I've been following the growth of dystopian novels in the YA bracket. This was a genre that I had no interest in myself as a young person, and as an adult my thinking has been, I must admit, why can't they enjoy something more cheerful? Isn't there enough that's depressing in the news at the moment without worrying about the future? And then I read the Hunger Games trilogy and the scales fell from my eyes! Then I moved on to Divergent... lets just say I'm a convert.
Last week I speed read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood for my book group. I didn't need to finish it until today, but ended up gobbling it up in the way you do with books that are unputdownable.
I've started writing my own dystopian book, Catalunya, and I'm really enjoying letting my imagination go in a totally different way. It's made me realise though how clever the writers I admire have been. It's not easy writing about a world in parallel, or our world that has been completely changed without careful attention to detail. Even Margaret Atwood mentions things that are still produced like tea towels and the new handmaids outfits, but it is far from clear how these could be manufactured in Gilead when other goods are in such short supply. I am also struggling to write in a new, hybrid language that can still make sense to the reader.
"I stuff the pillow over my head to block the sound of the dogs howling, and then it begins. The rousing music which comes slowly to a crescendo, followed by that droning man's voice. I cannot understand him. If I ask Creo she will raise her eyebrows and haltingly try to explain what was said. But usually I don't bother to ask her anymore. What's the point? This is not my township, familia or language. What do I care what goes on in their world? Eventually the tannoy announcement concludes with a high pitched screech. The dogs stop. It's quiet, apart from the "chirruppo" of the papernelle bird who frequently comes to perch on the dry tree branch outside my window.
I have to keep my hope. This day could bring word of my parents and Lowries. The fact that I have been telling myself this for the last thirty parses, as I carefully negotiate the uneven and steep steps down from my attic room under the roof, is not something I care to dwell on. The peacekeepers who bought me here will return. They promised it would only be a temporary respite with these my distant kin until..."
Karen lives and works in Bridport Dorset. She is currently working on her third book in the Abbotsbury Series, books for children aged 8-12.