Why I want to upset you
I launched my website and novel Beyond the Autumn on the first day of autumn this year, and for those of you who have kindly bought the book and had a chance to read even some of it, I wanted to look at a few themes that it explores, and maybe address a few questions you might have.
Firstly, don’t blame me for what the characters say or do. If you don’t like some of the language or violence in the opening chapter, that’s the whole point. You’re meant to hate the guy who’s doing the bad things, and to want to find out if he gets his comeuppance later on. I love animals and I’d never condone any unwarranted violence towards them, and so, through the unnamed man’s violence and hateful words – to both a defenceless victim and a blameless animal – I want to upset you. Sorry, but I’m not sorry about that.
Next, one of the central things I wanted to explore with the novel was the plight of the powerless, looking at their vulnerability in a world dominated by money and the impunity it can buy. The defenceless man in the first chapter is an Overseas Foreign Worker, or OFW. It was revealed in the news a few years ago that many of these workers based in the Gulf were being housed in old shipping containers in the Arabian desert (hence the picture attached to this post). Like those old, disposable artefacts, the man’s attacker makes clear that the man being attacked is a cheap, disposable item that no-one will miss or mourn.
We like to think that we’re living in a modern world, where slavery has been eradicated and inequality is robustly fought. But the freedoms, the dignities and the decencies we cherish are, by their nature, fragile and vulnerable. They need constant care and close attention. Our western comforts often come at the expense of others, and you don’t have to travel far to find servitude and exploitation are, sadly, key components of the world economy. Many still believe that ‘might makes right’, and spend their lives taking what they want simply because they can. The opening chapter of Beyond the Autumn presents you with this unpleasant world that most of us are fortunate never to see. It may seem fantastical, even unrealistic, but the sad reality is that things like this happen every day in many places.
Leading directly on from the unpleasantness of the first chapter, we meet the protagonist, Chris. He’s not immediately the most likeable of people (although hopefully he’s relatable). However, as becomes clear in the third chapter, he’s not comfortable with himself, and is hard on the former colleague he meets chiefly because he despises bullies. (Chris has other reasons for disliking Alex that are also made clear, but he’s trying with his coldness to bring his former colleague down a peg or two. It’s a defensive rather than an offensive meanness.) Bullies, of all shapes and sizes, seem to be dominating headlines and presidential palaces these days, and they’re inspiring bullies everywhere. As you’ll see as the story unfolds, the idea that we all must have the courage to stand up to bullies wherever we encounter them, is central to Beyond the Autumn. Standing up for what we believe in, suffering for it if necessary, is crucial if we want to continue enjoying the freedoms and dignities we too often take for granted. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, “if we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realise them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.”
In my next blog I’ll look in more detail at two things.
First, the central role of women in the novel – despite the fact they don’t appear much in the dialogue or action. As you’ll find out on your way through the story, everything that occurs does so because of the actions of strong women who refuse to be intimidated.
Second, mental health. In recent years, men’s mental health has received a lot more attention, thanks largely to movements like Movember and the efforts of His Royal Highness Prince Harry and charities like www.mind.org. Former soldiers like my protagonist, Chris, are often more susceptible to mental health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but it’s increasingly recognised that anyone can suffer from this, and similar conditions. We all face traumas in our lives, and they often shape who we are and who we become; but it’s important to understand that that can be a positive process, even if it is a lengthy one. Beyond the Autumn explores Chris’s battles with his own demons. Even if he doesn’t reach his journey’s end, he has at least carried on; and that continuing progress is a real victory for those of us who suffer.