With Tangle’s Game on sale right now (go here or wherever you get your books from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tangles-Game-Stewart-Hotston-ebook/dp/B07PFDTKT1)I thought I’d talk about one of the events which happens to the main character and where it comes from. The reason? Well, setting aside the racist bile I’ve had for writing about people who aren’t White or from the misogynistic tech bros who hate the fact a woman’s involved in a thriller about Blockchains, it’s about why someone who’s under threat one moment might then turn around and work with those self same people the next.
The inspiration for this scene comes from my own life and that of a couple of friends of mine and was instrumental in exploring the kind of person the main character is.
When I was in my late teens I found myself doing youth work in East Germany. The country was only four years after the fall of the Berlin wall and was still recovering from decades of declining infrastructure and struggling to integrate with its much wealthier western counterpart. The town I was in still had bullet holes in the walls of its buildings from WWII.
One evening I was inside the youth centre and a young lad came in and said ‘there are some people outside who want to talk to you.’ The look on their face was one of nervous fear and when I asked why they looked nervous it turned out that a bunch of skin heads with problematic t-shirts and tattoos were outside demanding to speak to me. These young men had a reputation and I was the only brown face (literally) for dozens of miles around.
So, guts in my throat, I went to speak with them. I have never been more scared in my life. We talked for a while and eventually I asked why they wanted to talk to me and they were pretty candid about my colour and that I was British. We talked some more and I asked if they were racist (yes, the stupidity of youth). We talked around their answer (which was yes, but) and I talked to them about why and the conversation went somewhere very interesting.
They said they were ashamed of being German. That they felt their country had failed and instead they admired Britain. They’d got it all wrong, if you see what I mean, because the things they’d clung to in their search for meaning were all the wrong elements of what it means to be British (at least for me). We talked some more and by the end of it they were pretty much chaperoning me around the site. I was no longer terrified but I had no idea where those young men were going to end up in future. Yet I’d gone from terror and understanding they were admitting being racists to them seeing me as someone they were proud to know.
Another example is of a situation where I intervened in a fight where a single man was getting beaten up by a group of three. I didn’t throw any punches but asked what they were doing and why. They threatened to beat the crap out of me but I refused to back down and basically told them that, yes they could, but then what? I refused to allow them to be in charge of the situation. Did I trust them? No. Did I expect to get beaten up? About 50/50. But I wasn’t going to let them continue and I knew I could be in charge. We talked and talked until one of them, looking completely defeated just turned to me and said ‘you’re a really good talker, aren’t you.’ They left the man alone and after that, when they saw me around town we would talk and they would be really friendly. Once again, I’d been terrified but on a dime it had flipped to being something I could control.
In Tangle’s Game, my protagonist Amanda, is faced early on by an antagonist who wants something from her – it’s not personal, it’s transactional and realising this, she turns the situation on its head by giving them exactly what they think they want. It brings them under her sway and gives her agency when moments before they’d been threatening to take it from her.
The criticism it’s received is that it seems unrealistic that anyone would do that. My counter is I’ve done it. I’ve had friends do it in a more similar way to what happens in the book where they’ve faced potentially catastrophic situations and have effectively taken charge and bought their way out, either literally with money or with influence and power. In facing situations like that I’ve found the only way to navigate them is to switch off my emotions and make the interaction entirely transactional (by switch off I mean have them come back later to bite me in the ass but, hey, better than a melt down on the spot). There’s a rhythm to transactional interactions which allows for deeply unexpected outcomes for everyone and, often, allows for compromise where emotional responses cannot deliver the same.
This is a long way of saying that, often, what appears as inconsistency in others is actually a cap in our own experience. Because we haven’t been through the same kinds of situation as them, haven’t experienced power exercised in that way and haven’t had to deal with those extenuating circumstances where it’s not simply about the thing in front of you but all the other plates you’re juggling at the same time.