I'm writing this from a damp, hot and sticky campsite in North Devon where my children have gone feral and I have given up hope of ever seeing civilisation again. It is times like this that my thoughts fall, not unfairly, to dystopian fiction. There is a dystopic, end-of-the-world saga in my head somewhere which is currently arguing with itself over what format it wants to be; comics? Novels? Long form spoken word podcast? I try to leave it alone to sort itself out but occasionally I have to top up the brain with a dram of research. It's no tea party, I can tell you. I once started a dissertation on dystopias in film, but abandoned it after the viewing got too bleak (I chose sitcoms instead). I've read books on the apocalypse and novels that depict the end of humanity. Key titles would be Z for Zachariah, Brother in the Land and any zombie related title. But it's the non-fiction research that really freaks me out.
Out there in the world are a community of people with one thing in common; a fervent belief in the end of the world as we know it - or TEOTWAWKI as it is handily abbreviated online. These people call themselves Preppers, as in, being prepared (probably ex-scouts taking the motto to the extreme, I dunno). They arm themselves, they stockpile tinned goods, they place caches of ammo and gold in secret places and build huge underground bunkers in their back gardens.
There was a time when we were all Preppers of course. The aforementioned novels play on the idea that the world would soon be bombed to hell by warring nations and the little people would be the ones having to make the best of life in a never ending nuclear winter. Indeed, I am of a generation that can distantly recall the testing of sirens in the street. Some may even remember the next-to-useless duck and cover advertisements that 'prepared' us all for a nuclear warhead dropping on our heads (thinking about it, they were entirely useless).
The modern day Preppers are a tad more organised, and mostly distrust the governments of the world to advise them. The cause of a modern TEOTWAWKI is less clear; terrorist action? Climate change? The big money (if you'll pardon the expression) is on a massive financial collapse on a global scale, driving people onto the streets and making scavengers of us all. The Preppers in this instance take their families and dive underground, where their state-of-the-art bunkers have air and water recycling systems, big screen TVs and a massive amount of tinned goods. (If you're interested, the Netflix series Doomsday Bunkers is an eye-opener)
The real thing that shocked me about the Prepper community is how much sense it made. While some are clearly delusional, some Preppers have science and reason on their side. Keeping a can of petrol in your car? Makes sense. A small stash of bottled water and food? Makes sense. Wrapping tin foil around your head to drive out the electronic signals? Okay, makes less sense, but I stand by the first two. Hey, it wasn't long ago that the UK government issued a leaflet to all households on how to prepare for an emergency. How many still have it and have the emergency store they recommended?
And going underground for 6-12 months? Sounds partly like hell, but the writer in me kind of likes the idea. Imagine the writing I'd get done! I could read all those books I'd been meaning to read! And no facebook and clickbait! Preppers stock their bunkers with libraries and DVDs, but if you're a real reader like me, what do you choose to take with you into Armageddon? I'm reminded of HG Wells' Time Machine, where the time traveller takes just three books with him to the future, never to return. What would you take?
The reason all this appeals to me as a writer? I like the idea of world building. I want to create a society from the ground up, and to start anew. Isn't that what we all do when we write a story? We create leaders, hierarchies, enemies and allies. We create friends and support systems, as well as challenges and disasters. The real reason people like dystopic fiction is because it provides us a glimpse into a world which has had to start again.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and stop my sons from going full-on Lord of the Flies.