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. Have you heard it said that you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else? I’ve noticed this mantra fall from many a celebrity’s lips, and while it seems wise to value yourself and your achievements, I can’t help wondering whether this really is a prerequisite for loving other people. Aren’t there individuals with low self-esteem who still foster a deep love and admiration for others? What happens if you love yourself a bit too much?
In the The Narcissism Epidemic, Dr Jean Twenge takes readers through a fascinating journey into self-esteem extremes. You can be a happy narcissist, but you can’t really stop it affecting your relationships – anyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist knows how bad things can get. And from a societal point of view, narcissism has a knock-on negative effect. Take SUV ownership – one person wants to have the biggest car and the highest road position, so other road-users are blinded by headlights and feel too low in their seats, and more people plump for a bigger car, until everyone is guzzling gas and choking in the fumes.
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 a sort of ‘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 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 – narcissism leading the protagonist to brilliant peaks and dark places.