Sunday 17 February 2019

Confessions of a backtracking author: on Brexit and writing Fated

by Teri Terry

serious face...
I’ve personally always had a kind of horror of message books: where you can see what the author thinks in a heavy handed way, as if the characters only serve to get across the author’s own agenda. Readers should be allowed to draw what they will from a story, not be told what to think. I also truly feel that my characters are their own people, to the extent that I don’t always – or with some of them, even often – agree with what they think or do. 

ER … 

Well, that may have been my starting point. My tenth book is about to come out, and along the way when I was writing the others I was actually really surprised to find how much personal stuff creeps in – things that worry me, scare me, or personal issues. In my first trilogy – Slated – the main character’s memory has been wiped, and she’s trying to fit in and work out who she is in an unfamiliar place. I’ve moved around countries and continents all my life, and it’s safe to say struggling with identity is personal. 

But I still haven’t ever chosen a story deliberately to work out personal stuff – it just kind of happens. And I most definitely would never, ever write something to get a message across. No way. Not going to do it.

ER …

Let me take you back in time to the morning after the Brexit vote.

I have such a clear memory of sitting on a train early that morning, on my way to a book award (the Amazing Book Awards, Sussex), thinking – what the flipping fire trucks (insert expletives of choice) just happened? I felt shell shocked. I hadn’t slept. I felt like I couldn’t take in what had happened. I felt completely … FREAKED out.

if only the bell worked
There was a group of teenage boys on the train opposite me. Three of them were saying, what the hell has happened? One of them was explaining it – quite well, I thought.

And I remember thinking, even though this totally sucks, it’s done something. It’s made young people like these ones say what they think, be aware, be seriously pissed off, even. Understand how important voting is in being part of a democracy.

But how can it be right that people my age have voted (or not voted, or protest voted) and had such a profound effect on young people’s lives like this? They’re not old enough to vote, but they’ve been saddled with what has been decided for them? And it just seemed so WRONG.

Later that day I was in a taxi with a bunch of authors on our way to the ABAs, trying to work out what happened. How can we just go on and talk about books like they are important after this?

I felt this way, too. But I also thought – and still think – that books and thinking and talking about stuff are SO IMPORTANT. 

My crystal ball works too well;
sorry about that
When I wrote Slated, I never, ever thought leaving the EU was something the UK would do. I wrote Slated between 2009 and 2011, before Brexit was even a word. The backstory to Slated was that the UK had left the EU, closed borders, and became isolationist. Wide spread chaos and rioting followed. Underage students were blamed. There were executions and imprisonments until a medical procedure – Slating – was developed to deal with underage criminals. Memory wiped, they were assigned to a new family for a second chance.

During the lead up to the Brexit vote I’d started to become obsessed with the idea of writing a prequel to Slated: one that showed how the world in Slated came about; how a democracy likes ours could disintegrate into something else.

I’m not British by origin. I’m Dutch/Finnish/Canadian/Australian who landed in the UK and called it home way back in 2005. It IS home to me, but I’m not sure I have the right to say how it should be, how it should be in Europe, when I’m so new to being part of it – even though I know how I feel about it all. 

When Slated was published in 2012 I remember reading some reviews that said the UK would never leave the EU, and even if it did, they couldn’t imagine the rest of it.

Well, welcome to 2019

So, here comes Fated - a book I felt driven to write. It is more truly dystopian than anything else I’ve done. It does say what the author thinks through her characters – though hopefully not in a heavy handed way, or in a way untrue to her characters. They do live and breathe in my heart and mind and I hope I’ve done them justice. 

And I really do think that one person CAN make a difference – even if it isn’t now. Even if it takes a while.

Trying to make a difference is worth it, no matter what.

And there is only one way that I know how.

It's taken me a while to come to terms with having backtracked on things I believed in before. And it's OK. None of us live or write in a vacuum. Pretending the things that enrage, engage and inspire me to write don't exist would be counterproductive, shortsighted and completely daft.


  1. How ironic about your previous book! People will now be discovering it and talking about how prophetic it was!

    I don’t think any book is completely without the author’s feelings about anything. I don’t know if it’s even possible. The thing is not to hit the reader over the head with it, something we agree on. It’s why I still love Lord Of The Rings, which is very religious, but can be read without noticing that, and am not comfortable with Tolkien’s friend Jack aka C.S Lewis’s work. Also religious and unless you’re a child you do notice it!

    1. Lord of the Rings was my favourite when I was a kid! And I suspect you are right about the author's feelings being in their story in one form or another

  2. I must read you! I was similar in my response to the referendum result. I felt as if I'd had a major bereavement. I am English as they come but I travelled in Europe a lot (working my way from place to place) and my identity was as a world citizen. Most of all I grieved because I'd realised the beautiful open-hearted England I'd believed myself to be part of was dying.

    1. I really relate to identifying as a world citizen - I feel much the same

  3. Thank you for offering a glimmer of hope as the darkness of Brexit descends. I need to read 'Fated'!

    1. Thank you! but it is a dystopian novel so not sure 'hopeful' is the right word

  4. At this stage, I'm desperate to read your book for two reasons: it's gonna be great ... and your fictional dystopia would be far more entertaining than the reality we're living in now.

    1. Thank you! But are you sure? Fated leads to the world in Slated, after all - not sure entertaining is quite the right word ;-)

  5. Good luck with the book. -- I'm completely in sympathy with your feelings about Brexit but baffled how you (and many others) never saw it coming. I lurk in a lot of chatrooms below articles in on-line newspapers, particularly the Guardian, and for quite a while before the vote it was clear that a win for Leave was very possible. One thing you can say for on-line comments: Anon isn't afraid to say exactly what s/he thinks and s/he did. -- I wasn't one hundred per cent certain that Leave would win, but I thought there was maybe an 80/20 chance that they would. The result, therefore, was depressing but no surprise. -- It was bleakly funny to see film of the appalling Johnson and Gove running about, pursued by film crews, as these supposedly intelligent 'educated' shysters clearly had no glimmering that their clever little plan was going to go horribly wrong -- but never mind, they won't suffer for it.
    I believe the result is part of a periodic social-political ebb and flow: the book 'Fate of Nations' by Colinvaux describes them. In the past it led to revolution and also the rise of the Nazis. I think we should be very afraid: especially if we're part of any group that could be used as a scapegoat.

  6. I suspect I was picking up the anti-EU vibe without being that aware of it at the time.
    And interesting you should say the last part. This is a quotation in Fated:
    "To truly unify society, find someone to blame. Once the public embraces an us-versus-them mentality, advancing the regime's goals and ideals will readily follow."

  7. I did a Dystopia - "THE GAME", published by Walker Books in the 90s, and yes,although a fantasy, it was personal, and based on my loathing of radios playing in shops (not so prevalent now as phones have taken over that mind-numbing place.) If you feel passionately about something, it will show in your work, and if you don't feel passionately about something, you wouldn't be worth reading.
    As for the horror of Brexit...who was it who originally said what you quoted in your book? Know the quote but not its origin.


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