Saturday, 24 September 2016

Villains in the undergrowth

"Look like the innocent flower..."

by Jennifer Young 

I’ve never really been a fan of the true villain. I’ve written a couple, of course. Most writers have. And some people do villains very well, deep, dark and twisted. 

I was weeding my sadly neglected garden the other day when I understood the nature of true villainy. It was there in front of me — and it’s actually very pretty, with a tall, graceful stem, topped by a head of tiny, bright orange flowers, rising from the centre of a rosette of leaves. 

But there’s a lot of it, this pretty flower. It grows in dense mats, with a solid layer of roots a couple of inches thick, smothering everything that tries to compete. From these dense mats it sends out long, trailing roots to pop up somewhere else and send up another plant to set up another mat. And to make matters even worse, it has monumentally prolific seed heads.

I declared war on this little beast. I pulled up several square feet of it and in two weeks it was back. Worse, even when I lifted the layers of ivy or the masses of rampant wild geranium (I told you my garden was neglected) it’s under there, laughing at me. 

I Googled this pretty little thing, to find out what to do with it. Noooooo! lamented one gardener on discovering it in his/her flowerbed. Disaster. Nuke it! said another. Take a flamethrower to it. Do whatever it takes. And yet another, more pessimistic, warns that it will never go away.

That’s villainy.

I’m not good at villains. I can’t help looking at the pretty flowers of orange hawkweed (this evil has a name) and thinking that, actually, it’s a shame to get rid of all of it. And I’m like that when I write my villains, too. I don’t want to create a real villain. While I did think my only real one (Faustino Manfredi, from the first two books of my Lake Garda series) was pretty convincing, I didn’t like writing him. 

That’s why, in the third book of the series (Running Man, out on Wednesday) the villainy is a little more nuanced. It has Danny, the man who’s already made a terrible mistake, and it has Matt, whose mistake is still to be made. They’re competing for the attentions of Giorgia — but the line between heroism and villainy is a blurred one.

There are real villains about, of course, but most people have good to shade the bad side of their character. I look for it in life — and that’s why I try to create it in fiction. 


  1. I love the analogy of 'nuisance' garden plants and fictional villains, Jennifer and the way you try to find the best in both. I'd find it hard to dig up such a pretty flower too!

  2. Interesting post, Jennifer - and I too like that pretty little flower though I don't think I've ever come across it in the garden!

  3. I think I might consider that flower a true villain, Jennifer! But in real life and in fiction I, like you, think things are usually much more nuanced. I don't like reading about - or writing - true villains, possibly because of that.

  4. Ah, how well I feel your pain for I, too, have mats and mats and mats of that beautiful villain, given me by .... wait for it .... someone who owns and runs an award-winning nursery - not garden centre ... nursery. Boiling water works fairly well, I find and I tell myself I can't hear it scream ... not really. As for villains in writing, I was told on a writing course that baddies have to be insidiously bad ... 'Let all your murderous thoughts out, Linda'. Hmmm. I have two in my trilogy and, boy, did I enjoy writing them!