Where are we?

pylon

I realise after the fact that I’ve been hibernating for a while. As I threatened during my chat with the wonderful Anne Charnock at Mancunicon last March, we left that London and returned to the north at the end of May, and have now moved into a little house on the edge of the Peak District. I’ll swerve the hagiography, but it still feels a bit raw to be back after four very happy years down there. (So far I most miss the smell of Turkish ocakbasi in muggy summer as you come up the Kingsland Road.)

If it’s all been a bit hectic on the home front, it’s been a decent run creatively. Time apart, time stolen – our son coming along has forced me to be more disciplined, and in some ways more determined. (So much so that when people say, ‘How do you find the time?’ I feel like I’ve missed something – as if I might have already failed him.) Still, a brand new novel is now drafted (and redrafted) and pretty much ready for submission. So we’ll see…

Politically, of course, there have been profound jolts in the time since I last posted here. As much as anyone is, I’m still processing it all, especially as things continue to metastasise. But I do know that leaving the capital coincided with Brexit campaigning at fever pitch. For me, returning to a fairly conservative environment, this summer provided eye-opening exposure to a lot of anger, and in some cases to a vicious politics I’d not encountered for a long time – especially not in our London bubble. (Which isn’t to say I was ignorant: my fascination with ultra-nationalism in particular – a hangover from writing The Folded Man, I think – has kept me close to the wire. As Jo Cox’s horrible assassination proved, it’s not histrionic to say there are people in the UK preparing or even agitating for civil war.)

Still, I haven’t wanted (or been able) to say much about any of it – whether here or in social media. Partly because others do a much better job; partly because I don’t know enough; partly because I’ve been privately enjoying my son’s development. But mostly because I’ve just been way too despondent. Now we sit and watch a sort of conformity being ruthlessly enforced on all sides of the argument, and see in hindsight how easy it was to retreat into the plushness of our echo chambers. Now we watch the rise of demagogues, and previously unthinkable ideas entering the mainstream. Now we watch our government, apparently unopposed, thrashing around in post-Brexit bafflement – while pushing through things like the IP Bill, which might well lead to a country in which dissenting opinion, niche interest or even honest research will eventually be prosecutable…

And all the while, the dog-whistlers go on whistling, the hard-right marches in total lockstep, and the left continues to fragment and self-cannibalise.

So where are we? For me, at least, fiction is helping – reading to see, writing to understand. Maybe that’s pathetic – it definitely feels like cowardice sometimes. Silence can be consent, after all. But if reading is empathising, writing is also therapy. And, as Nina Allan notes in her excellent round-up of 2016, it can be a powerful form of resistance.

Advertisements