Thursday, 22 September 2016

Guest Post - Peter Taylor-Gooby On Why He Writes Dystopian Novels

Today I hand over Life Of A Nerdish Mum to Peter Taylor-Gooby, author of The Baby Auction, while he explains the reasons why he writes dystopian novels. 
I write dystopian novels for three kinds of reasons:
First, that’s what comes to me. My novels start out from scenes that appear in my head, often two characters so vividly present that you can see what they’re feeling, what their relationship is, almost what they are going to say by the way they are standing. I write out the scene, first as a short story, but then the characters do and say things I don’t expect and the novel goes on from there. Of course the process involves a lot of planning and re planning. Sometimes, as in my current novel, the initial scene drops out. I can still see it there in my head, but I couldn’t work out how to make it part of these people’s world – maybe it’s part of a different novel. So the process feels very much like exploring a world that is already there, but it’s also building that world. I guess dystopia was what my mind constructed out of various bits and pieces already present.
Secondly, I’m a social scientist in my day job and have written a number of academic books and articles on society, how it works and how it might work. My current novel imagines a world, Market World, run entirely on market principles. Everyone is equal and there’s no discrimination, but no room for charity and compassion either, nothing but self-interest. Maybe that’s where our society is heading, it sometimes feels like it. My academic work (on privatisation in the NHS) shows that trust is very hard to build and very easy to destroy when people are motivated by self-interest rather than concern for others. This is a real problem in the move from a system that once supported services following the professional judgements by doctors, who were trusted, to an accountancy model of resource allocation.
I thought ‘What if someone trusted someone so much they’d take any risk, make any sacrifice to help that person in Market World?’ That’s what happens and the consequences for the market-based dystopia, and the conflicts and challenges for those who believe in the market play out. Can they change? But maybe markets are the most efficient way of allocating resources? But is that enough for a human life? My novel is really a novel about love versus the market – you can’t publish that in an academic journal, but it’s what I wanted to write.
Thirdly, I’ve always had a lingering doubt about social science – it’s too scientific. It can tell you all sorts of things from why London is the biggest financial centre in Europe to what life is really like for the bottom ten per cent and what would really make a difference to educational opportunities (definitely not grammar schools!) but remember that the economists didn’t predict the 2007-8 Great Recession and the sociologists never foresaw the outcome of the Brexit vote. Both these issues were issues of trust – trust in banks and trust in politicians. Social science is good at facts but not so good at feelings, and feelings, emotions, passions are the most important things in our lives.
I wanted to find a way of thinking about these issues. For me dystopian novels are a way of imagining, a way of doing thought experiments that include feelings: what would it feel like to live in a particular kind of world? How would it change how you think? What would your goals and aspirations be? Who would you envy, what would make you sad, how would you love, what passions would burn within you? If you followed market self-interest could you lie with a straight face to anyone, even your family? What would that be like? How would it all work?
So there are three reasons why I write dystopian novels: first I don’t, scenes come to me and I fill them out and that starts off the story; secondly I’m exploring society and how it works and might work as I do in my day job as a professor of social policy; and thirdly I’m trying to go beyond social science and find a way of filling the biggest gap I see in it – it’s inability to deal with the feelings that drive how we behave and live our lives.

My novel is The Baby Auction (The Conrad Press, Canterbury, Amazon, Google Books and all bookstores) I hope you enjoy reading it.

Thank you very much to Peter for sharing his reasons today, I'm looking forward to reading The Baby Auction very soon and I'm also looking forward to Peter joining me for a Getting To Know... feature in the near future.

To connect with Peter on twitter you can follow him @PeterT_G

To buy a copy of The Baby Auction click HERE

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