Month: February 2016

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

What is it we love so much about dystopian fiction? You know, the kind of book in which everything in the world has gone to hell thanks to a virus/zombie plague/unexplained environmental catastrophe. It’s great stuff, but also potentially bleak, so why do we flock to it in unseemly numbers?

YA fiction is littered with dystopian novels (think Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series, Veronica Roth’s Divergent books, Michael Grant’s Gone series and obviously The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins). In one sense it’s easy to figure out why it’s so popular in YA fiction: it’s a convenient literary device that rids the teenage protagonists of all adult interference. Enid Blyton did the same thing in her Famous Five books – only her adults were just inexplicably absent, not, you know, dead. But the effect is the same: there are no parents to mess with the kids and what they want to do. Except in the Charlie Higson books where the flesh-eating zombie adults just want to munch their lower intestines. That could be considered interfering. But even then that’s great because the kids get to belt mum and dad’s heads in with a blunt instrument – a great literary release for all that teenage angst.

But what about us crusty old grown-ups? What’s in it for us? I’ve always loved dystopian fiction, ever since they made us read The Day of the Triffids in high school. I loved the idea that the world was thrown on its head and nothing would ever be the same. It was terrifying and exciting at the same time.

Of course, when we’re reading dystopian fiction we never imagine ourselves one of the countless dead. Usually, we assume we’d be right there with the good guys, fighting to survive, helping strangers, slaughtering the armies of the undead. It helps us to imagine ourselves stepping outside of our own lives which can be routine at times (taking out the bins, putting another load of washing on the line, commuting to work). Dystopian fiction takes ordinary people and forces them to do extraordinary things to survive. And we’re right there with them. We assume we’d have the courage to be the hero and at the same time we empathise with the cowardy custard who just curls up and cries (because deep down we suspect that’s what we’d do, too. Well, I do).

But, I think it’s not just the thrill that sucks us in. I suspect that maybe a large part of the point is that it helps us to have perspective. I mean, if we’re not being overrun by zombie hordes, fighting off a plague of vampire creatures or dragging our one surviving child through a blackened wasteland, then our life in comparison can’t be that bad, right? Somehow, in the face of all that mayhem and loss, the washing, the commute and the cat litter trays, don’t seem so terrible. Well, actually the cat litter trays still seems pretty bad – on par with a nuclear apocalypse I’d say.

So there you have it, dystopian fiction has it all really – thrills, chills and a philosophical shot in the arm. Just about the only thing it doesn’t often give you is a happy ending. But then, when you get to kill zombies, who cares?

FAVE DYSTOPIAN NOVELS:

  • The Twelve by Justin Cronin (best vampire book ever. I’m not really a fan of vamp fiction but this is like nothing you’ve ever read before)
  • The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (the whole world goes blind and at the same time there’s an outbreak of mobile, flesh-eating plants? Brilliant!)
  • The Stand by Stephen King (Mr King does like a tale of who’s been naughty and nice. And the naughty ones in this book are real, real naughty.)
  • World War Z by Max Brooks (way, way better than the movie – don’t get me wrong I love a good disaster flick, but in this case the book is a whole lot more clever and complex than the movie could ever be. Fun fact: If you didn’t know, Max Brooks is the son on the late comedian Mel Brooks).
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Ms Atwood wrote this in the early 80s when far right Christian conservatism was first making inroads into US politics. Let’s hope it’s not prophetic.)

Do you read dystopian fiction? Got any you think everyone has to know about?

Come on in the water’s fine

Oh hello! Fancy meeting you here. So this is my blog, welcome, come on in, have a look around. Although there’s not much to see as yet, this being the first post and all. And can I just tell you, the pressure of this first post has weighed heavily on my feeble intellect. The more I thought about it, the more unsure I was, the more I took refuge in, oh I don’t know… chocolate, wine and Netflix.

Then I thought, for God’s sake, woman! Just start! Just heave it all onto the page, sift out the chunky bits and see what’s left over. Apologies for the vomitus analogy – if it’s left you feeling a little bilious, I can promise there will be no further references to peas and carrots.

To get back on track, my blog, as it says just above this post, will be about reading, writing and life. Writing because it’s something I love to do – I find arranging words on a page very satisfying. Reading because for me it’s like breathing – if I ceased to do it, I may very well shrivel up and die. And life because I just like to witter on sometimes about whatever takes my fancy.

So, what am I reading right now? I’m so glad you asked. I often read more than one book at a time so at the moment there’s:

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Hester and Harriot by Hilary Spiers
  • Life or Death by Michael Robotham

As to what I’m writing it’s the same story, really. At the moment I’m working on:

  • The Lost Garden, a short story. Summary: 1970s Australia, lost generation, mystery and weeds.
  • My Phyllida Grey novel. It’s my second book and the first in what will be a series. Summary: 1950s England, big old houses, ghosties and such.
  • Final edit of The Outliers, my first novel. Summary: future dystopia, environmental devastation, lots of running from bitey things,

Clearly, I have the attention span of a fruit bat, but believe it or not, somewhere in the chaos, I actually get things finished. It may look like the equivalent of a teenager’s bedroom in my head, but meh, it works for me.

I will from time to time on the blog try to share what scant pearls of wisdom I have gathered on these three topics. I’ll be doing this because I hope what I’ll be having here is a conversation with a bunch of groovy people (this means you), because I think it could be fun, and also in the hope that somehow, in some way, it might help somebody. We all need to dream, don’t we?

So, I’m glad you dropped by. Pop in again, (I’ll be posting every Sunday) and we’ll have a cup of tea and a chat about reading, writing and/or life. I’m open to all three.

Cheers and, in the words of the great Dave Allen, may your god go with you.

Is there something you’ve been putting off starting? Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to commiserate.