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Culture, Characters, Country: How my third novel grew

So far, my books have been sparked by aspects of contemporary life which rang quiet but persistent alarm bells. In Everything About You I asked what would happen if a virtual assistant knew so much about its owner that it could make all her decisions more effectively, and in The Undoing of Arlo Knott I considered whether we would be better humans if we could avoid making mistakes.

But the premise of my third book – about narcissism and celebrity culture – is potentially controversial. It was when I read The Narcissism Epidemic that I realised there was any scope whatsoever for questioning the mantra – so entrenched – that you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else. While I don’t want to argue against the value of valuing oneself, is this particular statement true? Aren’t there people with low self-esteem who still foster a deep love and admiration for others? If self-esteem really is a prerequisite, then what happens when it creeps towards the other end of the scale… towards narcissism, which is well known to be detrimental to relationships?

Unlike many writers, I tend to start with an idea and then create characters to whom it will matter. In this case, the book revolves around two best friends: a waning reality television star and a shy tunnel engineer. And the setting? I had fun with the setting. But first, a tweet I saw today:

In the UK we are feeling the effects of living under the most corrupt government since the second world war, so it is no wonder we are increasingly disillusioned with the establishment. This is the very feeling that Trump drew upon with his ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric. For some people politics is becoming a dirty, dated word and, in an era in which everyone can do things their own way, on the great equalising platform of the internet, surely we could do better?

So in my third book a bunch of private Caribbean islands band together to create a brand new nation, the ‘People’s Republic of Love’, governed by the citizen with the most followers on social media. It is the world’s first Instagramocracy and, to stay in charge, an influencer just needs to stay interesting. They can legislate according to personal whimsy and no rules apply. Told you it was fun.

Anyway, the editing is nearly complete, and the book is almost ready to be sent out into the world. By now the characters have overtaken the idea and the story has branched out into strange new directions. It may be a little odd… but I’m happy that it has grown into something by itself.

writer as plant - cheeseplant

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