“What I love most is the idea that leaving London to go into the countryside seems like stepping beyond the barriers, into this quasi-dangerous world.” – Tom Ward.
Tom Ward is the author of The Lion and the Unicorn, one of the Unbound projects I was delighted to support with a pledge. Tom noticed that our two books have some similar themes, as can be seen from the quote above, so we decided to explore further. Here is a link to Tom’s interview with me about Salt Lick and below are the questions I asked Tom. It sounds like a great book – please consider backing it if you agree!
Detectives are often world-weary. They’re cynics because they have seen so much, I presume, of our worse tendencies. Does this make them useful protagonists to unravel complicated stories, as you aren’t forced to deal with too much of their own emotional reactions to things?
The Lion and The Unicorn is a book about high and low culture, and our main characters are tasked with rooting out low culture in many guises, be that dodgy fashion choices, or mass market pop music. Because of this I wanted to poke fun at the idea of the typical detective and have mine be tee-total and into wellness juices – just like more and more of us are becoming today!
My main character is fairly optimistic and open-minded for a police officer. Hopefully this allows him to be shocked by things and go on an emotional journey. Something a more hard-boiled cop might struggle with, as you say.
How did you set the parameters of the bad taste that has become illegal in the book? Did you work it out before writing, or on a case-by-case basis?
The initial idea was that ‘low culture’ or mass consumable, guilty pleasures would be outlawed by the government as a way to try and raise the collective drive and goals of the population. But, like most regulations it quickly becomes manipulated on a case by case basis to the degree that our main characters struggle to see the difference between contraband and what’s allowed.
One of our main detectives, Bagby, has a treasure trove of banned books and records squirrelled away in his apartment, including books by Pat Barker, Yuval Noah Harari, and James Kelman whom most of us would probably agree are all ambitious, thoughtful writers.
Whilst I think that the term dystopia is a little over-used, have you ever read or seen a convincing utopia?
I don’t think I have! I think you need conflict in order to have a narrative arc so the idea of the perfect society may not exist. Having said that, I loved the Redwall books as a child, and the depiction of Redwall Abbey (where the main characters live) seemed like a lovely, peaceful place. Outside of children’s literature I’m not sure a utopia exists, though!
Do you picture your book as though it is a film? Would you like it to be a film?
I really love films. I worked in a cinema as a teenager and have interviewed a lot of actors and directors in my day job as a journalist, and I think this all feeds into writing fiction. I definitely visualise scenes in my writing and love writing description. So yes, I would love it to become a film.
Does the world of The Lion and the Unicorn happen in a straight line from now or are there events that permit or promote the necessary changes?
The Lion and The Unicorn is set in 2054, so not too far in the future. I started writing it in 2016 which was a tumultuous year with things like Brexit and Trump coming to pass. It seemed that, on a national scale, things were getting more and more tense, and we’ve arguably continued down that path ever since. I imagined a revolution having taken place some years before the start of the novel, so that by the time the novel begins Britain is supposed to be this settled, peaceful utopia. But in many ways the revolution was a false victory, and the same old systems are now allowed to operate with impunity.
You asked in your questions to me whether there is an exploration of homecoming and connection in relationship to presence in nature and said it’s something you explore in all your books. How does that come about in The Lion and the Unicorn?
The film version of Children of Men is a big influence on my writing. The story is great, it’s beautifully shot, but what I love most is the idea that leaving London to go into the countryside seems like stepping beyond the barriers, into this quasi-dangerous world. I’ve always felt my calmest and happiest when I’m near trees, so I wanted my main characters to leave London and head out into the countryside to see what’s out there. I’m from Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire, so I wanted to play on the north/south divide too, and have the north as one of these closed off, remote places in the book, and sort of mythologise that.
Thanks to Tom for taking the time to answer. If you too like the sound of The Lion and the Unicorn, you can pre-order and support its publication here: unbound.com/books/the-lion-the-unicorn/