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'The relationship between truth and fiction
'has always been a blurred one.
'The Nobel laureate Doris Lessing once wrote that...
'"There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth."
'I've been publishing crime novels now for nearly 30 years.
'And I've walked the fine line between making things up
'and staying real many times.'
'For me, the very act of imagining has also been
'a powerful way of accessing the truth.'
The inspiration for my books often comes from the world around me.
Writers have always been engaged with the societies
that they live in, and I think it's exciting
to be able to address current affairs
and important issues in the books that I write.
In Splinter The Silence I looked into internet trolling and bullying.
In The Skeleton Road I revisited the Balkan Wars
of the 1990s with the benefit of hindsight.
But I've always been wary of plundering real cases for material,
for fear of bringing more pain to people
who have already suffered enough.
'In my Artsnight, I'm going to delve deeper into this complex
'relationship between truth and fiction across a number of areas.'
'I'm going to meet authors who set their stories in the future
'but still deal with current events...
'speak to video games developers who have created fascinating games
'on the highly topical subjects of immigration and drone warfare...
'..and discuss the recent explosion of true crime stories
'on our TV screens with one of our foremost documentary makers.'
'A few years ago I was totally sucked in
'by a remake of an old American science-fiction series.
'Battle Star Galactica became essential viewing in my house.
'Many critics viewed it as THE most powerful allegory
'on Bush's War On Terror.
'It said things via entertainment
'that a lot of Americans didn't want to hear in the news media...
'..and featured a group of religious fundamentalist cyborgs,
'the Cylons, which most people read as representing Al-Qaeda.
'One storyline showed prisoner torture,
'which bore striking parallels to what was actually happening in Iraq
'at Abu Ghraib prison.
'Critics are often very sniffy about science-fiction,
'but watching Battle Star Galactica reminded me
'of the power it can exercise to make us examine how we behave
'and the way we often fail to hold our leaders to account.'
I apologise for what you've been through.
'I've always enjoyed reading speculative fiction
'which does just this.'
As a teenager, I devoured Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham.
I'm interested, both as a reader and a writer, in character,
especially character under pressure.
And with stuff like this, you can set situations up,
light the blue touchpaper, stand well clear
and watch what happens.
Think - Brave New World, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451.
These books stand apart from the world we inhabit,
but they also powerfully critique the status quo.
'Norwich-based sci-fi writer Richard K Morgan's books
'are generally set in future dystopian worlds.'
His novel Altered Carbon, where human personalities can be stored
digitally and downloaded into new bodies,
is currently being turned into ten-part series for Netflix.
More and more people are turning to science-fiction
for their reading material. Why do you think this is?
I think largely it's because we're living in
science-fictional times. I think if you look at the technology
that we've all got our hands on...
I mean, smartphones, something like that...
These are things that even about five or ten years ago would
have seemed science-fictional and they're now just part and parcel of day-to-day existence.
So I think that there's an understanding
at some level among people that to be relevant
you really have got to, if not be writing and reading science-fiction,
at least seeing things through a science-fictional-inflected lens.
There's always been a thread in science-fiction where
writers have dealt with subjects that have close parallels in real life.
Do you think that's happening more these days within the genre?
I think it's clearer than it used to be
because I think, to be honest, all science-fiction really is about...
It's not really about the future, it's about now.
That's a bit of a truism.
Generally speaking, taking again William Gibson
and the cyberpunk movement, that was ostensibly about futures
that are maybe 100, 150 years away.
But actually he was dealing with the rise of corporations as dominant,
the death of the nation state, the hollowing out of the middle-class.
He was really...
It was reportage on what he saw happening during the '80s.
So that really... Although, technically science-fiction,
what it was really about was that period we were going through.
I think this is what fiction does generally though.
It's not that it's better than truth it's that it's more focal than the truth.
It allows you to zoom in on something in a way that the raw data
of the actual world doesn't allow.
What are the engines that drive your own work?
What provokes you to imagination?
I know that one.
-I start every day in a state of rage.
It's just the, kind of... I think the sense that...
Especially recently, there's a retreat from modernism.
You know, the modern world has given us so much
and there is a sense in which we just don't seem to want it.
We want to crawl back into our hole and go on being violent
and miserable and destructive.
I find it deeply frustrating that there's this massive
potential in the human race, in all human beings, I think,
and it's constantly pissed away by, sort of...
I don't know, toxic masculinity I would say is the prime mover of that.
It's the way we all are to some extent.
There's this deeply rooted frustration
with our inability to grapple with what's going on
and make a decent fist of it.
My fellow Edinburgh-based author Ken MacLeod
has been imagining all sorts of things for decades.
'Many of his complex novels are explorations of future
'outcomes of present-day events.'
Why did you choose to address those interests through the medium
of science-fiction, rather than another form of fiction?
Why did I choose science-fiction?
Unfortunately, science-fiction chose me.
I find it difficult to write anything else.
In my first book, which is set
in a fairly fractured future Britain,
there's me working through these problems that were raised by
the Soviet collapse, the break-up of Yugoslavia, that kind of thing,
and projecting these into a not too distant future.
In fact, it's a future that seems to be coming closer.
I think that's where the power of much science-fiction lies,
that it starts off in the ordinary.
It starts off in the context of either a world we recognise,
or a set of human relationships that we recognise,
and that's what makes it, I think, so powerful
because we start from a place of recognition and then we move into
a place beyond that.
The trick which can be done with greater or less success is
-bringing a ring of truth to alien situations...
..and in some way finding ways in which they reflect back on,
as you say, human relationship and human truths.
And I think that's one of the great strengths of the genre,
that you can pose those difficult ethical moral questions and
you can create a landscape where they become very acute,
rather than just part of the background noise.
The Execution Channel was one where I had this idea
of an unofficial, an illegal, a secret television channel
that showed nothing but executions,
whether it was state executions or terrorist so-called executions.
The question then becomes what effect does seeing these horrors
have in driving and perpetuating the situations that give rise to them?
So, for example, one chapter ends,
"Susie Abudu, Nigeria, stoning, witchcraft.
"Matthew Holst, Syria, decapitation, invasion."
"Tariq Nazir, Scotland, burning, charge unknown."
That's just horrifying and the awful thing about that
is that you can imagine it... imagine it's reality.
I think, you know, we are moving very much into a world
where that kind of thing exists in a different form,
but it's there.
We're moving into a world that's beyond imagination...
-..in some respects.
-Aye aye, captain!
When I'm not glued to my laptop
writing the next chapter of my latest book,
I can often be found in front of another screen - my old PC or iPad.
I've been an avid gamer for years now.
I never really took to the big blockbuster games.
They're too violent, kind of misogynist...
..but mostly it's cos I'm rubbish at shooting.
I like puzzles and narrative games,
but I've always had a soft spot for Lara Croft.
Games like these can worm their way inside your head.
I just shot you twice!
Lately, I've noticed a change in the kind of topics
that keep weaving their way into games I'm playing.
It's as if the gaming world is interacting
with the contentious moral and political issues of the real world.
Now, I'm not one of the younger generation of gamers,
it's fair to say.
Probably most younger gamers do not spend their mornings
shouting at the Today programme
and I'm guessing that the kind of issues
that are coming up in the games might be issues
that otherwise pass them by.
Rhianna Pratchett, the daughter of the late Terry,
is a story designer of video games.
So, as a gamer, I've always enjoyed the kind of complex narrative games
that give scope for your imagination
and it seems to me that increasingly
these are dealing with more sensitive, real-world issues,
but still the big blockbuster AAA games made by the big companies
don't quite go there.
Do you think that's changing?
Yes. If you look at something like BioShock, for example,
which is a big sort of first-person shooter game,
it was all about a fallen utopia under the sea
that had been built by this entrepreneur called Andrew Ryan.
He'd decided to create a place where the brightest and the best
from art and science could come and practise their skills
unhindered by the laws of the land.
Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?
And of course, it all goes terribly wrong
and it becomes, you know, a civil war, basically.
And you get literally plopped into the middle of it.
Are there any games you've seen recently
that have particularly struck you as being appropriately real world
in terms of the concerns their dealing with?
Oh, yes. Absolutely. So, you've got things like That Dragon, Cancer,
which was created by a couple
who had to deal with the loss of their child through cancer
or something like Papo And Yo
which was about a little boy dealing with an abusive, alcoholic father,
that was actually the designer of the game himself
had to deal with an abusive, alcoholic father.
And there's been games like Ninja Pizza Girl that deals with bullying
and it was put together by a family whose daughter was experiencing bullying
and they decided to deal with it by making a game out of it,
which I think is wonderful.
Gameplay with its roots in very recent real-world events
is becoming almost commonplace - at least in my gaming world.
Recently, I've been playing a game Papers, Please,
which has all sorts of resonances and bitter ironies for us
in the wake of the recent EU referendum.
In it, you play an immigration official
in a fictitious Communist country in 1982
and it's your job to check the papers
of anyone who wants to come into your country.
If you get it right, you get rewarded
but if you get it wrong, if you let in the murderers, the pimps,
the evil, scheming conmen, then you suffer and your family suffers.
You can lose your home, you can lose your income, everything.
It can be a complete disaster.
And the more you play the game, the more difficult it becomes.
Papers, Please was devised by Lucas Pope.
So, Lucas, can you tell me where the idea for Papers, Please came from?
I'm American but I live in Japan,
so I travel a fair bit between Japan and the US
and I also travel throughout Asia and kind of all over the world.
And then I started paying attention
to what the immigration inspectors do at the airport,
checking the paperwork and checking your documents
and checking the computer and then stamping and sending through.
That whole rigmarole was interesting to me.
So, it came really, from your own sort of sense of OCD-ness,
as you say, rather than an overt political motive to make the point
of how difficult it is to get in and out of countries.
The whole structure of the game came from the bottom up,
where I started with the mechanics of just checking paperwork
and looking for discrepancies.
That part, I thought, could make a fun and interesting game.
And of course, it's hit a nerve
at this particular point in our history,
where there is this huge migration crisis,
a huge refugee crisis, particularly for us in the European Union.
I tried to make the game sort of neutral in those messages.
I didn't say immigration is great or immigration is terrible.
I tried to make it more balanced and to show that, actually,
there's issues and problems on all sides of it.
And it's not a simple issue. It's not black and white.
It's a spectrum of grey.
And I wanted the player to sort of feel the different points along that spectrum
of where, OK, immigration control is really important
and immigration control hurts real people,
so, I wanted people to sort of better understand
the vast number of issues around that particular problem.
Thanks very much for talking to us about this.
I've really appreciated your time
and I look forward to playing a lot more Papers, Please.
Great, thanks very much. My pleasure.
The City of Dundee was once known as the home of the three Js -
jam, jute and journalism.
Nowadays, Scotland's fourth largest city
has a rather different claim to fame
as a key creative hub for the booming British games industry.
Grand Theft Auto was initially produced
on the banks of the River Tay.
Prominent indie game developers are still based in the city.
One of them is Biome Collective,
a collaborative group of designers.
Their most recent creation is the game Killbox.
It deals with the controversial subject of drone warfare,
which has become a weapon of choice in the Western War On Terror.
Malath Abbas, one of the game's co-creators,
spent months researching the project.
I was kind of researching about
what's been happening in areas such as North Pakistan,
which isn't actually a warzone
but there's been a lot of drone warfare taking place
because of the border with Afghanistan.
So, we just researched online, read a few books,
we watched a few documentaries,
really kind of delved in as much as possible to the subject matter.
It's quite a dark subject matter.
How did you translate that research into a gaming environment,
into something that worked for players?
I think, really, we realised early on
that one story that hadn't been told
is the two different perspectives of a drone strike
being from a pilot's point of view and someone on the ground.
So, that was a focus from the very early stages
of our research and development.
And so we kind of started making a really basic prototype
and even at a very early stage with basically graphics,
and just using boxes and things,
we had something that was quite engaging
and that's the power of the interactive nature of our medium.
To play the game, we entered this vast, empty space next-door.
I wasn't sure what to expect.
I was player one, the child,
while Malath was player two, the drone operator.
ARMY RADIO CHATTER
It's just like playing ball.
Follow the balls.
Lots of balls to chase.
At the beginning, it just felt like a normal game to me.
You play the game from your own perspective
and never see what the other player is doing.
As the child on the ground,
you become more aware of the sound of your opponent above you
as they line up their drone strike on the village.
Something's getting louder.
Something's getting louder but I'm chasing lots of balls and it's fun and it's...
That's really interesting.
You know, the first bit's just like lots of games
where you target something and you drop a bomb
and, like, that's good, you killed three people,
it's the game universe, that's fine.
And then the second bit and then you start chasing the balls
and you kind of forget the first bit of the game and then you're just chasing the balls
-and collecting the balls and thinking, "How many of these am I going to get?"
-That's really powerful.
It does take you through a whole cycle of emotions.
The game ends with sobering information
about the impact of real drone strikes.
Before I became a crime novelist, I was a tabloid journalist.
I ended up as Northern Bureau Chief of a national Sunday paper.
Sometimes, I covered major crime stories.
The case that always came back to haunt us was the Moors murders.
Every six months or so, a story would surface
that turned our attention back to those terrible events.
Over the years,
I interviewed a lot of people connected to the case -
the families of the victims,
police officers who investigated the murders,
journalists who were haunted for years afterwards
by what they heard in the courtroom.
20 years after the event,
I was the first journalist to interview Ian Brady's mother.
I interviewed one of Myra Hindley's girlfriends
and the fellow prisoner who beat her up so badly
she ended up needing plastic surgery.
Decades after Hindley and Brady's gruesome murders,
the pain still rippled down
through generations of each of the victim's families.
Their hurt is something I've never forgotten.
When I began to make a living from writing crime novels,
my experience of covering the Moors murders
informed my decision not to base novels on individual cases.
I'm always mindful to keep sight of the pain of the victims
and their families in my stories.
True crime stories have always fascinated us.
Over the past year, there's been an explosion of them on our TV screens.
A lot of the recent hits are American.
HBO's The Jinx covered the surreal story
of oddball property heir Robert Durst
and a trail of murder victims he left in his wake
over a 20-year period but was never actually charged for.
Until this jaw-dropping ending to the series,
which will likely condemn him to a life behind bars.
Thank you very much.
Well, thank you very much.
Do we have Bob's bag nearby?
Well, maybe this is the bathroom.
-Yeah, that's the bathroom.
-You were right. This is the bathroom.
Netflix's Making A Murderer series caused a sensation
when it was broadcast in late December last year.
Short over the course of a decade,
this ten-part series followed the case of Wisconsin man Steven Avery
who was wrongly imprisoned in 1985 for murder.
-Steven Avery spent 18 years in prison
for something he didn't do.
The film-makers followed his attempted reintegration
into normal life.
The disappearance of Teresa Halbach remains a mystery.
Mr Avery's blood is found inside of Teresa Halbach's vehicle.
Within two years of finally being released,
he was rearrested and jailed for another rape and murder,
which he hotly disputed any involvement in.
I didn't do it.
Who did it?
I don't know.
Many viewers binge-watched both series in one or two sittings,
transfixed by the twists and turns of complex murder cases,
which the respective police forces had spent years investigating.
And Making A Murderer provoked a flurry of amateur sleuthing
among its dedicated audience.
Many viewers spent hours on the internet,
poring over the court transcripts,
debating the various facets of Avery's case.
As a crime writer myself,
I'm well aware of the fascination people have
with these true crime stories.
And frankly, it's not surprising.
We all love a mystery,
especially the ones where we get an answer,
where we feel somehow we understand better what has happened
and why it's happened.
And, let's face it, there's a kind of secret, shameful gratification
in watching lightening striking somebody else's house.
But what worries me most about these kind of programmes
is not the way the audience are invited to rush to judgment.
It's not even the editorial hand that shapes what the audience sees and hears.
It's the way that the victims are ignored in all of this
because, when we disregard the victims, we diminish the crime.
Criminologist Roger Graef has a long track record
of producing crime documentaries for British television.
Trident is an elite unit,
focused on black-on-black gun crime in London.
To reassure the local community, a murder team takes the case.
He has made over 50 programmes, covering all kinds of crimes
and live police investigations.
What are the ethical considerations that come into play
when you're making these kind of programmes?
Well, the first one, which applies to absolutely all the films,
even whether they're not about policing and crime,
is you don't want to interfere in the work,
whatever it is you're looking at.
And in something as sensitive as an arrest or an interrogation
or things of that nature,
which can certainly affect people's lives,
you have to make absolutely certain that you haven't influenced the outcome,
and that takes a lot of work and a lot of restraint.
There's been recently a run of television programmes
which are almost making us citizen detectives -
or citizen programme-makers at the very least -
I'm thinking of things like the Making Of A Murderer.
What's your feeling about programmes like this?
Well, first of all, anything that lasts more than half an hour,
I think, is a step in the right direction
because the real complexity of the justice system
is never reflected - or very, very seldom reflected -
in the television versions of them or even the fictional ones.
The real crimes like Making Of A Murderer
that was, as far as I remember, ten episodes, something like that
was really good because it twisted and turned
and they thought they had him and then they didn't and then they found new evidence and so on.
And that journey is much more characteristic
than the short, compressed versions, even if they're real.
You're dealing with the police, you're dealing with the perpetrators, but how do you engage
with the victim's point of view?
In the most recent series, Channel 4 asked us
and the film-makers set out very much to include the victim's parents
as very active participants in that series,
and they agreed and got a great deal out of it and so did the audience.
It won a Bafta because was a 360-degree view of this murder
and I've filmed victims in the past
and I'm particularly interested in restorative justice,
which gives victims a voice.
One word - why?
Why would somebody want to hurt Nicholas?
They shouldn't kill my son.
In the early 1980s, Roger spent over a year
filming the Thames Valley Police for a BBC series.
In one episode,
they followed a rape case which posed several editorial dilemmas.
So, you recognised them from the pub, not having seen them before?
-Yeah. I hadn't seen them before, ever before.
No, I hadn't seen them before today.
The girl was slightly damaged and had been in mental hospitals
and so on and we had tried five other cases before we did this one.
But because she didn't want to be on camera
it's all filmed from behind her head
and that means that the camera is looking right at you, the audience, right?
And so instead of you sitting round judging her,
you feel the way the interrogation goes
and that's what gave it the power it had.
And in a curious way,
it neutralised the experience from it being a personal one,
although obviously it was awful for her.
She might have concocted the rape story or something like that.
-Or she knows these three lads and she's...
-A cover-up job?
Yeah, she's never, ever seen these three lads before, she claims,
and yet, she recognised them when she came out the pub.
The programme had an immediate impact.
It led to a change in police procedure
over how rape victims were interviewed.
And it showed the value of sensitively-made crime documentaries.
Every film I've made - I mean every film I've made -
has been an attempt to either understand a social problem
or if I've understood it, to do something about it.
Do you think there are difficulties inherent in the documentary process
and its relationship to truth?
Of course. First of all, you can't show the whole thing.
Secondly, you can't film the whole thing, you can't be...
We were at the Thames Valley at Reading Police Station
nine months out of 12
and we still called our own work, "you should've been there Thursday"
because no matter when we turned up,
-that's what the cops would say to us.
Right? And we missed all the high-profile cases.
The really interesting thing about that series is there's almost no crime in it,
there's certainly no big-time cases.
The rape film turned absolutely no...
It went nowhere, they let her go and she walks away,
and it was in real-time. It was an hour and a half of filming,
we showed 45 minutes of it.
It was the most important film ever shown
-about police practice up to that point.
There are all sorts of obstacles to communicating truth.
Making stuff up is a way of putting fictional situations
in front of people so they can get a handle on real events
without feeling preached at.
But whether we re-examine the world
by taking aspects of it to fantastical extremes
or highlighting injustice by showing the consequences of our actions,
the power to create comes with responsibility
to reflect the real issues of our time in a truthful way.
Is fiction the best way to access the truth? Award-winning Scottish crime writer Val McDermid explores the relationship between fiction, video games and real-life crime documentary. She talks to Ken MacLeod and Richard K Morgan, whose science fiction novels offer a commentary on current political events. She meets Malath Abbas, the designer of Killbox, a new game about the ethics of drone warfare, and Lucas Pope, whose Bafta-winning Papers Please examines the moral and political decisions faced by an immigration officer. McDermid discusses the importance and the pitfalls of covering real-life crime with veteran documentary maker and criminologist Roger Graef.