Friday, 25 November 2016

Getting To Know... Peter Taylor-Gooby

Today on Getting To Know... I am welcoming Peter Taylor-Gooby. Peter is the author of The Baby Auction, a dystopian thriller (look out for a review soon). 

You have written many sociological papers and books and you are world renowned for your work on new social risks. What is it that draws you to this subject and drives your passion about it?

It’s curiosity and wanting to find out how the world works and how it’s changing. The core idea is that as families change, as people live much longer and as global competition and technological change transform our working lives, people face new risks: managing young children with both parents working full time; getting housing; care in old age; getting the training and re-training you need for a job. We don’t have the right policies and institutions to help with these and different countries tackle them in different ways. It is spreading knowledge about how these things work and contributing to it that drives me (and there’s always the magic moment if you’re very lucky, when you know something before everyone else in the world does).

Your book, The Baby Auction, is a dystopian novel and you have talked before about why you write dystopia, but what was the inspiration behind this story?

The starting point was really an intellectual problem: how you can have real trust and real love – all the things we values most – in a market society? Markets are about looking out for yourself. Buyer beware! is the watchword, and markets are increasingly taking over our world. But then the characters came to me and I rewrote and rewrote and the finished book is really the story of Matt and Ed and Dain and Anna.

Have you found writing a fiction novel a lot different than writing non-fiction?

Absolutely different! Writing fiction is so much about getting inside the character and seeing the world from their viewpoint and letting them develop. I find scenes with my characters in them come to me, with great clarity, and I desperately want to get them into the book, so I write them, and then the characters start doing things I didn’t expect and certainly didn’t plan and it all takes off.

Academic writing is all about devising a rigorous structure, typically developing a theory to generate a hypothesis you can test with the evidence available and everything narrows in on the conclusion. Imaginative fiction is the other way round. I write fiction to discover how things will end up, I write the academic work to make one miniscule contribution to an enormous structure of knowledge.

As well as your writing, you work as a Research Professor of Social Policy at a University, what kind of things does this role entail?

I run research projects and teach postgraduate students. The research we’re doing now is detailed work in Denmark, Germany, Norway, Slovenia and the UK on what people think the welfare state will be like in 25 years’ time (not finished yet, but the UK stands out because it’s so gloomy: most people here say we won’t be able to afford to have decent pensions or the NHS by them and you don’t get that in the other countries.)

Do you have a favourite character that you have written so far?

I think it’s Matt. He’s not really interested in all the big issues that are going on around him or having a career, he just knows that Ed is the best thing that’s ever happened to him and he does what’s right, whatever it costs. I admire him.

You have received an OBE, is there anything you can tell us about this experience?

Many impressions! How palatial Buckingham palace is and how many different kinds of flunkies and of equerries and guards and assistants and servants there are. Then the other people receiving honours, all the people who’d worked on the Olympics, NHS workers, scientists, business people and of course soldiers. A group of young lads, looking very nervous, whom everyone treated with great respect, and you realised they were there because they’d had all lost limbs in Afghanistan.

When you're not writing, what would we find you doing?

Either riding my bike round the country lanes of east Kent or looking after my lovely grand-daughter (best grand-daughter in the world, in fact just like any other 15 month old!)

If you could give younger authors you any advice about your writing journey, what would it be?

Everyone’s different (that’s why we have such a glorious range of literature) so do what you do, and keep on doing it – and do pay attention to the rhythm of your sentences. English is a musical language!

Do you have a favourite author?

James Joyce for his monumental achievement (though he wasn’t really a nice person); so many other wonderful writers, can I mention Margaret Atwood for the depth of her insight, especially The Robber Bride and Cat’s Eye, and Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See completely bowled me over.

What can we look forward to next from you?

Ardent Justice a romantic thriller set among homeless people and billionaires in the City of London. Love, violence and a bit of tax evasion (and, of course, corrupt police, a complaisant media, an uncaring bureaucracy and the underbelly of the London art industry.)

Thank you so much to Peter for joining me today and taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to answer all my questions

The Baby Auction

Auctioning babies makes sense, at least that’s what Market World thinks. After all the baby goes to someone who can give them a good start in life, and the parents get a return for their pain and trouble. 
For Ed and Matt, the Baby Auction sums up everything that’s wrong with a society based on profit. Then one day Matt rescues a drowning child and they face the question: can love and compassion overcome the harsh laws of Market World?

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