I read an amusing quote on Facebook the other day, apparently from Somerset Maugham. When it comes to writing a novel, he said, there are three rules. Unfortunately, no-one knows what they are. I’m sure people write for all sorts of reasons, but I have come to the conclusion that when I write I set out on an intellectual journey. I play with words and ideas, putting them into interesting patterns, turning them inside out to see them from a different angle. I am part explorer, part detective and part experimental scientist, pairing things that don’t go together to see what happens.
The whole idea of the Shaihen Heritage series started with just such a juxtaposition of ideas – Shehaios was a feudal anarchy. You then have to start asking the questions, what do I mean by that? What’s it like to live in this place that couldn’t possibly exist? So the journey begins.
Shehaios has become the Fair Land, the Home of the Free. Book 1 was about the magic that created this place that couldn’t possibly exist. Book 2 was about the power contained within it and how that power could corrupt. Book 3 was about the enduring spirit that keeps the vision of the Fair Land alive.
I’m pleased to report that the manuscript for Book 4 is now making good progress after its many years stuck in the doldrums and I have finished the first draft. That means I’ve told the story to myself. I’ve conducted my investigations, and completed my expedition into the unknown – I heard Terry Pratchett speak once, and he said starting a new book was like standing on the edge of a cliff above a mist-filled river valley he had to cross: he knew where he was starting from, and he could see where he wanted to go, but to reach it he had to descend into the fog and flounder about a bit until he found a way back up the other side. I’ve got to the other side, but I lost a few of the party in the fog on the way, so I’m back down there looking for them at the moment.
Book 4 is about freedom. Shehaios is the Fair Land, where wealth is shared equally; but it is also the Home of the Free. That’s another juxtaposition of political opposites I shoved together to see what happened.
They always say you should write what you know (though that does rather assume any of us know anything) and freedom has been a dominant theme of human civilisation throughout my lifetime. I was born in the mid 1950s, not long after the end of a war I was told we fought to defend freedom from an aggressive, exclusive, Imperialist nationalism personified by Hitler and the Nazi Party. I grew up in a 1960s dominated by American culture, heavy on the myth of the Land of the Free and the liberating effects of capitalism. I was a teenager in the 1970s during the age of flower power, free love and freeing the mind through the use of hallucinogenic drugs. I was a parent in the 1980s when we all started living on credit, free to fill our houses and our lives with heaps of valueless stuff. In the 90s and 00s I was running a business, in an age of start-ups, where technology was going to provide freedom from drudgery. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, I begin to see that the story I’ve been telling myself about the march of freedom under the banner of the stars and stripes is just that. It’s a story. It’s not true. Capitalism has enslaved the world and now it’s destroying it.
I’ve enjoyed a life of freedom – I’ve lived through the rise of the women’s movement, enjoyed the ability to earn my own living, and live my own life free from religious proscription of my choices. I was born to loving parents, who weren’t especially rich but certainly weren’t poor. I benefitted from a good education, and a National Health Service without which I, like many others, probably wouldn’t be here today. I have prospered and done well, but others in the world have not had the opportunities I’ve had and I see very little hope that they ever will. As one of my characters says, “If some people live in the Fair Land and others don’t then by definition it isn’t fair.”
American songwriters of the 20th century – the ones I grew up with – generally have a somewhat jaded view of their own Land of the Free. Kris Kristofferson’s lyrics for Me and Bobby McGee include the immortal lines:
“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free”
And The Eagles sang:
“Freedom – that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walkin’ through this world all alone”
(“Desperado” by Glenn Frey and Don Henley)
So my definition of freedom – the Shaihen definition – is to be ruled only by the things and the people you love. That’s the feudal anarchy. Not that you owe allegiance, but that you give it, freely. To the people you love. To the land you love. To the principles you hold to be true.
If you love money and power, that is the thing that will govern your life and shape the lives of those around you. If you love the vision of the Fair Land, the Home of the Free, then that is the vision that will govern your life and that too will influence those around you. Just imagine, if we all started doing it, we might find ourselves actually living in the Fair Land, the Home of the Free. But then again, my magician is a fictional character.