Writing Fiction in a World of Change

Over the past few weeks the two places I have called home longest in my life have both inexplicably given themselves the most serious of self-inflicted wounds. The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador has introduced an austerity budget which hammers the young, the vulnerable, the old, and the sick and gives no hint at all as to how any of this is to solve any of our long term problems. Indeed, the gloom is so great that even those not immediately affected in any personal sense – those who in fact make up the tax base of the province – are busy planning ways to escape with their children to more optimistic regions of the world.

Meanwhile, the government of the United Kingdom saw its ill-advised promise of a referendum on the emotionally-charged subject of the European Union bear the bitterest of fruit. I arrived in Heathrow on the morning of the vote. Little Britain was about to begin the process of deciding to close its borders to other EU countries and prevent freedom of movement with all the social, commercial, educational, and cultural benefits such freedom brings. Although I was no fan of the UK’s right wing Conservative government and knew there was still a lot wrong with Britain, it was obvious before the vote that the country was slowly evolving as part of Europe, at least culturally if not socially. This, despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s populist mantra that Britain should be wary of too much ‘immigration’ – his way of placating the more extreme among his right wing Euro skeptic colleagues. Of course he hoped, and perhaps assumed, the referendum would see his country stay in Europe. But his xenophobic rhetoric worked too well. The population spoke and Britain decided to return to its insular, paranoid past.

Coincidentally during this tumult, my family and I are preparing to move several thousand miles from Newfoundland to Alberta. It’s one of those times when restlessness of spirit makes it easier to shift than to keep still. I’d have been glad we are going for this reason alone. Work will be the one constant amidst many changes. As a writing coach whose work is 95% online, I will be keeping many of my East Coast clients along with a number of others scattered around North America. The Instant Hook Writing Contest will be opening in early fall as usual (please note the new address when the contest rules are posted in September). I have one novel slated to be published in fall of 2017 and several writing projects in embryo.

I’m not an overtly political writer, at least not in any contemporary sense. But times like these make me wonder whether I should be. For those of us who shy from contemporary political events in our prose, there are still keen feelings bubbling beneath the surface.

Writers, like everyone else, live in the world. The imagination is connected to its environment like a spider’s thread to the bark of a tree. When the environment changes, when the tree falls, the creative urge is affected. Some would say it’s a writer’s duty to make sure this is the case but it is perhaps inevitable anyway.

The two events – Newfoundland’s austerity budget and the UK referendum – are curiously linked at least in my head, perhaps because I traveled from one home to another and back again during this period. But what in essence is the theme that connects them? One phrase comes irresistibly to mind: self-sabotage. Both events stem from the curious urge to create havoc out of order, disarray out of progress.

Cancelling funding for seniors’ dental services or test strips for people with diabetes isn’t going to help pay off Newfoundland and Labrador’s debt. We know this by now, but governments still pull tricks like this all the time – pouncing on the most vulnerable for the sake of “fiscal responsibility.” They pick the weakest lobby group in the hope the protest won’t be too deafening. The sound of a carcass thrown on the ceremonial pyre, that sizzle of sacrifice, obviously soothes some people’s nerves – even if it’s just the advisors who dream such ‘remedies’ up. Similarly stopping immigration into Britain isn’t going to help create jobs for the children and grandchildren of British citizens. History shows immigration, or more accurately, movement between former borders, creates economic activity and opportunity for everyone. But who needs logic when the same tired, discredited myths – “them taking our jobs,” – acts as such a successful conduit for a society’s collective fears?

This desire not to progress or to willfully move backwards, it seems, is a universal one, depressing though that may seem.This same atavistic impulse also lies behind so many novels and dramas that if I tried to write a list it would never end. Individually and collectively humans are a primitive race. We like fear and we like the idea of suffering, just so long as it isn’t too close to us. Like tossing a coin into a fountain we seem to believe someone’s loss will pay our dues in advance. Among those of my writing projects still in embryonic stage, I think this is a theme I may well explore.

There is a lot of frustration and it has to go somewhere.


Note: My email address and phone number will remain unchanged. My online courses are presently full but places will open in September. Click for details of fall courses.