Rachel McLean

– Thrillers That Make You Think

What Effect is Brexit Having on Fiction?

Brexit. Love it or hate it, if you’re in the UK like me, you just can’t avoid it.

I’ve managed to avoid writing about it in this blog (and in my books, more of which shortly) so far, but today I’m getting that one post out of my system and will forever be silent (it’s not a popular topic even though everyone’s talking about it, again, more of which shortly).

As someone who writes books that take the real world and put a slight twist on it (normally dystopian, sometimes political, never positive – sorry), I do get asked from time to time if I plan to write a book about Brexit. Or indeed if any of my existing books mention Brexit.

The one that people ask me about the most is A House Divided and its sequels. They were published at a time when Brexit was a hot news item, but not once do they mention the dreaded B-word, or even Europe (if I remember correctly).

Why?

Well, for starters, I first wrote A House Divided before Brexit was even a twinkle in Nigel Farage’s (sorry) eye. Indeed, before anyone had even heard of Nigel Farage (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether we’d like to go back to those days).

Initially, A House Divided examined two issues: women’s reproductive rights and Islamophobia. After feedback from an agent and my beta readers, I took out the reproductive rights storyline as it meant I was effectively writing two stories – I will get round to writing that story sometime but can’t quite bring myself to right now with everything that’s happening in the US.

So that left me with the Islamophobia theme, if you want to call it that. The book focuses on Jennifer Sinclair, not Muslim herself but someone who is married to a Muslim and has Muslim sons. As a high-profile politician, especially in the Home Office, the religion of her family becomes an issue that impacts on her both personally and politically.

But I digress. What about Brexit?

When the book was approaching publication, I didn’t even consider adding reference to Brexit, despite the fact that it takes place in the (increasingly) near future. You could say that makes the book inaccurate. But there are plenty of other inaccuracies. For starters, there’s a Labour government. And it’s led by a man who is about as far from Jeremy Corbyn as you can get. The Tories are led by a right-wing blond man who likes to destroy his enemies (ahem), and the country is dealing with a wave of terrorist attacks.

None of those things are happening right now, in early summer 2019. Well, the blond Tory leader one might, but I sincerely hope not.

So I didn’t think that I needed to shoehorn Brexit in in order to make it accurate.

But there are other reasons.

For starters, the evidence is that people don’t want to read about Brexit in their fiction, because they’re already pretty sick of hearing about it on the news.

There are very few novels published that are about Britain’s relationship with Europe or have Brexit as a backdrop. The only one I can think of is Head Of State by Andrew Marr, which was published four whole years ago (and probably written five or six years ago, which would have made it very difficult to predict events). But other than that, fiction writers are keeping very quiet on Brexit. Authors like Sam Bourne are writing books clearly inspired by Trump and the state of US politics, but there’s nothing on Brexit.

And my attempts at marketing my books to people based on their interest in Brexit would bear this out. I attempted to run a Facebook ad to book-loving Remainers (people who voted Remain) in the UK, on the basis that some of the themes of my books would resonate with them. It tanked. No one is interested, it seems, in reading fiction about the topic, or in reading something they think is related to it.

I think this is because in the UK, as well as in other parts of the world, the political landscape is currently so depressing for many people that when they read fiction, they want escapism.

Which is a bit of a worry if you’re like me and write dark thrillers with political themes.

So should I write something positive, that predicts a future where everyone accepts each other regardless of race, politics, religion, sexuality, or any other source of potential difference? Or should I continue indulging my fascination with the darker aspects of the world and writing dark thrillers that imagine a world gone wrong?

Not very nice of me, I know. But I have to admit that I find the process of getting all my worst imaginings out of my brain, and into a story, quite cathartic. For example, the day after Trump was elected, I wrote Aftermath, a very dark story from the point of view of a Latino boy, that helped me process what I was feeling. Fortunately the events of that story didn’t come true. And I hope they don’t.

All of which means that I will continue writing dark stuff, while hoping like crazy that none of it comes true. My next novel, One Of Us, a sequel to Sea Of Lies, will examine acceptance and tolerance, things which I feel are in all-too-short supply right now. And it’ll do so against the backdrop of a refugee community under siege, but a community which also needs to learn more tolerance itself.

So let me know – are there any issues or events you’d like me to explore in my fiction? I can’t promise I will (some things are just too horrible), but I’m always open to inspiration.

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