Capturing the public mood is easy - in retrospect
Geraint Anderson on why he thinks his new novel will get a sympathetic response from readers.In late 1996 I was mooching around a bookshop in Gatwick Airport about to head off for a well-earned break to Goa. I absentmindedly picked up a copy of a book called The Beach and, after reading the blurb on the back, knew immediately that it was exactly what I wanted to buy. I'd spent a couple of gap years in Asia under the preposterous delusion that I was a bona fide "traveller", and I too had become obsessed with finding the most secret places away from the "tourists". My dreams had been filled with visions of a palm-fringed cove where I would lie in a Mexican hammock... smoking weed with an olive-skinned Israeli girl... called Yael.
Even before I'd reached the shop counter, I was hit by a horrific realisation - I wasn't the only one who'd be thinking this. In fact, there were undoubtedly millions of student types across the world who had gone travelling to exotic climes and would take one glance at the back of this book and know that they just had to read it.
What was even worse was that those "part-time hippies" weren't going away any time soon - a veritable production line had just got into gear, and they'd all undoubtedly come to see this book as their bible. I had been aware for some time that this rite of passage was becoming de rigueur, so why hadn't I thought of writing about it? Well I hadn't, but that bastard Alex Garland had! He'd put his finger on the pulse and captured the zeitgeist.
If you're not a celebrity or an established author, writing a book that pinpoints a new social trend or cultural phenomenon must surely play a major role in getting a book talked about and therefore read. Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, exposing Wall Street's "Masters of the Universe", came out within weeks of the October 1987 stock market crash - guaranteeing the kind of publicity you couldn't buy. Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary perfectly captured the quandary faced by the ever-increasing number of career women who loved their independence but also wanted to settle down with Darcy. I have no doubt that after both books were written, wannabe authors across the world slapped their foreheads and shouted at the ceiling, "Why didn't I think of that?", - just as I, a lifetime fan of Dracula and Brave New World, did when the vampire/dystopia craze hit our bookshops and cinemas.
Which brings nicely me on to my novel Payback Time - which just happens to be published today! While no author's chosen subject matter should be dictated by a ruthless appraisal of what might sell books, it's always nice when a topic springs to mind that, on closer consideration, chimes with one's perception of the public mood. Payback Time focuses on a group of friends taking revenge on a bank they blame for their friend's suicide. I'm hoping that such a concept may be appreciated by a populace that is increasingly enraged by the unrepentant banksters who threw this world into recession. Surely taking revenge on the institutions that just lost you your home or your job could prove a popular concept?
Well, who knows? The public are a fickle lot, and if it was that easy to predict their sentiments then we'd all be bringing in royalty cheques that would make Stephen King blanch. All I know is that if the anti-banker fantasy central to Payback Time doesn't cut the mustard, then it might be time to dust off that old manuscript from five years back - the one about investment banks... in a post-apocalyptic world... run by vampires!
Geraint Anderson's PAYBACK TIME is out today (20 June) from Headline