Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 28 November 2015

Life imitating art by Jennifer Young

Image is a screenshot from BBC News
I’ve been hugging myself with glee as I read the news this week, most inappropriately. It’s not because I find the news — any of it — particularly cheering, because who does right now? But one story has just got me gripped.

I’ve blogged before about the problems of researching my current work in progress, a story about a woman who discovers that her anarchist ex-boyfriend is really an undercover policeman — but not until she’s fallen in love with one of his colleagues. This week the news story that’s taken my attention reflects the situation from which I began. It’s the story of the Met Police apologising and paying compensation for having allowed, routinely and over a period of decades, some of their undercover officers to seduce female activists in order to infiltrate ‘undesirable’ organisations.

I wanted to jump up and down and shout ‘yes!’ because although the story hasn’t helped very much in terms of my research, it did serve to validate a lot of my thinking. The actual workings of undercover policing are as elusive as before, as evidenced by a remarkably po-faced reply from the College of Policing to a not-particularly-sensitive information request that ‘in the interests of security we can neither respond to nor comment on your questions’. But the news has exposed the feelings of those who were targeted.

That was what I was trying to get to. Once my heroine, Bronte, learned the truth about her ex-lover Eden, she was unable to let him go, no matter how much she knew she should, how much it might cost her in terms of both her new relationship and possibly even her life. She had to challenge him, find out how he could possibly treat her like that. For her own peace of mind she had to make him understand that what he’d done wasn’t just about two-timing her with another woman (because like so many of the real-life officers he also had a wife and family back home) but had left her feeling betrayed and violated. And as I wrote I wondered just how believable that was.

The stories of some of the women to whom the police have now issued an unreserved apology are heartrending. "He was my closest friend, my partner and my confidant for most of my thirties," said one (quoted on the BBC website). "It has had a profound traumatic effect on me. I have had difficulty forming relationships ever since. It was a deception perpetrated, overseen and supervised by the state." 

"I … discovered he was married with children throughout this time. I loved him very deeply and have suffered significant psychological damage from the experience of suspecting and then proving he was an undercover police officer," said another.

It turns out that the reaction I invented for Bronte is not, after all, so different from that of the real-life victims of undercover policing. The nuts and bolts of the undercover operations detailed in the plot may be, as I envisage them, inaccurate. The human response is not.

12 comments:

  1. It's hard to imagine, isn't it? Just think, what would you feel if your partner of many years turned out to have a wife and children elsewhere - and was just doing a job?

    Deeply betrayed, for sure - and, as you say, to learn that the state had been paying him to do it ... well, it beggars belief.

    Good post, Jennifer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jenny - yes, it's a topic that fascinates me. And it's a challenge to tackle in a romance novel, because how do you achieve that happy ever after - or even happy for now - when you have to put all that behind you before you can trust someone else?

      Delete
  2. And I keep wondering how the wife and children feel.They are victims too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are indeed. In at least one of the cases the woman had a child. What about that relationship? The damage done must be deep and long-lasting. Sometimes I think the themes are just too big for a single book.

      Delete
  3. A theme tackled recently through several episodes of 'Holby'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is that right? Oh dear - I thought I was being ground-breaking and original!

      Delete
  4. These situations give one a spooky shiver up the spine, don't they? Really good post - enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find it fascinating. I only hope I can manage to do it justice!

      Delete
  5. The theme is too treacherous for a romance novel. Seriously. The waters are so murky, I wonder who will come out with the happy-ever-after.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting point, but I don't know that I agree. I don't see why a romantic novel shouldn't have a dark theme. And if not a happy ever after, it's surely possible to reach a happy for now.

      Delete
  6. Very interesting and moving post, Jennifer. I'll be fascinated to see how the themes evolve in your story.
    And yes, I, too, use the news as a source of inspiration. My second YA novel has a story line where a journalist is paying a policeman for information on celebrities ... now I wonder where I got that idea?

    ReplyDelete