You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You are Raoul Moat]
By Andrew Hankinson
A couple of days after being released from prison (on July 1, 2010) Raoul Moat shot his estranged girlfriend and shot and killed her new boyfriend. The next day he shot a police constable in the face, blinding him (the constable would later take his own life). A massive manhunt for Moat ensued, ending with his killing himself.
You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You are Raoul Moat] announces itself as literary non-fiction by being written in the highly unconventional second person. Despite all the rave reviews, I was on edge, thinking this a bit of a stunt.
It isn’t, and it works.
There’s a boldness to proceeding in this way. The stated “aim was to stay in Raoul Moat’s mind,” which presupposes an ability to inhabit that mind, to directly state what Moat was thinking at any given time. What allows Hankinson to go this route is the documentary evidence available. Moat left a record that speaks to us directly in his own voice:
The main source for this book was Raoul Moat, who left behind spoken and written material including audio recordings he made on the run, a 49-page confession he wrote on the run, recordings of this 999 calls before and after shooting PC David Rathband, recordings of phone calls he made while in prison, audio recordings he made during the final years of his life, training diaries, a psychological questionnaire, his correspondence, and six suicide notes he left in his house.
For all its literary qualities then, it’s also a very simple book, being a sort of Raoul Moat Reader or even oral history, with slight editorial asides inserted in square brackets instead of footnotes. But it makes for a great read and effectively delivers on the promise of taking us into Moat’s head by serving him up in his own words, even down to his employment of obscure local slang (“micey” being a word the exact meaning of which I’m still not sure of). The comparison most often made by reviewers was to the work of Gordon Burn, who did something similar in his immersive account of the Yorkshire Ripper, Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son. That both authors are natives of Newcastle upon Tyne is only a coincidence, but one that probably carries some meaning. On some level our language, even if it’s just a dialect or regional voice, reflects a type of consciousness, and for an author wanting to get inside his subject’s head in particular, I think being steeped in that language and being a native of that place makes a difference. (As an aside, I’d mention Michael Winter’s attempt to do something similar in his “non-fiction novel” The Death of Donna Whalen, though the results there weren’t as successful.)
We shouldn’t be surprised, however, that nothing remarkable is revealed. Moat wasn’t so much a monster as just a dull brute. He was a big guy – 6’3” and around 240 pounds – and took various supplements as a bodybuilder to turn himself into a hulk. This came in handy when he worked for a while as a doorman or bouncer at local clubs, but the thing about big guys like this – or any athlete, or young beauty – is that you have to be able to manage the decline. Your physique is a diminishing asset. Moat was deeply depressed at no longer being as big or strong or tough as he was as a younger man – “I’m well aware that I’m past my prime” – and saw the best years of his life as over. At 37 he was “too old to start again.” “I’m not 21 and I can’t rebuild my life,” he remarked after coming out of jail. “I’ve got no life left,” he told the police operator after shooting PC Rathband. The suicide note or recording was his obsessive genre. He was paranoid too, to the point of delusion, and could be downright whiny when it came to how he was being “bullied” and “stitched up” (framed) by the police, but taking his own life was always where this was heading.
Hats off then to Hankinson’s largely editorial skill in making such a depressing and limited figure so interesting. I guess I could call it “revealing” too, but it’s a case where little is revealed that you probably wouldn’t have figured out after reading a quick news report on the case. Instead it’s exactly what it sets out to be, which is a trip into Raoul Moat’s mind. Not a place you may want to go, but one that it’s worth knowing about.
Noted in passing:
The level of self-pity even among the worst members of society has few limits. This was brought home to me years ago when reviewing Stevie Cameron’s On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women. Pickton was the B.C. pig farmer who confessed to killing 49 women. After being arrested he referred to himself as being “crucified” by the police (apparently he also found God behind bars). I can’t recall now if Moat ever referred to himself as being crucified, though I think he does at some point. He uses a more unconventional image in saying “I feel like King Kong when he’s at the top of that flaming building, you know.” Jesus, King Kong: both persecuted martyrs hounded to death by the authorities. It’s a weird way killers have of justifying themselves, while also plugging into the contemporary cultural imperative (that’s not too strong of word) of always casting yourself as a victim.
Suicide can be a wrecking ball – just think of the prevalence of “murder-suicides” – and once someone’s course is set on self-destruction you should leave them to the professionals to deal with. Especially if guns and a history of violence are in the mix.
7 thoughts on “TCF: You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You are Raoul Moat]”
Micey with a hard or soft c?
I really draw the line at immortalising real-life killers. Gives them one more reason to do what they do…
I’m assuming it has to be a soft c. Get used in Scotland?
Every book about a murderer could be said to immortalize them though. This certainly doesn’t make him about to be a hero or glamorize him in any way.
It’s micey like mice not mike.
Didn’t realise you were doing Moat! That was a huge thing up here, especially when he was in a stand off with the police at the end and Gazza the football player turned up in his dressing gown with some bread, chicken and lager for Moat, and also carrying a fishing rod!
Did you know that starting tonight on ITV there’s a 3 part true crime drama ~The Hunt for Raoul Moat?
I did not know that! I did watch a documentary on YouTube about the manhunt though. I hear it was a really big thing. Were you in lockdown?
Hankinson mentions Gazza in his notes at the end but says he didn’t include any mention of him in the text because he wanted to stick in Moat’s head and I guess Moat never knew Gazza was there.
Anyway, now I feel I’m getting a clearer idea of the *real* Newcastle.
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Nothing to do with Newcastle, apart from bloody Gazza playing football for the toon, it all happened up in Rothbury 30 miles north! No lockdown for us.
It only ended up in Rothbury! First shooting was in Birtley and the second in East Denton. His accomplices were from Blyth and Dudley. (I’m assuming you know where all these places are but I had to look them up.) Moat himself was a Newcastle native. I wasn’t sure if there was a lockdown or just lots of warnings about somebody armed and dangerous being on the loose.
I also had to look up this Gazza fellow. Football just not very big over here.