My new book Tomorrowcame out a month ago. Normally, I’d have another book well on the way by this stage, but I haven’t. Plenty of ideas, plenty of scenarios and first chapters, but nothing that seems to want to crystallize into a book.
This is more of less the situation of the narrator of Tomorrow, a would-be novelist who can’t seem to get started on a book. It worked well for me when I wrote that book, the story just flowed out of me, but it’s not something I can hope to pull off more than once.
I can’t find the exact quote but the poet Ted Hughes said something about having to find a way to evade his mental policeman in order to write. Sounds right to me. You can’t keep using the same trick because the policeman gets wise to it. You have to find another.
Here’s an audio drama put together by Chris Gregory for his Alternative Stories and Fake Realities podcast, based on an extract from Two Tribes. You’ll see the names of the actors when you click the link. What makes this a exceptional feat is that the actors were not together in the same room, each one recorded their lines separately – or rather several versions of each line- and Chris G selected the delivery he thought worked best, spliced them together, and added sound effects. It’s constructed around a central scene in the book where Harry and Michelle, meeting for the third time, go together to the Tate Modern in London, where they have their first big row.
Although told from 250 years in the future, the main part of this book deals with a Cambridge-educated North London architect (Harry), and his relationship with a hairdresser from a small town in Norfolk who left school at 16 (Michelle).
When I described this to my friend Ian, his immediate reaction was ‘well, that would never happen’. You’d need to read the book to judge whether he was necessarily right, but it’s interesting, I think, that such a relationship seems so unlikely. I’m sure he wouldn’t have reacted in that way, if for example, I’d said the book was about a relationship between Harry and another architect who had, say, an Indian Hindu background. Nothing particularly unlikely about that. Which suggests to me that the cultural gap between different ‘cultures’ is actually smaller than the cultural gap between different classes.
Over much of my lifetime there was a kind of alliance between Harry’s class (which is also my own) -the liberal professional class- and the working class, both of which tended to vote Labour (just as both tended to vote Democrat in the US). In recent years, and notably in the Brexit vote, that alliance has fallen apart. Isn’t that what we really mean by the rise of ‘populism’? And that was the background against which I wanted to foreground Michelle and Harry’s relationship.
Two Tribes is out in paperback this week, so here’s a short post to celebrate. (More info about the book here.)
This is a book with a simple moral, which (adapting Solzhenistyn) could be summed up as ‘The line between good and evil does not pass between those who like the European Union and those who don’t.’
Or: ‘It’s a mistake to assume you’re one of the good guys, just because you and your friends think you are. Pretty much everyone thinks their lot are the good guys.’
Or: ‘Just because someone doesn’t agree with you about politics, doesn’t make them a monster.’
Although mainly set in the aftermath of Brexit, it isn’t really about Brexit. It’s about social class, and specifically about the complicated relationship between the liberal middle classes and the working classes in Britain, and the way that relationship is changing.
I’m very proud of it.
Here’s another moral. ‘When there is more than one elite, each elite condemns the elitism of the others, but denies its own.’
I’m looking forward to being a guest at a book group in Alaska this weekend. I won’t be physically present obviously (I wish I could be, the people who have invited me live in a place that looks absolutely amazing – see below). I’ll be joining them by Zoom.
For me getting used to meeting people via video link has been one of the upsides of the pandemic. It’s a technology that’s been around for some time, but I would never have thought of using it before this year. Yet, I’m not just using it as a substitute for meeting people in the flesh, I’m taking part in social events that previously wouldn’t have happened at all.
If you have a book group that’s meeting by Zoom and are looking at one of my books, feel free to contact me via this site.