Monday, 17 February 2020
Meet the Author: Tom Ward's 'The Lion and the Unicorn'
This is the latest in an occasional series of interviews with fellow Unbound authors. Tom Ward is the author of ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, currently funding on Unbound. Here’s the premise:
London, 2054. A policeman, H, is called to investigate the murder of a former reality television star, now an outlawed profession.
Since the revolution, the new government has objectively ruled all ‘bad taste’ illegal. Now, the citizens of the UK are rated on how much they contribute to the three pillars of a secure and prosperous society: Pride, Stability, and Civility.
While on the surface this revolution has been successful, it was in reality a way for the corrupt to consolidate more power, furthering austerity, xenophobia, and cultural restrictions.
As H investigates the murder, new and violent revolutionary murmurings are on the rise across the country, leading him to clash with a violent underground faction, a former revolutionary figurehead now imprisoned, a visionary tech mogul, and a woman who might just be the country’s next great hope.
All will lead H to question his own loyalties to the state at a time when national stability couldn’t be more precarious.
Tom Ward is an author and features writer, writing for publications including Wired, GQ, Esquire, and the Telegraph. One of the things about being an author about to be published by Unbound is that you get to see what other writers are developing, and this is one of those that caught my eye quite early on...
The title is the first thing that drew me to your book, Tom. 'The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius' is an essay by George Orwell from 1941, wherein he was concerned about the British class system hindering the war effort. And obviously the lion and unicorn are heraldic symbols for England and Scotland. To what extent was all this an influence on what you set out to say with the book?
Orwell was a massive influence, insofar as if you want to write a dystopian commentary about contemporary Britain, you have to see 1984 as the blueprint. It’s interesting to me that Orwell was envisioning Britain of 1943 when he wrote that book but set it in the future. The Lion and The Unicorn was inspired by political events over the past 4-5 years and is set in 2054, so I’ve tried to do the same thing there! (But definitely not with anywhere near Orwell’s insight or talent!).
His essays have been an influence too. In this instance I needed a title for the novel and thought The Lion and The Unicorn was great. As you say, it represents Britain, and it was a nice nod to Orwell. That’s about all I borrowed or drew from this particular essay, though!
I love the premise that 'bad taste' is illegal and that people have to 'contribute' to the three pillars of Pride, Stability and Civility. Is any of this based on what you see going on in British society at the moment?
In the near-future of The Lion and The Unicorn we’re all judged and scored on our contributions to society, and strictly penalised if we don’t hit targets. It’s not necessarily what I see going on in Britain, but you can almost imagine it happening in some totalitarian regimes elsewhere. It’s a ridiculous idea and as The Lion and The Unicorn pokes fun at popular culture I thought it would be fun to have our worth to our country scored almost like a game show, or a fitness tracker.
'The Lion & The Unicorn' seems to be part detective novel, part science fiction and part satire. What made you decide to tell the story that way?
The initial idea was a near future Britain where bad taste is illegal. From that came the idea of the novel opening with a murdered former singing contest contestant, which then necessitated the detective angle. I think most science fiction has an element of satire, especially if its grounded in a recognisable setting – I’m not talking about lightsabers and aliens or anything, just a slightly wonky version of the Britain we see now.
What has led you to this point? Has your previous writing experience helped inform your approach to the story?
This will be my third novel, and my first with Unbound. I’m really proud of this book as I think my writing has matured and developed a lot since my last release. Part of this is continuing to read widely and knowing what aspects of good novels I aspire to, and also I think just having the confidence to go for it, having already written books.
I also went through the Faber Academy Writing A Novel scheme, which was fantastic and really inspiring. It helped sharpen a lot of rough edges.
Finally, as a journalist with a preference for writing long-form features, I think I had the drive to just get on with it and get it done.
What's your 3 Desert Island Books? Choose carefully - they could be the last books you ever read before you get eaten by sharks!
I’d take Catch 22 and it’s one of my all-time favourites, it’s quite long, and it covers a good spectrum of emotions from the hilarious to the sad, so it’d be good company. My first instinct was to add either Blood Meridian or Lord of The Flies, but I think the first would be too depressing and the second a little close to home if I’m trapped on a desert island. I’d have to take The Master and Margarita too as again it’s very funny, and quite long, so would cheer me up. And I might take a book I enjoyed as a child too; something from Roald Dahl, probably the BFG to help lift my spirits!
Finally, what's next? How would you intend to follow up 'The Lion and the Unicorn'? A sequel? Another novel? An expansion of the day job? If the book was a runaway success, would you give up the day job?
If The Lion and The Unicorn was a runaway success I don’t think I’d give up the day job, no. I get to meet some amazing people and travel to brilliant places as a journalist, so I’d love to combine the two, but perhaps with a bit more emphasis on fiction. As far as a sequel, this is a stand-alone book. I have a few other novel ideas, but am currently trying my hand at a screenplay. Watch this space…
You can find out more about the novel and pledge to support here: https://unbound.com/books/the-lion-the-unicorn/