Monday 27 April 2020

Dystopia in a dystopian world by Holly Race

On a recent Zoom meeting with someone who works in television drama, I found myself discussing the mood of the nation, and realised that the book I am writing doesn't fit in at all.

There was a definite sense that the dark, gritty crime shows and thrillers that have been keeping us hooked for years were not necessarily what people wanted to see right now; that people would be looking for more uplifting stories. And who can blame them? In a time when so many are frightened and lonely, sometimes ill or angry, we just want to cuddle up with the hot water bottles of literature and TV and film. I can relate - I signed up to Disney+ with the intention of watching The Mandelorian and have instead imbibed the endlessly optimistic Diary of a Future President. I've resorted to comfort reading the stories of my childhood - Carbonel, Charlotte's Web and The Snow Spider.

'But where does that leave me and my semi-dystopian novel featuring an angry heroine?!' I wailed to the TV person.

And then I thought about that fact that some of the most powerful moments in my favourite books are those glimmers of light in the darkest moments. The salute of District 12 in response to Katniss volunteering as tribute; Isabelle's silent, relieved acceptance - her hand placed over another's - in Jennifer Donnelly's Stepsister; the warming hug of a little girl in Philip Pullman's exquisite Clockwork.

As Anne wrote below in 'Hope in a Scary World', there are moments of light in this crisis - and humans have the incredible ability to generate such moments. It's a yin and yang. We create buoys for ourselves proportionate to the strength of the current trying to drag us under. Feeling powerless and lonely? Go into the street and clap. Worried about running out of food? Start growing fruits and herbs on the windowsill.

Closer to home, one friend sent me a handwritten letter, and in return I sent him a DVD of a film we'd meant to watch together at my home. Instead we watched it apart but at the same time, connected by Whatsapp and Frances O'Connor's brilliant interpretation of the much-maligned Fanny in Mansfield Park. Neighbouring friends have set up a socially distanced cake run, to spread a little sugary love (while our stocks of flour last).

Humans are brilliant, aren't they?

So I went to work. My first book is being published in June, and I'm deep in the middle of drafting the second in the trilogy now. It's a darker book anyway - I don't think it will be a huge spoiler to say that the villain's forces are growing stronger. It's all too easy for me, in my own moments of anxiety and depression, to lean in to my heroine's anger and fear.

But with all of those fresh memories of our ability to find light in the darkest of times, I have been trying to allow my characters to do the same. Those flashes of light may only be momentary, but they're enough to illuminate the path forward - whether that's a shared moment of connection with a love interest or friend, saving a frenemy from certain death in a battle, or the simple act of sharing their last cup of self-raising.

Holly Race worked for many years as a script editor in film and television, before becoming a writer.

Her debut novel, Midnight's Twins, is published by Hot Key Books on 11th June 2020. She also selectively undertakes freelance script editing and story consultant work.


Penny Dolan said...

Good wishes to that light of yours leading onwards, Holly!

And I love "Clockwork" too!

Holly Race said...

It's a fantastic little gothic masterpiece, isn't it, Penny?! 'I Was a Rat!' is another faovurite.