The question of how to write about a murderer whose final days were tracked by 24 hour rolling news channels and the internet is considered by Andrew Hankinson in his non-fiction novel You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat] (2016). July 2010 saw a major police hunt in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland for 37-year-old Raoul Moat who had shot three people, including his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, in two days and then went on the run. After six days’ police found Moat and undertook six hours of negotiation after which time Moat shot himself. Hankinson describes the last eight days of Moat’s life in a largely second person narrative which lends a claustrophobic tone to events as the reader is placed inside Moat’s mind. It is this narrative voice that allows Hankinson to explore events that have seemingly been exhaustively examined. The narrative only switches to first person when based on Moat’s letters and written statements. Throughout the novel ‘You’ undertakes the events and comments in parenthesis, from a separate voice, correct any mis-information or add in pertinent information such as names and dates: ‘The public need not fear me, but the police should because I won’t stop until I’m dead. And I never hit that little kid [you were found guilty in court]’ (78). Aside from bringing the narrative voice closer to the reader, the second person narrative draws attention to the fact that the main source for the novel is Raoul Moat himself. It is his spoken and written materials, including, but not limited to, his letters six suicide notes, audio recordings and a forty-nine-page confession, he made on the run that the novel is based on. Indeed, the novel opens with a questionnaire from 2008 from the Regional Department of Psychotherapy and Moat’s answers. This is a man making an archive of his life. Hankinson takes these writings and arranges them in chronical order and re-writes them into a narrative which veers from paranoid and vengeful to confused and persecuted, all in the mind of Moat.
The second person narrative is not a form often used in crime fiction but a recent example is David Peace’s Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002) where lawyer John Piggott’s story is told from the second person point of view. Nineteen Eighty-Three is the final volume in the Red Riding Quartet which centres of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper and systematic police corruption. While the novels are largely based on real life events they do include a number of fictional characters and blur the line between fact and fiction. In contrast, You Could Do Something is entirely based on real life events and it is the inner monologue of the central protagonist which has been created. By drawing on the proliferation of material left by Moat, Hankinson demonstrates the increasing prevalence of the media in the ways in which crime narratives are consumed and created.
How to write about a murderer: crime novels based on real life events inevitably blur the line between fact and fiction
[Images used under fair dealings provisions]
Throughout the novel Moat is depicted as being obsessed with the media both in the ways which it reports on him and his crimes and the ways in which various forms of media influence his reasoning. The novel opens with Moat being released from prison ‘You walk across the road to the barber’s and ask for a Mohican, like Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver’ (10) painting himself as an anti-hero outlaw ready to fight his perceived enemies in a narrative that is familiar and easily recognisable. Moat is continually on Facebook which he uses alternately in tracking his ex-girlfriend’s movements and making inaccurate assumptions about her new relationships and updating his status with threats of violence: ‘I’m not 21 and I can’t rebuild my life. Watch and see what happens’ (25). This status is threatening but also inviting and can be read as a product of a generation who use social media to generate a version of themselves that they want to present to the world. As well as offering an idealised version of self via Facebook, television also offers a potential solution to Moat’s problems where traditional methods have failed. When the police denied Moat a lie detector test in a previous trial he decided to take matters into his own hands – ‘so you wrote to Jeremy Kyle and asked to go on there and do a lie detector test’ (22). Kyle and his team must have decided the case was not entertaining enough and the request was never granted. Moat again looks to the media to offer a sort of redemption after shooting his ex-girlfriend as he believes she will be able to sell her story to a tabloid, ‘At least she’ll be able to sell her story [….] she’ll make a fortune off this’ (117). Whilst on the run Moat asks his accomplices to bring him newspapers so he can read what journalists are writing about him. This concern with the media is built upon by Hankinson also depicts Moat as experiencing carrying out the murders he commits as if he is in a computer game:
‘There are two small holes in the window.
You run back to your car. …..
You drive in and shout,
Fast, fast, fast, fucking drive!’ (63)
This sparse language only depicts the mechanisms of the event and attaches no emotion to it and reads like a level in a computer game which has had to be completed. This sense of unreality progresses for Moat: ‘It all just feels like a weird video game now, a cross between Bourne Identity and Grand Theft Auto’ (86) Murder has become, in his mind, like a form of entertainment. Throughout the novel Moat continually relays emotional experiences in comparison to books and television: ‘I’d fallen in love, like in the books (76)’ and ‘It feels like I’m watching a film, not real at all’ (80). Film, television and computer games provide an emotional framework for Moat and without them he cannot navigate his experiences. His experience is, as Baudrillard describes, one of the hyperreal and the medium becoming as important, if not more so, that the message:
TV is watching us, TV alienates us, TV manipulates us, TV informs us… In all this, one remains dependent on the analytical conception of the media, on an external active agent, on ‘perspectical; information with the horizon of the real and of the meaning as the vanishing point (30).
Yet as much as Moat is obsessed with the media both in terms of expressing his inner thoughts and feelings and as vehicle to achieve his desires, arguably never as before has the media been obsessed with an unfolding story and indeed become part of the story themselves. As Moat went on the run the media covered the police search for him and alleged sightings of him while his family and friends talked to the papers to try and bring him out of hiding. Such was the prevalence of coverage that police demanded a news blackout as Moat ‘threatened to kill a member of the public for every piece of inaccurate information published about him.’
Media frenzy: Hankinson’s novel focuses on Moat’s point of view, re-focussing this extraordinary narrative on the protagonist
[Image credit: still taken from ITV News & Weather, 22:05 10/07/2010, ITV London, 20 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/016151CB (Accessed 16 Nov 2017), shared under the terms of an ERA Licence]
Yet by the time the police found Moat and the stand-off which results his death began; the media was straight back into the story with the BBC and ITV extending their 10pm new coverage to stick with the unfolding drama. Instead of reporting on events after they unfold reporters are presenting events as they unfold, inserting themselves into the drama:
“This is happening literally just over there behind me,” speed-whispered John Sopel on BBC1, finding himself anchoring the news in place of the fancy desk-based name listed in the Radio Times. As with OJ Simpson on the road, there was a looming sense that a man might commit suicide live on the news.
This sense of being in the story was seen in a report on Sky News with presenter Mark While holding a gun in front of a dummy with body armour. Indeed the effect of 24 hour news meant police officers often spent half their time dealing with the media rather than focusing on policing. By only focusing on events from Moat’s point of view, the novel misses out the rather more odd events of the police hunt from Ray Mears giving tracking advice and an inebriated Gazza turning up with chicken, beer and a phone to help his ‘mate.’ By relaying events only from Moat’s point of view Hankinson re-focuses the narrative on the protagonist.
Indeed this is how You Could Do Something Amazing differs from other contemporary novels dealing with true crime. The nonfiction novels of Gordon Burn are an influence on Hankinson yet while Burn examines the lives of Peter Sutcliffe in Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son (1984) and Fred and Rosemary West in Happy Like Murderers (1998) these are texts with a long scope beginning in childhood, examining the circumstances and murders and the aftermath. In contrast, Hankinson only ever gives us Moat’s point of view and interjects factual corrections. This gives the novel an appearance of being straightforward. Yet Hankinson does not interject on everything. Moat often refers to his French father and the fact that English is not his first language and that he is not from England but rather from more exotic climates. This is not challenged throughout the text and it is only revealed at the end that his father is not in fact French but English and they never met. This neat undercutting of a previously unchallenged set of statements reminds the reader that nothing is quite as it seems and our unreliable narrator is just that. Even in a case that has extensively been covered by the media this novel finds a space to examine a new, or previously unseen, narrative and offer surprises. Burn’s final novel Born Yesterday The News as a Novel (2008) examines the ways in which the media creates their own narratives: ‘It is often said that today’s abundance of media images creates a screen between the individual and the world, and that this is the source of feeling we all increasingly have of seeing everything but of being able to do nothing. The media gives us images of everything – but only images’ (Burn, 28). Indeed, the result of this overwhelming media presence, Hankinson argues, is that the person at the centre is lost, reduced to stock images and repeated key facts that can be easily digested. What is missing from the narrative is the circumstances that brought Moat to that place. The title of the novel hints at a better life that could have been and the novel avoids the position taken by then Prime Minister David Cameron: ‘You will be called a monster. You will be called evil. The prime minister David Cameron, will stand up in parliament and say you were a callous murderer, end of story’ (6).
Scene of the manhunt for Raoul Moat: the River Coquet, Rothbury
[Image by Peter Reed under a CC BY-NC license]
Yet as Hankinson is keen to point out this is far from the end of the story. A history of violence, mental problems, missed hospital appointments, paranoia, debt, absent parents are alluded to in an effort to try and understand, though not explain why Moat committed murder. Hankinson also includes several racist and anti-immigration remarks by Moat to highlight his alienation from society and sense of persecution: ‘At the final desk the Pakistani gets a stamp in his passport saying he’s officially an English citizen now, so all the departments come over and take it all back, saying. Nah you get fuck all’ (17). Yet as Moat himself notes: ‘but anyone can be made out to be a monster, the whole tabloid thing’ (20). Hankinson includes numerous mundane episodes in order to not reduce the narrative to one of ‘tabloid monster’. Moat’s various trips to MacDonald’s and KFC are detailed as are his shopping list which he texted to a friend which includes ‘a Yorkie bar and a Toffee Crisp’ (85). This is the banality of evil which is lost in the endless media representations of Raoul Moat.
CITATION: Rhona Gordon, “The Killer Inside Me,” Alluvium, Vol. 6, No. 3 (2017). n. pag. Web. 16 November 2017, https://doi.org/10.7766/alluvium.v6.3.01.
Rhona Gordon is currently completing her PhD thesis at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests include post-1970s housing, the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, post-Industrial landscapes and late-twentieth- and early twenty-first-century celebrity.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Shelia Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2004.
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Hankinson, Andrew. You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat]. London: Scribe, 2016.
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