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It’s Always Really About Ourselves

Hi All - this was actually written some time ago, for the Jo Fletcher Books website, and I agreed not to publish it online until they had done so - it then got caught up with Christmas/New Year so only just got posted last week. So apologies if it feels slightly dated...

It’s Always Really About Ourselves

It’s hard not to think about the awful events in Paris, when the conflicts that fracture our societies were once again brought into sharp relief. The anger and sadness are overpowering, and the motivations horribly clear to the aggressors, yet incomprehensible to those of us who could not possibly conceive taking an innocent life to make a point about issues the victims have no involvement in.

Whilst such events happen with greater frequency in countries closer to the ‘frontlines’ (the atrocities in Beirut were more or less overshadowed by the simultaneous Paris attacks), the shock of such attacks occurring in ‘safe’ countries deepens and widens the impact – as the attackers themselves know.

Amidst the rawer thoughts and emotions such events raise, I’ve also been thinking about them from the perspective of my writing, especially because The Moontide Quartet is very much about East and West and the clash of cultures. Moontide was born out of my experience of living in India during a period that included the Mumbai Attacks of 2008. One of our friends received a phone call out of the blue on 26 November 2008, from an American he’d met briefly and exchanged business cards with: that man was trapped inside the Taj Palace, hiding from the roaming gunmen. Our friend helped keep him calm until the hostages eventually got out safely.

Most of the time in India we felt safe, but there was occasionally an undeniable tension in the air. Several bombs exploded in the markets in Delhi we frequented. The bombs usually went off an hour or two just before the 6 p.m. news, to maximise coverage, so we made sure we left the markets before then. You accepted the risks and got on with life.

So when I came to writing, naturally East and West were top of my mind. It’s not a new idea, although most epic fantasies tend to be Western-oriented. I suppose my relative point of difference was a determination to balance the two cultures, with relatable protagonists (and hateful fanatics) on both sides of the divide. But when things like the Paris attacks happen, it feels like a real kick in the head for any kind of sense of balance.

On reflection, and despite it being very much a fantasy, in writing Moontide I was writing about us: the people of Planet Earth. In a way, all of our stories are about ourselves, some explicitly so, some not so much. I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think I’m offering solutions for almost insoluble problems. The tales that Moontide tells of are people from both sides of enormous divides finding each other, and finding ways to work together and understand each other.

This duality of writing a fantasy in an imagined world which is at the same time a story about ourselves is why so many of the words I use for imagined cultures, places and things are – quite deliberately – similar to our own world. I’m really writing about us.

There were others reasons too: I wanted the economy of assimilation: where words are reminiscent of our world, the reader can easily recall what they signify, rather than trying to remember what a made-up word introduced earlier in the book meant. I also wanted the series to be a celebration: for all the troubles, we do live in a magnificently diverse and fascinating world, and I do hope people get a sense of the wonders of India from the scenes set in Lakh; of the Middle East from the Kesh scenes; and so on. For more on this subject, I’ve written an earlier blog, which can be found here:

But to return to my original point: our world throws up so many wonderful and terrible things, that inspire and horrify us at times, but it’s the only world we’ve got. We have suffering, poverty and war because of diverse reasons, including billionaires who insist on destroying the environment to protect their corporate asset prices and growth rates; fanatics who place a greater value on their after-life paradises than the this living world we have now, and despots who’d sacrifice their own people to prop up their monstrous and fragile egos. Writing fantasies in which the heroes smite down such people is hardly going to change the world, I know. But if enough people denounce such behaviours in as many ways as possible, perhaps something might change?


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