I read thrillers, I write thrillers and I watch a lot of action movies, but the day I went to a Krav Maga class and got kicked properly, I had the shock of my life.
Real life violence is not something any of us actually want to be involved in, but as writers, we still need to know about it if we are to write effectively. In today's post, JR Sheridan, author and bouncer/door supervisor, shares some of his stories.
Until literary success finds me ready, willing and able to accept the accolades and riches, I have to keep up a proper job.
I am a Door Supervisor.
Trained and licensed to the standards of the Security Industry Authority. The old term is Bouncer, which has been deemed by the powers that be to be politically incorrect.
I worked my first door in 1989 at the age of 17 and worked for five years in different countries. I gave up when the lifestyle became incompatible with marriage, family life and my growing career in sales. In 2007 I left the business I had built as a be-suited and well-paid Sales Director. Wanting a better lifestyle I bought a hotel business in North Wales. I lasted four wet summers before I realized that it was too hard a slog for little return and came out.
The sensible move would have been to seek out another lucrative sales role sitting on motorways in a shiny car. Instead I wanted to write a book and I felt in my bones that to return to sales would be the end of my creative dream. So at the age of 39 I took a training course to be a Door Supervisor, picked up my badge and started working with a team of four on a national chain pub in a local town.
Since then I have worked security in pubs and nightclubs, football matches, a sheep shearing contest, a big fat gypsy wedding and a variety of concerts and events all with varying levels of threat, danger and evident customer stupidity and aggression.
My first book was a non-fiction memoir about the hotel, the mistakes I had made and the lessons I had learned.
As I wrote with a diary next to me, incidents of violence jumped out. I had bought a “charming hotel in an idyllic coastal village” but nobody had told that to the locals. In the first week at the Thursday night Karaoke session I shook hands with three brothers and accepted their best wishes.
Five minutes later one of them had an argument over the pool table and punched the local drunk in the nose. The blood fell in thick black drips all over my nice wooden floor.
Did you know that an alcoholic’s blood is thicker because of poor liver and kidney function?
On the CCTV images it was a cracking punch but against a drunken weakling rather than a proper man who can fight back. That happens a lot.
Two weeks later on my first bank holiday weekend forty youths from surrounding villages were fighting in front of my patio area. I looked back up at the front balconies with the lovely view over the harbour to see nice residents watching aghast at the junior riot in front of them, something to do with competing village football teams.
One night I refused entry to a lad who had threatened violence. He came back insistent on coming in. It was a pivotal moment and if I let him in then I might as well give him the keys to the safe and the chastity of the barmaids.
I stood my ground.
The list goes on and I dealt with a lot of trouble. I employed bouncers to allow me to run the business and to keep me from rolling around my car park with idiots. I thought I had bought a business that I could build and employed two great chefs and invested in new furniture and artwork fro the walls.
But I sold alcohol, the most dangerous of drugs and at times I felt I was pushing my own destruction.
We made money in the summer but lost it in the winter and I realized after three years that the losses weighed with the profits gave us a negligible return for all our hard work. We escaped and the relief was intense.
When the memoir was turned down I put it to one side and wrote a novel instead. I wrote about an ex serviceman who returned to his Grandfather’s North Wales coastal village and follows his journey of redemption out of depression and dealing with local toerags. I am told the scenes in bars and clubs are realistic. I was a bit shocked when a reader suggested that “Splinter” was a love story but I will take anything a happy reader says.
The same week I finished the first draft I was working in the nightclub. It was a funny night with too many groups of males and not enough women to dilute the testosterone. I went into stop a fight on the dance-floor and was punched in the face by a soldier. His father told me how his son was just “two days back from Afghan”. Nevertheless the soldier went out of the fire exit and I was struck not so much by the effects of the punch but by the irony of having finished my plot and dealing with a frustrated soldier’s aggression in real life.
Now my novel is published I count myself almost a proper author and I am starting to view situations and incidents with a writer’s detachment. A colleague and I put a big farmer out for fighting and as we restrained him I thought how I would write about the experience. It was a surreal moment, not least because his girlfriend was trying to jump on my back and scratch at my eyes.
So I thought I would put down a few pointers to the realities of violence in my line of work that fellow writers might find useful.
1 – Violence is shocking.
Both girls and boys cry, shriek and shake in the face of blood and aggression.
2 – Adrenalin drains away leaving you exhausted soon after the altercation is finished.
Nearly everybody worries after being involved in a fight. Often I will be looking forward to falling into bed at the end of a shift and an incident happens on the street before customers disperse and it takes hours to wind down.
3 – There are too many variables.
Martial Arts learned in a sterile environment will not always win in a street fight. I watched a much handier lad floored by a weaker opponent in a long held feud because of that extra pint of Stella
4 – Any blow to the head can kill.
If I was to throw a punch then I would lose my badge and therefore my livelihood. I can use a restraint to keep my colleagues, customers and myself safe. In the cold light of day in front of a judge and jury when you have to justify your actions then I would find it hard to justify a punch.
I also want to go home at the end of the night. It is only a job.
5 – There will always be somebody harder and tougher than you.
Real hard men don’t need to show it all the time. They will not be messed with but they are careful.
6 – Numbers do make a difference.
Despite what is shown in Hollywood movies when the good guy beats five henchmen they must be pretty weak specimens to be beaten. I was once given a kicking by the guts of an infantry platoon. If they had wanted to hurt me properly then they would have done. A guy watching my back who used to boast how good he was at martial arts disappeared. I never worked with him again.
7 – Pepper spray does taste of pepper, its horrible stuff.
When restraining an aggressive male we were being aided by the police who sprayed a can in the male’s face. It went straight into my mouth and wouldn’t wash off. He was juiced up and I don’t think he noticed.
8 – Nine times out of Ten an incident can be talked down.
It doesn’t make for a good novel plot but it’s the truth. I have stepped into the middle of two hard men squaring up and been thanked by both for stopping them having to prove who was the toughest.
9 – Take Control, if you show weakness or hesitation you have lost.
As an older man I am not a threat to the young buck about town’s ego and I am an unknown quantity. I work now with five men who I worked with twenty years ago. It leads to a calmer atmosphere.
There are plenty more examples but next time you are in a club or a pub, be nice to the doormen and women. Watch their attitude with customers and decide for yourself how good they are. Watch the grief they are given and that on the whole they are trying to keep their customers safe.
I'd love to hear your questions or comments. Please do leave them below.
James Sheridan published Splinter, the first novel of his ‘Facts of Life' series about ex-Royal Marine Dan Richards in July this year. A novella ‘Dragon' is due to be published at the end of October and Book 2, ‘Personal Space' will be finished by Christmas.”