A regular reader got in touch:
"Recently, Anthony Horowitz had an article in the Daily Mail (5th June) about ‘why it’s impossible to create a modern day baddy’. As an example of the problem, he mentions how ‘depressing it is that Herod Sayle, the Lebanese businessman that Alex Rider fought in his first adventure, Stormbreaker, quietly morphed into Darrius Sayle, Californian trailer trash by the time the film came out last summer’.
I realise that this is an incredibly sensitive issue but it’s a genuine problem to the fledgling writer. I realised that issues such as race may be a problem back in 1992 when there was all that fuss over Candyman’s villain being black and so I have always been quite careful, however, I notice that there still seem to be some groups that a writer is allowed to have a go at: particularly Americans (can all 300 million really be evil?) but also yokels especially from the West Country (it seems we’re all thick, say ‘oo-ar’ and chew straw), Catholics or any fervent Christians.
Obviously, anything too controversial will put off potential buyers but how can you tell if something seemingly innocuous might be controversial? In your experience, how big a problem are these issues within the industry? What advice or guidelines would you give to the aspirant writer?"
That's an interesting question! But I wouldn't get too hung up about it. It certainly wouldn't stop me from making a villain out of whoever I choose, whether they be white, black, Irish, American, whatever.
It's always good to avoid the cliché and stereotype by bringing some original or surprising characterisation to the villain, to either justify his/her cause, or make him an engaging multi-dimensional character where you understand their misguided motivations.
That's the key, when the character is convincing; then it doesn't matter who they are or where they're from - it's just part of their characterisation. Maybe Anthony Horowitz's situation was watered down because it's a studio picture, and perhaps some conventional sensibilities came into play.
But, usually, controversy is a good thing. And as a new writer, if you can grab someone's attention with a credible and convincing character, or set-up, then that's going to go a long way. There's nothing taboo anymore, on TV or film. Just go with your instincts and what you want to express. Let people be offended if they want but you've got to stick to your own conviction about your characters and story. Find your original voice. Don't be swayed by naysayers or prudes.
* Boromir, Lord of the Rings, written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson