Where Are the New Frontiers in Fiction?

January 10, 2013 4:37 pm

‘Original material is a topic that concerns all aspects of the arts.’ Ideas, concepts, styles and genres are so quickly taken-up, run-ragged and exhausted in the high-tech age. It’s depressing to think that whatever you’re doing, someone has probably already done it better. But such a defeatist viewpoint isn’t helpful. If nobody bothers to try, because Plato said it all so much better years ago, we stagnate like giant snails in a treacle swamp.

As both a publisher and writer my sense of wanderlust draws me to search the fictional horizon furiously. We’ve been back and forward in time, we’ve learned from history and the future, we’ve traversed continents and explored what different cultures have to offer. But every writer and reader has their own unique preoccupations and interests. We are learning and exploring our entire lives, there is always more to discover. As annoyed as I often get that I’ve never found the time to read every (old and contemporary) classic novel, I sometimes feel a certain quantity of naivety can be useful. When I have known all worlds, I will surely have nothing left to say.

Dogtooth Chronicles

When I wrote my first novel Dogtooth Chronicals (sic), I felt I was writing the book I really wanted to read. Something my generational subculture could identify with that also speculated on the huge What If? of the world we knew being thrown into a waste disposal unit. Like a hoarding magpie, I also wanted to build in a multitude of literary styles and ideas that I was preoccupied with off the back of my art degree. I wanted something of the cinema, philosophy and art I loved to surface in the pages. I feel inspiration came as much from the Chapman Brothers, Michel Gondry and Park Chan Wook, as it did from Irvine Welsh and Gunter Grass.

I hit on Magic Realism by accident (elements of the fantastical emerging in a real-world setting). It was only on discovering the clay model I was working with that I began deliberately exploring its Latin American roots. I’ve heard commentators imply British magic realism can never compare, that the kaleidoscope of merging cultures and folklores in this original place provided the fertile ground, whereas the UK specialise in gritty realism and historical drama. I dispute this. We will never make the same kind of magic, because we’re different. But I see the covert influence of magic-realism in psychedelic art forms of the sixties and seventies, for example. We have to adapt and evolve to make things our own. Afterall, we only ever label them for speedier digestion. The first question people ask you when you say you’re a writer is ‘What type of stuff do you write?’

Now, as a micro-publisher at Bees Make Honey, I find myself searching for another writer whose work can sit next to Dogtooth Chronicals. I don’t want something the same, but they need a collective identity, they need to flatter one another. It’s a bit like online dating. I don’t know what I’m looking for, I just feel I will know when I’ve found it.

I can’t help holding onto lofty ideas of publishing things that are very timely. We live in an era where a whole bunch of future dystopias are perfectly possible within the next hundred years. From fully Machine takeoverexhausting the resource our modern world is so reliant on (oil), to political nightmare, to environmental apocalypse, to artificial intelligence taking over. These are all now frighteningly plausible. You can bet whatever the next few decades deliver, someone will have written it already. We’re popping our last pound coins into a dystopian fruit machine. But I still love to speculate. Literature remains a big adventure and I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner.

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