The Poison People could be a classic example of bringing your work home with you. Well, given my work at the time was developing public health campaigns, not literally, otherwise I’d have been obese, drunk and have had a drug problem (I plead innocent to at least two out of these three categories, notwithstanding my current crash diet) but it was the next best thing: a dream. And although most dreams, along with much inspiration from the wee hours, does not survive daylight, this one kept coming back to me with such force that I felt compelled to write it down, and in time it became The Poison People.
I didn’t particularly want to, in so much that I didn’t want to “waste my time” writing something that I doubted would interest a publisher. The first novel I had written (now lost, unless it is lurking in a friend’s drawer somewhere!) was rather literary, and ignored by the agents who act as gatekeepers to the industry (although I confess a weakness to pouring plenty of effort into the writing and giving up at the first, few, rejections – I probably need an agent to get me an agent), but in any case I subsequently decided to try and write more commercial stuff. But The Poison People just insisted on being written, so I wrote it.
Then I sent it to a handful of agents, who rejected it, and it went, as I always expected it would, in the (now laptop) drawer. I should have tried harder, but that’s history, in fact – that was fifteen years ago. But it remained the one book I’d written that “beta readers” “really enjoyed” and asked me “whatever happened to”, and when it came to testing the ebook waters, I thought, why not give it a go. I went back to the novel and was struck, not only by how much affection I felt for it, but also by how prescient it seemed: I had set it in the near future (in my mind, perhaps twenty years hence) but reading it again, it felt contemporary, as if this was a book about today, and more relevant than ever. I had even imagined a “Caliphate” into existence, which had since been, and gone. I revised it a little to reflect some technological changes and went to “print”.
Although driven by a dream, The Poison People is essentially a satire, or perhaps even meditation, given its spiritual theme, about the demonisation of “the other”. At the time, as today, there was a lot of tension about terrorism, and, clearly, The Poison People reflects that. But I was also inspired by the lectures of the superb Deborah Thomas from university about the “Return of the Repressed” in the horror genre, and how, from a Freudian perspective, “the monster” is a projection of our buried desires and fears (so you see, I did learn something from watching zombie films in the lecture theatre!). The Poison People are a manifestation of the return of the repressed, both scientifically, and metaphysically.
Having said that, although it was not intended to be, strictly speaking, “easy reading” (and I was impressed by the way the Kindle editor saw through my attempt to market it as straight genre – you make it pretty clear that you’re trying to market the novel as New Adult Sci-Fi Dystopian genre fiction. However, the book generally reads much more like high-concept literary fiction) I hope that it remains an easy read. In a sense, I was surprised that older readers have appreciated it, as I always imagined it appealing more to the 18-35 year old bracket, like Kurt Vonnegut (although, of course, I’m not comparing myself to him), in so much as younger minds seem more open to possibility, and possibility is my subject.
Speaking of subjects, Canaries, my “post-Brexit” novella, is finished and has received some very positive review from beta readers, so much so that I am now trying to expand it into a novel. This rather spoils my plan to launch it off the back of The Poison People, but stories have a way of leading you in unexpected directions, like dreams.