Student punished for creative writing: In conversation with Benjie Beer

‘It was a textbook case with this girl. She was black-out drunk’

Second year English student Benjie Beer was called to appear in front of a University of Bristol disciplinary board this week for his creative writing piece “Nights at the Disco”.

The first-person story, posted on Benjie’s blog, follows a sexual predator who targets women at Lakota and Lizard Lounge.

This extract from the story exhibits its controversial nature:

“It was a textbook case with this girl. She was black-out drunk, so wasted she wouldn’t remember a thing in the morning. And she was also able to stand, which was perfect. I managed to get her out the front door without much trouble at all, apart from at one point she seemed to be about to tap the shoulder of someone, presumably a friend, and I had to grab her arm to stop her from reaching. Other than that it was a straightforward out the front, into the taxi, take her back to my house.”

First published in March, the Uni have only now decided to take action against Benjie and have told him to “remove the post immediately.”

They added that “failure to comply with my request to remove the post constitutes misconduct under our disciplinary regulations.”

The censorious nature of the Uni’s actions has created much protest from groups on campus such as Bristol Against Censorship. The outcome of Benjie’s disciplinary hearing will undoubtedly cause more uproar if his punishment is severe.

We spoke to Benjie to understand his take on the situation.

What drove you to write the piece?

Lolita and A Clockwork Orange being favourite novels of mine, I wanted to put the reader inside the head of someone deemed socially abhorrent so as to understand what motivates them. Rape is a highly relevant and deeply serious issue across the world, but particularly at a university where nightclubs are so much a part of social life. I also wanted to blur the boundary between reality and fiction ever-so-slightly, in order to make people realise that both they and people they know have the ability to act this way. It’s an uncomfortable realisation, but one that is very healthy to have so you know where you stand in relation to it.

What are your thoughts on the backlash on social media?

It’s been extremely flattering – it proves I wrote a good story! The people who are angry seem to think I wrote a ‘guide to rape’, which at least proves I nailed the verisimilitude. Though to be perfectly honest there really hasn’t been much of a backlash. So far as I can make out, there is a very small minority of people making a loud noise publicly, and a very large majority of people supporting me privately.

What message would you like to send out to your critics?

My critics need to understand that this is an intentionally troubling piece of writing that forces you to understand the habits of a rapist. He is more of a caricature than a character, but his caricature is indicative of real actions. They need to understand that you do not defend democracy by being totalitarian. They need to understand that uncomfortable works of fiction are a necessity in comprehending people whom society dislikes. Unfortunately it’s been a case of ‘liberals who fear liberty and intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect’, in the words of George Orwell.

What’s next? Will there be a sequel to Nights at the Disco?

There won’t be a sequel to Nights at the Disco. I’ve got some ideas for Roald Dahl-esque twist-in-the-tale stories, so they’ll be my next move. They’ll be more fun and less political. But I definitely want to write more challenging literature in future, because I love writing it and people need to be challenged! As an undergrad I’ve got an opportunity to experiment before I consider writing something for publication, which I’ve wanted to do since I was really young. So watch this space!