One of the main characters in Simon Lelic's The Facility (2010) is an investigative journalist working for an online newspaper, The Libertarian (see previous post).
Simon was kind enough to answer a few questions about his novel, and about journalism in fiction.
Here is what he said:
In a sentence, how would you sum up the England of Unified Security? I am not asking for a date, but...?
The England depicted in The Facility is a country obsessed with security at any cost.
It was never my intention with The Facility to make a prediction; rather, I wanted to convey how easy it might be for a comfortable, politically demotivated society to ‘sleepwalk’ into a state of reality that is antipathetic to every right-minded individual’s moral core.
The country depicted in The Facility is only a handful of, admittedly fairly major, events from ours. It is these events that give us distance from such a bleak future but there is a real danger, I feel, that we as a citizenry are becoming ever more complacent to ways of thinking and being that should truly appall us – and would, were they ever to impact on us other than through newspaper headlines.
I'm particularly interested in Tom Clarke, the journalist. How did he come about? Was it plot-driven or character driven?
It probably sounds like something of a cliché but for me it is always, as I write, the characters that drive the story forwards. I don’t plan my novels to any significant degree in advance – I certainly don’t write a chapter plan. I may have a rough idea about what might happen in the next two or three scenes, and maybe at an undefined point in the novel further on (though rarely the denouement!) but I let the characters lead me towards and through these events.
I once heard someone describe it as being like driving at night down a country lane. You know your starting point; you have a rough idea where you are trying to end up. But all you really see as you drive (or let your character’s drive) is the space twenty or thirty feet ahead of you that is illuminated by your headlights.
Talking about the Press, Tom tells Julia: “We insinuate and incriminate and incite and the more we do the better the police look...” Is this true?
It is a point of view. It is probably true some of the time – which is not to say that the press’s complicity in this regard is always deliberate. Often – and this is somehow worse, to my mind – it is unthinking, uncaring; or, caring only about the publication’s most immediate objective: winning, and retaining, readers. The British press is one of the most rigorous and ferocious in the world. On balance this does us, as citizens, more good than harm, I would say, but accountability and responsibility are nevertheless sacrificed on occasion for the sake of a striking headline.
How important was it for you to think through the mechanics of The Libertarian? Long articles and print-outs...
The Libertarian is a publication positioned for the digital age, though not so radically divorced from current digital news offerings that it would seem unrecognisable to present-day readers. The Facility is set in the future but it is not futuristic. I wanted, as I say, events rather than time to mark the delineation between our world and that of the novel. Had The Libertarian been a printed newspaper, it would have felt, in the context of the book, a little staid. But had I pitched the publication as something more revolutionary than an online offering, it might have undermined the reader’s sense that the events that take place in the book might – almost – be happening now.
Do you enjoy virtual interviews and seeing a wide range of reviews and comments about your work?
I genuinely find any and all interest in what I have written to be tremendously flattering. I must admit I rarely followed any literary blogs before my first novel, Rupture, was published but I have since discovered an array of useful, informative and, above all, insightful resources online. The virtual world democratises literary criticism, which to my mind can only be a good thing. At a time when so many publishers seem averse to taking a risk on anything more daring that a B-list celebrity’s memoir, the internet offers emerging writers and books at least a fighting chance of getting noticed.
- Rupture is published by Picador and is available now in paperback. The Facility is out now in Mantle hardback. For more information about Simon Lelic, visit www.simonlelic.com.