Thursday, 1 August 2019
A Long Time In The Making
Hello, as promised I wanted to let you know a bit about my inspiration for Anthracite and how I came to write it.
I’ve always loved ‘Blade Runner’, it’s one of my favourite films. I first watched it on a fuzzy pirated VHS at a friend’s house when I was 12 or 13. It was one one of the early versions, I don’t remember there being Deckard’s explanatory voice-over (there’s lots of edits of this movie.) I don’t think we had much of a clue what was going on, but that didn’t matter – ‘Blade Runner’ was the coolest thing any of us had ever seen – it looked so beautiful. We were mainly on-board for the special effects and gun battles. Like all Ridley Scott films it’s a visual work of art, even on dodgey car-boot cassette.
The film portrayed a tantalisingly plausible world, high-tech yet believable. We were used to ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’, which were set far in the future. The world of ‘Blade Runner’ seemed achievable, even if we’d be nearly geriatric by the time its setting rolled round (2019!) It was only on later viewings that I started to appreciate the intricacies of the plot. Reading Philip K Dick’s source material, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, helped too, even though it’s quite different to the film. When I’ve been imagining Swansea or Aberdare in Anthracite it’s ‘Blade Runner’ I’ve got in my head, neon steaming through the rain. There are few similarities between Dick’s storyline and mine, but in terms of look and feel Anthracite is pure ‘Blade Runner’ – just with a Welsh accent.
Not long after ‘Blade Runner’ came out in 1982 I was reading a lot of SF. One of my favourites at the time was ‘Friday’ by Robert Heinlein. It’s set in a similar near-future world and has some similar themes – artificial humans, corporate states and political chaos. Re-reading it today it’s not without its problems – there’s hardly any plot, and some jaw-dropping sexual violence that’s casually brushed off by the main female character – it’s a product of its time. But what I loved about ‘Friday’ was the setting. Again it takes place in the early 21st century – familiar but intriguingly different. The book portrays a world falling apart, a balkanized USA dominated by ruthless corporations fighting underhand proxy wars. Friday ‘Jones’ is a clandestine operative working for a private intelligence firm she knows next to nothing about. Her travels let us see a good slice of this world, but mostly a splintering war ravaged North America.
Even though I was engrossed in the setting there’s one line in particular that set my teeth on edge, more so as a teenager than now. Friday is describing how news of a fresh wave of assassinations has been suppressed in some of the 400 odd states that make up the UN. Offhand she notes that she’s not including ‘no-where places’ that rarely produce any news, such as ‘Swaziland, Nepal or Wales.’ What?
When the 15 year-old me had got his breathing back under control I thought about how that line made me feel. I had a burning urge to write something set in a world like Friday’s, but with this travesty set right. What would it be like if it were the other way round? There’d need to be a pretty good reason why Wales would end up dominating the planet. Since no obvious mechanism sprung to mind, and I wasn’t exactly setting my English classes alight at the time, I pushed it to the back of my mind and got on with other things.
I did eventually get around to writing a couple of novels, but they were about completely different subjects – the stuff I had on my mind in my twenties. But I don’t think I ever completely forgot about the ‘Welsh Blade Runner Novel’. Some ideas just take a long time to develop. Even though I had a blast with my first mini writing career, real-life intervened, but in a good way. I had a growing family and a business – writing fiction is not an easy way to make a living. I didn’t do any creative writing between 2000 and 2018, not one word. But I knew I would again, when the time was right.
Without any planning the time it became right took me by surprise. I was sat on a beach in Bulgaria, on a great family holiday, almost exactly a year ago. I think it was mostly about reading the right books. You need quality input to get any sort of quality output. In my case those books were a couple of the Flashman novels, by George MacDonald Fraser and the excellent ‘Aberystwyth Mon Amour’ by Malcolm Pryce. Both are told in the first person, by less than totally reliable narrators. The books I read on that holiday were what gave me the spark to write again. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Just like ‘Friday’, Anthracite was going to be first person all the way. Fitting it round my day job I got to work in September.
I’m very grateful you’ve felt able to support my efforts since then, there’s just one more favour I need to ask. If you know anyone who might enjoy Anthracite please do let them know. Don’t be shy about it, pin them against a wall if you have to. I’m just kidding. Dropping it casually into conversation ever few minutes will do. Word of mouth is by far the best book marketing ever invented. They’ll thank you in the end, I promise.
So with your help the ‘Welsh Blade Runner Novel’ is getting closer to completion. I’ve been waiting for it for thirty five years. With a following wind and a bit of luck some time soon you’re going to be holding it in your hands. I can’t tell you how thrilled that makes me feel. The fifteen year old me would never believe it. It’s going to be worth the wait.