seaside town.
Societies splinter when children go missing. Self-blame turns to blame of those close to us. Neighbours distrust each other. Families are torn apart. Pack-like, we turn on those who are perceived as being weaker: the misfit, the lonely middle-aged man, the woman not long out of prison. Suspicion and reproach become the salve for our grief.
As time goes on, the effects are more muted, but still present, like the ripples on a pond travelling slowly outwards. The impact starts to creep into our culture. In "Little Black Lies"
I wrote about how vanishings and violent deaths quickly slip into local folklore, appearing first of all as ghostly sightings, and then later in the oral tradition of story telling.
I grew up in the Pennine moors, a place of uneven landscape and long, lonely roads and can remember a young boy being killed in a road traffic accident at a point where a farm track meets a fast, former Roman road. For years after, we children told each other that if we waited at that spot, at the exact time of his death, we would see his ghost. Similar tales surrounded another boy who’d accidently killed his sister with his father’s shotgun. We told stories of how the boy, forever afterwards, was followed around by the ghost of his sister, and that to befriend him was to share his fate.
It is thirty years since I’ve lived in Lancashire, but I won’t be at all surprised to find those stories, or a version of them, are still being told, that they will be told in a hundred years from now. Our ghost stories begin with real events and crime writers, of all people, should not be surprised. If our own stories are often inspired by real events, why should we imagine our forebears did anything different?
Cultures the world over tell stories of children being stolen away by supernatural means – the changeling legends being a case in point. A changeling is a child born to fairy folk or trolls but swapped in the early days of its life with a human infant. Typically the changeling child is uglier, sicklier and of a poorer temperament than the human it replaced. They rarely live long.
The changeling, or swapped child, common in literature since mediaeval times, is believed to reflect unexplained childhood illnesses and deaths. Grieving parents can console themselves (to a point) with the belief that their child lives on in the fairy realm. Guilt stricken parents can tell themselves it wasn’t poverty or neglect that lost them their child. The fairies stole him away.
This taking of real events, and turning it into folklore has been happening for centuries. On a June day in the 13th century, one hundred and thirty children vanished from the town of Hamelin in Germany, led away by a man in multi coloured (pied) clothing. Early references to the abduction are sparse, but by the 16th century a full narrative including rats, pipes and betrayal had emerged. The story of the Pied Piper stays with us to this day, as one of our more enduring, and disturbing, fairy tales.
Nor is it an isolated case. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
arises from real life cases of children being forced to work in mines, stunting their growth and causing deformities. Hansel and Gretel is believed to have its origins in the great European famine of 1315 – 17, when disease, mass death, infanticide and cannibalism became the responses of desperate people. Allegedly, children were abandoned, even eaten. It’s difficult to imagine how societies could ever come to terms with such behavior. Those who did told stories. In the stories, there was no abandonment; children were lost in the woods. Their families or neighbours didn’t eat them; that was the work of witches.
In the UK a child is reported missing every three minutes. That equates to 140,000 every year. Most turn up safe and well within a few hours. Some don’t. Some are never heard from again. These lost children turn up in other ways entirely, and remain with us long after their happier peers have been forgotten.
SHARON BOLTON, född i Lancashire i England, har snabbt blivit en av Storbritanniens mest hyllade deckarförfattare. 2014 mottog hon The Dagger in the Library från brittiska Crime Writers’ Association för sitt samlade författarskap.