Nineteen Eighty-Four: the book which got under my skin and twisted and shaped me into the writer I am today.
As an eighteen-year old student, George Orwell’s tale of subterfuge in the face of oppression completely – absolutely – gripped me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it; I loved analysing and writing about it. I can still remember my ‘A’ level English exam, and the buzz I got as I answered the question about Winston Smith!
But it was only recently I realised how much of a stonking great influence Nineteen Eighty-Four has had over my writing. It is absolutely why I have chosen to create dystopian adventure novels. Its ominous presence – and its desperate dream that, somehow, the ‘little person’ will always win – looms everywhere in my books.
It seems that, when I first got the writing bug, fragmented memories of Orwell’s nightmare leaked out of my brain – and tumbled straight into my first novel.
Fierce Resistance is peppered with ghosts from Orwell’s Big Brother regime. The rousing Malvanian muzak; the face of the General looming on TV; the Malvanian slogan of ‘Komplianz’; sadistic entertainment from Smit the clown; mind-numbing public information programmes; the communal exercise routines of the Malvanian Youth. In Fierce Resistance, Harold Stone’s fevered willingness to be a puppet of the Malvanian state, echoes the manic devotion of the Party members at the Two Minutes Hate.
Then there is the defiant child who is brought to a state of dribbling conformity by a Malvanian agent in Fierce Resistance – a throwback to the sorry demise of Winston himself. Big Ben’s tower being demolished by the Malvanians and replaced with a garish, digital cuckoo clock is an allusion to Orwellian London, with its digitalisation of time and the desecration of tradition. Beth claiming ‘little victories’ by imagining the Malvanian soldiers wearing silly dresses, and taking a packed lunch to school with a dab of forbidden English mustard in her sandwich, are a respectful nod to Winston’s desperate hope that ‘They can’t get inside you. They can’t get to your heart.’
So many grim details and ghastly impressions, hidden away in the back of my mind! It’s as if they were watching me, Big Brother-like, and waiting for the right time to pounce onto a new page.
And even after Fierce Resistance was finished, the spectre of Nineteen Eighty-Four continued to haunt me. The influences kept on coming.
In The JASMINE Portfolio, Miss Steele’s marked physical transformation when she reveals who she really is, is an homage to the moment when Winston and Julia are betrayed by Mr Charrington. In Mouse, the mind-altering CYCLOPS oil lamps mirror the mollifying Victory Gin in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The unstoppable Eastern superpower swallowing up Europe in The JASMINE Portfolio parallels the amassing of the three world superstates in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The ritualistic initiation ceremonies in Fierce Resistance and Mouse reflect the religion-like manipulation of people’s minds by The Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
And finally, Laurel Smith, the heroine of Mouse, is quite deliberately Winston Smith’s namesake. Just like Winston, she has a powerful first name (Laurel means ‘victory’) … and the ‘Smith’ bit tells us that she is ‘everyone’ – she is you and me. And to come full circle, that it what my ‘A’ level question was about! The dual character of Winston – superficially weak, but a lion-hearted rebel inside.
As I sat my ‘A’ levels, I had no idea how much Nineteen Eighty-Four would shape my life, finally turning me into an adventure writer! But there is one disturbing aspect of Orwell’s novel that I have kicked and punched against, since the first day I read it.
I HATE THE ENDING OF NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR.
Even though I studied it over thirty years ago, I still can’t bear to think about it.
They won. The baddies won. They made Winston … well, if you’ve read the book, you’ll know what they made him do.
So it’s really important to me that my heroines maintain intellectual and emotional independence in the face of tyranny.
IN MY BOOKS, THE GOODIES ALWAYS, ALWAYS WIN.
THEY HAVE TO.