By Ian Simpson, 25-Jan-2012 12:46:00
Honestly, I don’t bear a grudge against literary agents. I may have killed off a handful of fictional ones in Murder on Page One, but I know they are ordinary men and women doing their best to survive seismic changes in the publishing world and a dire economic situation. Most are courteous to wannabe authors, but they have to give almost all of them the bad news that they are not prepared to represent them. I believe that is something that should be done with respect. The victims in my story paid the ultimate price because of their poor attitude towards aspiring crime writers.
I was on the bench for eighteen years and had to give bad news to thousands of people: they were to go to jail; they were to be fined; they were to be disqualified from driving; they would not be allowed to see their children – and so on. I probably failed more often than I would like to think, but I did try not to add insult to injury. To be sent to prison for five years would be bad enough without being treated with contempt by the person sentencing you. I called the men ‘Mister’ and, while condemning their crimes, rarely if ever applied words like ‘evil’ or ‘depraved’ to the criminal.
The very few agents who did not reply to me may have done so by accident, swamped with submissions. But I fear that there is a rudeness and lack of personal respect seeping through society that is not nullified by the constant use of first names and political correctness. And it is disgraceful that a young person paying a company the compliment of applying to work for them should receive no response. I am old enough and ugly enough to shrug off a lack of respect, but a young graduate or school-leaver will probably have a thinner skin. Of course, they could always write a novel in which the perpetrators of such corporate rudeness die horrible deaths …
There is a lot of rough justice in Murder on Page One. Every day, our courts hand down judgments as fair and as carefully weighed as a process designed and operated by humans can make them. But justice is another matter ...
It was the 1970s. My first High Court trial for the defence was a huge occasion – for me and my client, a short, strong-looking Glasgow youth charged with throwing a rock through the windscreen of a moving police van, then whacking the officers with an iron bar as they spilled out to apprehend the culprit. Predictably, the evidence was overwhelming (I wouldn’t have been given the case otherwise), but my client denied doing anything wrong, and we went to trial against a very experienced prosecutor and before a crown-minded judge.
I got through the crown case pretty well, asking detailed questions about what each officer was doing as his colleagues were being hit with the iron bar, but when the time came for my client to give evidence, and I started by asking him: ‘You did nothing, did you?’ the judge and the prosecutor combusted independently. You are not supposed to tell your own witness what he should say. Judge and prosecutor became increasingly irate as I squeezed my client’s story out of him. Fortunately it was very simple: he had done nothing.
After he returned to the less fraught surroundings of the dock, we made our closing speeches and the judge summed up. The jurors were not out long; they convicted him of throwing the rock through the windscreen but acquitted him of hitting the officers with the iron bar. The judge gave him four years and I went down to the cells to commiserate.
‘Honest, Mr Simpson, it wisnae me that threw that rock,’ he said. I was devastated. A miscarriage of justice in my first High Court trial. It couldn’t get worse. Then, smiling for the first time that day, he added, ‘But Ah didnae haulf belt they polis with that iron bar.’
In the days before CCTV cameras and mobile phones might capture anything, anywhere, the police were not afraid of meting out rough justice. My wife remembers calling the police because some youths she and her flatmates did not know were banging incessantly and aggressively on the door of their flat. A number of officers arrived in a van. They apprehended the youths and pushed them into the back of the ‘meat wagon’. Ten minutes later, the youths emerged looking sore and cowed. They did not bother the girls again.
If called by a wife abused by a drunken husband, sometimes officers would take the man in a police car to some remote spot in the country where they would leave him to walk home, arriving tired, cold and hung-over about breakfast time. This paper-saving practice ceased abruptly when one drunk found a nice, comfortable ditch to snooze in – and died of hypothermia. Old-fashioned methods didn’t always work as they should.
You are viewing the text version of this site.
Need help? check the requirements page.