Social Literary is now available for subscription at just £0.99 for Amazon Kindle. Subscribing to the service allows you to get the latest updates, news, book reviews and interviews sent directly to your Kindle for you to enjoy on the move.
When you subscribe to the site through your Kindle device, it will display as a single entry, like books. When you sync your device to check for new items, your Kindle will download the complete feed so you can read your blogs offline at any time.
Kindle subscription id available for U.S. and UK customers.
If you’d asked me a week ago if I knew who Jon Ronson was, I would have looked blankly at you and ignorantly guessed he was Mark Ronson’s dad. However having just finished his latest book, The Psychopath Test, in record time, I can assure you he is not responsible for bringing the one–chord wonder into this world…or his Lindsay Lohan obsessed sister.
The first chapter slowly eases you into the mysterious case of Being or Nothingness, after the author is contacted by a psychologist ready to exploit his obsession in hunting all things slightly mad. Ronson’s first investigation into the world of psychopaths here doesn’t lead to the most exciting conclusion, although it is this end that leads him to a relentless pursuit in search of two things: 1.Just how do you define a Psychopath? and 2.The dangers at hand in doing so. After all, these are people’s lives you are playing with.
At the start of this book you may wonder just why Ronson is so determined to chase psychopaths across the globe, but read a little further and you’ll wish you’d been with him. This is particularly true in the case of Tony, a man who, without giving too much away, believes he has been wrongly categorised as a psychopath. Following his arrest for assaulting a tramp, Tony is advised by fellow prisoners to play up to the notion of being a psychopath in order to be handed a more lenient sentence than the five to seven years he is facing for GBH. It goes horribly wrong for Tony who ends up in Broadmoor and is faced with having to prove to various psychotherapists that he is indeed, just a ‘normal’ bloke who lost control of his temper. This leads to the impossible question and one that will have you rapidly flicking through these pages in search of the answer- just how do you prove you are sane? Indeed Tony is a character I could easily read an entire book on (are you listening Jon Ronson?), although this is not to discredit the remaining chapters, as this title is packed with fascinating cases throughout.
Next up is our introduction to Bob Hare and one of his theories, that the concept of psychopathy is not restricted to the inside world of psychiatric institutions. In fact, Hare claims that those in senior positions at corporate companies such as CEO’s are in-fact a bit mental. Ronson picks up this thought and surmises that ruthless, manipulative characters with a lack of empathy (all traits that define a psychopath according to Hare) are the exact characteristics company directors are looking for. Ronson then begins a quest to prove that the corporate world is rife with psychopaths, which brings him to Al Dunlap, a CEO who enjoys nothing more than firing people (think George Clooney’s character from Up in the Air without the sense of guilt).
An early criticism of the book could be that Jon Ronson is a bit too eager to pigeon hole every subject he meets as a psychopath or at least as a tad mentally unhinged. However as the reader I guarantee you will also begin to display this eagerness throughout, as well in your own professional and personal life. You will think of every person you have ever met and worked with and begin to wonder to yourself “could they be a psychopath?” Upon finishing this book you may as well be carrying the Bob Hare checklist around in your back pocket, slowly ticking off your peers as mad. Perhaps this is why it is only qualified practitioners that are entrusted with this difficult task, with even the professionals seemingly getting it wrong in some cases. However this will not stop you becoming a fully qualified psychopath spotter…in your own mind at least.
The rest of the book is packed with opinions from those who defend and campaign for the releases of people they believe are wrongly imprisoned as well as a good dose of conspiracy theorists, Scientologists and professional shrinks just for good measure. Some cases will infuriate you, whilst you may sympathise with others, but make no mistake, this book will explore every emotion you possess and Ronson is fully aware of this.
The book is structured to cleverly balance the chapters from tense to light reading, rather than leading you through one hard and depressing slog of the sometimes horrific methods used to define psychopathy. The author’s witty analysis and thought process is present throughout, although some of the included stories, injustice and ludicrous opinions within its pages will anger you, whilst other cases may leave you pondering the thought – aren’t we all just a bit mad?
How did your experience working on children’s TV shows such as Cbeebies, CBBC and Balamory help you write this book?
I was a publicist at the BBC so I was not involved in the actual programme-making side, but I did get a chance to read through a lot of scripts and when I was on location I saw how those scripts came alive. I do think when I write, even though I’m not an artist, I tend to do so with my eyes first. I can see the action in my mind’s eye before it makes it to the paper. I watched how an idea for stories and characters in Balamory became fully formed and caught the imagination of children all over the world. I recall that the first series didn’t have a big marketing push, so the kids really did find it. So my experience with BBC must have had an impact whether consciously or not.
Did you find it daunting writing this book; given that it would be would be your first publication?
No, I didn’t find it daunting at all, until that is, we realised just how much we still had to learn. That was probably after the first notes came back from our editor. Then it seemed like we had a mountain to climb…
My advice to any aspiring author would be…
If I had a pound for the people on discovering that I had a book out, who have then said to me that they had a book in them, I’d probably be quite wealthy now. My advice is, go ahead and write it, do something about it, don’t leave it up there as an ‘if only’ or a ‘what if’. Only by doing it, can we learn.
How did your favourite titles as a child inspire your vision for Badger the Mystical Mutt?
I was a huge Enid Blyton fan, so I suppose some credit must be given to Timmy the dog in The Famous Five and of course Scooby Doo, but possibly on a subconscious level.
How did you end up writing this book?
If someone had said to me six years ago that I would have written a childrens’ book I would never have believed them. I had a book on the go (it still is) – adult fiction called Fairytales, Phantoms and Sycophants set in a circus and based on my experiences of life in the media Badger just happened. He is based on a real dog called Badger, and his stories have a bit more purpose to them. It seemed we couldn’t ignore him. His tales had to be told
LAURA CAMERON JACKSON
How did your background in working with disadvantaged children help when you were developing ideas for this book?
I guess subconsciously it helped enormously. I worked with Sense Scotland for a few years on the arts team and I met and worked with some incredible children (and adults) with severe disabilities. Their determination to overcome any limitations was mind-blowing and the joy with which they did it was infectious.
What was it like teaming up with a friend to write this book? Any creative differences…?
We work incredibly well together even though we both have quite different ways of working. I love to use long-hand with pencil and paper and Lyn loves to sit at her computer. We both have ideas that come to us separately, but when we sit down to discuss them, that’s when the fun starts and it all happens.
What has been the most enjoyable part about creating this book?
Being able to go with the flow creatively, it’s all our own creation, our ‘badgical magical’ world, and we love it.
What does the future hold for Badger?
A certain Badger the Mystical Mutt tells me he has lots more tales to tell and can see himself as an animation. Who am I to argue with that? Sounds wooftastic to me!
LYN & LAURA
My favourite book…
LYN: I would have to say it’s The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge and spookily dookily in Hamleys in Glasgow, Badger is sitting right next to this on the shelf. This was a book recommended to me about five years ago so if I was to go further back than that, it would be Jeanette Winterson’s Written On The Body
LAURA: The Waves by Virginia Woolf.
LYN: Janice Galloway who wrote The Trick is To Keep Breathing was an English teacher at my school. I love her writing style, and I remember when I was due to have a poem published, I met her again later when she was at Glasgow University as a writer giving a talk. She was very kind to me and gave me some good advice.
LAURA: My mum and dad
My favourite author…
LYN: Ooooh, I’m stuck between Charlotte and Emily Bronte, though you may think me mad to say this, but for a few years back in the day, I convinced myself I was Charlotte re-incarnate because Charlotte died 111 years before I was born on 31st March, my birthday, and because, well it worked for Kate Bush and Emily! Ahem…
LAURA: Virginia Woolf
The first book I had published was…
LYN: Badger the Mystical Mutt (though I had a few short stories and poems published in my youth)
LAURA: Badger the Mystical Mutt
My next book is…
BOTH: Badger the Mystical Mutt and The Barking Boogie
Everyone should read…
LYN: Whatever makes them feel good. But if I had to recommend, I don’t think anyone could argue with The Power book by Rhonda Byrne
LAURA: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The perfect holiday read…
LYN: I’m going through chick lit at an alarming rate. Laura and I are so different, she would happily head off to the sun with a Dickens tome, whilst I’m very contented with my Bridget Jonesesque stories.
LAURA: Iris Murdoch – any of her novels.
Every story should have…
LYN: A feel good factor. I’m all for deep literary explorations and think I did most of the greats in my twenties. Now I want a quick fix, and to chill out and be entertained with a good story that flows, where I either love or hate the characters, and then feel good at the end of it. I’m probably currently the reading equivalent of panto or TV soaps. That’s not to say I won’t delve sometimes…
LAURA: Intrigue and a bit of magic
Best advice ever given…
LYN: From Colin Gilbert at The Comedy Unit (the tv production company for Rab C Nesbitt and Still Game along with many childrens’ programmes) – “Don’t over-hype it, just let it seap seamlessly into the ether”
LAURA: From my late friend Colin Thomas – “There’s no such thing as a problem, it’s only ever a challenge”
About the authors
Lyn McNicol (co-author)
Lyn is a former publicist for the BBC, working on programmes such as Balamory, Live & Kicking, Cbebies and CBBC.
Laura Cameron Jackson (co-author and illustrator)
Laura is an artist who has carried out work with the Kings Theatre in Glasgow, BBC Scotland and most recently, she has worked with severely disabled children and adults with Sense Scotland, Visibility and Artlink Central.