Author in the Spotlight – LEIGH RUSSELL
How readers open our eyes
Like a lot of authors, I’ve read a great many books. Often they stay with me, leaving me thinking long after I finish reading. Given that I’ve always read in a variety of genres, it seemed reasonable to branch out and write a different kind of book. So, with 23 crime books to my name, I wrote a dystopian story.
Rachel’s Story is a vision of what might happen in the event of a truly catastrophic virus, one that attacks not only people but all forms of life on earth. The reader meets Rachel as she grows up in a post-apocalyptic world where food is scarce, and the government wields absolute power over ordinary people who face a stark choice to obey or die. As a child, Rachel is initiated into The Programme where selected young girls are medicated to make them fertile. Fearing for her future, Rachel escapes, but freedom comes at a price, as she learns when she joins the outcasts struggling to survive beyond the city walls.
Perhaps more than any other genre, dystopian fiction is a literature of ideas. The dystopian books that have made a lasting impression on me all evolve from a central idea. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, John Wyndham’s The Crysalids, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, PD James’ Children of Men, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, are all gripping narratives that spin out from dystopian ideas.
These books examine possible future and alternative worlds but more than that, they prompt us to examine our own lives today and think about where we might be heading in the real world. Writing about the threat of a fanatical misuse of religion, invasion from another planet, the abuse of mind altering drugs, a nuclear holocaust, the iconic Big Brother of a totalitarian dictatorship, the potential abuse of cloning, mind altering interventions, and even a fear of literature, these novels all deal with serious threats to our way of life and even our existence as a species.
Writing Rachel’s Story I was thinking about the pandemic that recently brought the entire world to a standstill, and extrapolating on from there to imagine the catastrophic effect of a toxic virus that attacked all forms of life on earth, plants as well as animals. The idea took hold of me and led me into my own vision of a dystopian future. It was only when I read a review of the book that I realised Rachel’s Story is actually about more than just a story of one character surviving in a dystopian future. Readers opened my eyes to other issues raised in the book. ‘Themes such as the role of women in society, addiction and betrayal abound, making this relevant as well as dystopian,’ according to one reviewer. And of course he or she is right. The book is about issues we face in the contemporary world, as well as presenting a story about a post-apocalyptic world.
While I’m excited by these revelations, I admit to being somewhat overwhelmed, and even slightly embarrassed, that readers are seeing so much more in the story than I was consciously aware of when writing. But it’s all there, in the book. Just like I find unexpected depths in books that I read, so a reader has given me an insight into my own writing. As a writer, that experience is both humbling and exhilarating. You might think I should have known what was going on in my own book. But perhaps crime and dystopian fiction are not that different after all. Whether writing about crime or a dystopian future, my books are about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances.
In a world where food is scarce, the government rules and ordinary people only exist to serve, can there ever be happiness? As a child, living in a post-apocalyptic world, Rachel is initiated into The Programme where selected young girls are medicated to make them fertile. Fearing for her future, Rachel escapes. But freedom comes at a price, as she learns when she joins the outcasts struggling to survive beyond the city walls.
Rachel’s Story is published by Bloodhound Books
The Geraldine Steel series is published by No Exit Press.
Leigh Russell has written twenty-four novels, and her Geraldine Steel crime series has sold over a million copies. In addition to her crime series featuring detective Geraldine Steel, Leigh has written two trilogies and two stand alone psychological thrillers. Rachel’s Story is her first dystopian novel. Leigh chairs the judging panel for the Crime Writers Association’s prestigious Debut Dagger Award, and is a Consultant Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund.
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