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News > Alumni News > Alumna imagines a dystopian future

Alumna imagines a dystopian future

Alumna Rachel Churcher took over the Taller Books blog in December, to talk about the politics behind her novels in the Battle Ground series.

Dystopia, Step by Step
Dystopia, Step by Step
Dystopia, Step by Step
Anyone who follows me here or on social media will be aware that I have spent the last two years writing novels. Don’t worry – this isn’t advertorial. There are links to the Battle Ground series at the end if you’re interested, but this isn’t about selling books.
 
This is about a story that I hoped would become a self-avoiding prophecy. A five-book adventure that I hoped would be irrelevant long before today.
 
A story that feels more real, and more possible, with every news story and Twitter rant and argument round the dinner table.
 
So what’s the point of this blog post?
 
I want to explain what the books are really about. Not the blurb on the back. Not the Action and Adventure that Amazon is promoting. Not even the teenage characters who have become my ambassadors to other people’s book shelves.
 
I want to write about the political landscape in my near-future, UK-based story, and I want to sound an alarm.
 
A Post-Brexit Dystopia
Brexit is the excuse for what happens in the books. I tell you that up front, on the cover. The Battle Ground series is set in a dystopian near-future UK, after Brexit and Scottish independence.
 
But Brexit is not the point. It’s not the end of the story – it happens years before the start of Book One. The point is what happens next, and what happened earlier to lay the foundations for my dystopia.
 
And it is a dystopia. My near-future UK is under Martial Law. The army is in charge. Racism is normal. Islamophobia is normal. Parliament has been suspended.
 
Sound familiar?
 
Lies and Cheats
When I started writing in November 2017, I was inspired by the Brexit Referendum. Campaigns on both sides dominated by lies, guesswork, illegal spending, and a lazy assumption that it was all a game. That there was no way the Leave Campaign would win. I could see the divisions in the country, and the sudden permission to make racist statements without apology or consequence. I could see the complexity of the process ahead of us – campaigning to remain, or untangling ourselves from the EU. I could see the gaping hole where calm, measured policies should be, on issues as diverse as the Irish border, visa-free travel, and the rights of EU citizens in the UK – and UK citizens in the EU.
 
I could see us lining up to throw years of peace, co-operation, and friendship onto a bonfire of empty promises: sovereignty, independence, blue passports. Control of our own borders.

I could hear the dog-whistle call to anyone who felt pushed out or inconvenienced by immigration. To anyone who needed a scapegoat for the lack of jobs, or perceived red tape, or the decline of the high street. Who believed the promise of more money for the NHS.
 
And it frightened me.
 
I saw the papers, tribal as always in the UK, digging in and promoting one side of the debate. Of course leaving the EU would be good for us. Who wants to be associated with those unelected bureaucrats and their rules about bendy bananas?
 
No mention of the MEPs we elect. No assessment of the longest period of peace between EU members for more than a millennium. No debunking of the bendy banana myth, or the lie on the side of the bus.
 
Rights and Freedoms
And then I thought about the Patriot Act in the USA. Legislation brought in after the 9/11 attacks to make it easier for the government to intercept and prevent terrorist activity.
 
Legislation that traded long-held freedoms for a promise of safety. That enabled the government to more easily monitor the phones and emails of private citizens. That allowed the indefinite detention of immigrants. That handed power to unaccountable government agencies.
 
How easy would it be to slide into totalitarianism, step by tiny step?
 
Slow Progress
That’s the backdrop. That’s the theme and the message of the Battle Ground series.
Step by step, without noticing, how easy would it be to walk into dystopia with the best of intentions?
 
And to underline this theme, there’s the parallel journey of my protagonist and antagonist. Two strong young women, navigating a world without mobile phones or civilian internet. A world where news is controlled by the military government, and terrorists are executed live on TV. A world where civil unrest and terrorism pushes the army to conscript sixteen-year-olds to patrol the streets, to make people feel safe again. A world where racist attacks force British citizens to leave, and seek asylum elsewhere.
 
For both characters, their stories develop step by step – one acting for the government, and one supporting the resistance. In the later books, they find themselves committing acts they would never have considered at the start of the series. They both develop their bravery and strength, step by tiny step. And they both lose themselves, step by tiny step.
 
Loss
They lose their identities – to conscription, to rebellion, to abuse and to corruption. They lose friends and classmates to the quiet war between the government and the people fighting back. They lose control over their lives and their decisions. By the end of the series, they’ve both done things they can’t justify in the name of the causes they’ve been fighting for.
 
They don’t transform all at once in some blinding moment of revelation. They get there step by tiny step, one action at a time. One goal at a time. One choice at a time.
 
It’s easy to walk off a cliff if you get used to heading in that direction. If every step you take can be justified and supported. One step, then the next – and before long you’re falling.
 
Warning
It will be easy to walk into dystopia. Ask any EU citizen living in the UK, and you’ll find that we’re half way there already. We’ve rejected our close relationship with our national neighbours, because we think it will make us stronger. We’re rejecting our neighbours – the people who keep our NHS and social care services running – because we don’t like to be reminded that we’re not the imperial power we used to be. We don’t like to hear other languages spoken on our streets. We don’t like Germany telling us what to do.
 
(Is that right? Is that what we’re leaving for? Argue with me. Tell me it’s not like this.)
 
So, step by tiny step, we’re walking towards irrelevance. We’re walking towards a health service run for the profit of American insurance companies. We’re walking towards increased immigration from around the world, and the extreme racism that will provoke. Towards a shrinking economy. Towards having to meet EU standards for exported goods without having a place at the table to influence how those standards are agreed.
 
Towards isolation.
 
Resist
So that’s what my books are about. Blindly walking away from peace, security, and established trade partnerships towards – what? I hope we’re not heading for the world of the Battle Ground series. I hope we’re not heading for totalitarianism and isolationism and acceptable racism and civil war.
But step by step, that’s where we could end up.
 
I want my books to be a self-avoiding prophecy. I want my readers to see what I’m pointing out, and help to change the direction we’re walking in.
 
Since I finished writing the series, France has announced the reinstatement of National Service for teenagers. Sudan cut off internet and mobile phone access for civilians, to control anti-government protestors. Iran and Saudi Arabia already stage public executions. Nothing in the books feels far-fetched any more.
 
This is what I’m asking my readers to resist. Electing a pro-Brexit Conservative government with a landslide majority might be a single step in the process. Leaving the EU might be the next. Small steps, but every one takes us closer to isolation. To selling off our NHS. To the break-up of the United Kingdom. To economic hardship. To an end to the peace and prosperity of the European Project.
 
We can turn back from the cliff at any time. It gets harder and harder as we approach the edge, but we can change where we’re heading.
 
It’s up to us, and our votes and decisions.
 
Step by tiny step.
 

The Battle Ground Series

The Battle Ground series is available from Amazon. You’ll find all five novels on my Amazon Author Page, at http://viewauthor.at/RachelChurcher, and there’s a free prequel novella at https://freebook.tallerbooks.com .

Contact admin@tallerbooks.com for more information, or to arrange an author visit for your Book Club or school.

These are the steps I’m taking. What about you?


This article first appeared on the Taller Books blog on 19 December, 2019. https://tallerbooks.com/2019/12/19/dystopia-step-by-step/

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