Corporal Punishment In My Books

I promise, this is not as boring as my sleeping self just here might indicate. It might be? Read on and judge for yourself!

Fiction, though a work of the imagination, usually exists parallel to the real world. So although the characters that populate a work of fiction are normally purely imaginary, they interact with each other against a familiar real background. Cities, towns and villages may be given names that never existed in reality, but the writer probably has a mental image of a real place as he set his characters free to wander.

Times, though, change. Societies grow up, leave their metaphorical childhood behind them. Over my own lifetime there have been so many changes in the way we treat each other and because these are reflected in my books I thought I ought to comment on some of them.

I’m in my sixties and am surrounding by my own now-adult children, and their children, my grandchildren.

One of the most marked changes so far as childhood is concerned is the question of punishment.

When I was a lad punishment was often a very painful affair. Step out of line at school and you would be beaten. You would receive painful corporal punishment even if one of the more sadistic teachers only thought you’d stepped out of line. School assemblies were where you sang a hymn half-heartedly, prayed to a god you thought might not be listening and then witnessed the caning of one of your classmates because the Headmaster had spotted him on the way home from school not wearing his school cap. Sometimes there was a whole queue of miscreants and although some of them had committed crimes possibly worthy of their punishment, many had merely teetered over a line that those in authority could see and the boys at the school couldn’t. And this must be remembered was all in the lifetimes of many of us who tread the more gentle paths of the twenty-first century.

That was one element of punishment at school: the public thrashing. The other was more sadistic and even secretive and practised by some of the more disciplinarian teachers in the privacy of their classrooms, where they colleagues couldn’t see what they were up to. They achieved total classroom discipline by regularly and for no discernible reason punishing their pupils with the cane until the whole class was perpetually on edge wondering who was going to receive it next, and why. Copying a word down from the blackboard incorrectly was one crime, being the last out of the classroom at the end of the lesson was another. Heaven forbid you were last!

If modern children were to be exposed to such a regime there would be very little learned, I’m sure, and a huge number of schoolmasters with aching shoulder muscles by the end of every day.

Then, when the punished boys got home and their parents’ discovered the punishment it would in some, hopefully rare, instances be repeated there because for some reason I never fathomed a few parents automatically assumed their offspring must have been particularly bad at school and needed to learn the lesson well. What lesson they never said.

This was the world back then: the Second World War still had its shadow on the land and times were bleak. At least, it was the world at the ordinary state technical school that the 11+ examinations had dictated that I attend.

It was a world in which those teachers who didn’t believe in corporal punishment had a lousy time when adolescent pupils sought relaxation and those with a sadistic streak enjoyed themselves hugely. And I’m not being cynical: I knew at least one sadist who had a couple of his younger colleagues so in thrall that they decided to imitate him.


Some of the characters in my books find themselves at the painful end of corporal punishment, not because I want to be gratuitously nasty to them or fill my pages with the kind of rubbish nasty little sadists might enjoy but because it happened under the light of a sun shining in a blue sky and with the full approval of the law. Josie (A Fall From Grace) had a Christian fundamentalist mother who was convinced that some of what she saw as seedy human activities were the consequence of demonic possession that needed thrashing out of her daughter. There have been people like this – the Spanish Inquisition of centuries ago was peopled by them – and this is not a dig at Christians of any colour.

The truth is there was a great deal of Christian fundamentalism back then, most of it benevolent, as ordinary believing men and women tried to make sense out of the apparent contradictions of the times. There were shortages of just about everything and luxuries were impossible for poorer people to afford. The Church still dominated the social landscape, particularly in areas of deprivation, and that was no bad thing because it offered, in a small way, a couple of highlights to lighten the grey. There was the Sunday School outing in the summer and the Sunday School Christmas party in December. They were, sadly, highlights in my early years, so much so that I still remember them in more detail than I remember just about anything else from those years

Rock 'n' Roll, of course, came along in the mid to late fifties, to add a rosier hue to our lives, but those older generations still steeped in close to Victorian values resented the intrusion of happiness into the world. It’s true that many more severe remnants from earlier times looked upon rock ‘n’ roll as sinful, the dancing associated with it as licentious and the dawning new age something to be viewed with horror. They were going to have a real bad time a few years later when the Beatles grew their hair and sang plaintive songs of love and hope!

Josie (A Fall From Grace) of course came from a pre-war era that was just as constricting in its own way. The same values applied even though the twenties had led to a superficial loosening of the old standards. But the backbone to society still bent towards the maxim: spare the rod and spoil the child. So Josie’s mother went nowhere near sparing the rod and consequently, in her mind, the child wasn’t spoiled. In this day and age that seems dreadful. That a believer in a supposedly loving god should behave so hatefully to a daughter who is both younger and weaker is appalling – but it happened; indeed, it probably still happens in a few homes where a generous religion has been corrupted and turned into something else.


Having created one mother who treated her offspring like this, I created another – this time, though, she was insane. In “Dead Lips, Kissing” our antihero Adrian was corrupted by a crazed mother who would have gone to any lengths to reverse the gender of her son – and punished him randomly because Nature had decreed he was born to be a boy. For some reason, though, Adrian seems to have learned to enjoy the beatings because he somehow managed to relive the pain even after he had murdered his mother, the voice (hers) in his head rewarding him with a generous supply of meaty thwacks. How they actually contacted his quivering flesh I can't imagine - but according me to me they did!


I’m nothing like a sadist but I’ve provided the troubled reader with even more corporal punishment in the frozen world of The Crystal Forest. This time the sexes are divided into males and females at birth and the boys are brought up in privation and intellectual poverty in a disused prison that is solely used as the home for males under the age of 18, and it is under the control of an ancient electronic device (DEMON) that has lost its marbles, so to speak. Corporal punishment is doled out as if the boys were the desperate criminals it was designed to help supervise.

I think that much of what I witnessed as a boy provided me with the basis of what might seem to be a literary addiction; what I learned to despise back then, and still despise now, has given me something concrete with which to represent the excesses of power.

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