A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
It was OK for Enid Blyton. She did a good line in out-and-out baddies, of course, and also in Bad Girls who could Make Good – Daphne and – at the eleventh hour – Gwendoline in Malory Towers. Prudence in St Clare’s was the worst kind of baddy – the smug prig who hides real spite behind a façade – not that our heroines are fooled! And even when humans are taken in, there’s always that infallible yardstick, Timmy the dog. Even sensible Julian and supposedly clever (but emotionally dim) Uncle Quentin are taken in by the evil tutor in Five Go Adventuring Again, but when Timmy refuses to give him his paw – well, there’s No Doubt in the reader’s mind.
Personally, I like a bit of doubt. I write very realistic books so I haven’t ever had the fun of writing a real pantomime villain baddy, and I write for older teenagers so I don’t think they’d let me get away with the old The-Dog-Doesn’t-Trust-Him-So-He-Must-Be Bad scam.
That doesn’t mean I don’t write about very nasty characters. In my first novel Taking Flight, the hero is thrown down the stairs by his mother’s drug-peddling boyfriend; in Still Falling, Luke is haunted by the voice of his abuser, and Esther by her memories of being bullied by the popular girls. Even Too Many Ponies, my cheeriest book (nobody dies!), centres on bullying, and I have to say the scene where the bullies get their comeuppance is the most fun I have had with characters.
But in my forthcoming novel, Street Song (out ONE MONTH TODAY!) I’ve gone a bit further. There are two real baddies: one in the sense of being the antagonist and one who is guilty of something truly horrible.
The antagonist, Ricky, announces himself as such in the opening pages. He’s the hero’s stepfather and also his manager – the hero, Ryan, is a failed reality-TV popstar. I had fun with Ricky, endowing him with some of the worst characteristics of that particular culture and satirising his shallow attitudes. I enjoyed putting him down, or rather letting my feisty heroine Toni do it for me.
But the other baddy was harder to write. He does something truly terrible, though I can’t say what because it would be daft to give a big fat spoiler a month before the book is published. I’ve dealt with such characters before but they were either already dead (in Still Falling) or such out-and-out baddies that there was no need for much subtlety (Barry in Taking Flight; Emmet in Grounded). This baddy isn’t like that. I don’t want the reader to know what a baddy he is immediately. I don’t want Ryan to know what a baddy he is, or it makes our hero look daft and trusting. There needs to be doubt. There needs to be suspicion. You need to understand why someone might trust him, even like him. Otherwise it doesn’t work.
Because in real life, baddies don’t come with labels.
And sometimes even clever dogs like bad people.