This something of a reprise, or perhaps a reflection, on my experiences of writing ‘Eugenica’ and what has followed since the book appeared in the Amazon Kindle market.
They say that reflective learning can be useful but it is not something that I can say that I have done consciously, and it may very well be that even in this instance the reflective process began at an unconscious level. Certainly I never intended to undergo this process when I clicked on the ‘submit’ button.
I am not sure where the inspiration for ‘Eugenica’ came from. I know that it did not spring from a single point in either time or my imagination. To recap the book is set in an alternate 1930’s Britain where the incumbent Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald, has had to rely upon the support of the British Eugenics Society to win the 1931 General Election. The price of this public vote of confidence is the creation of the Ministry of Social Biology, dedicated to improving the nation’s health in line with eugenic principles. I have written previously about my being disabled and I believe that this is one of the reasons why I became interested in eugenics itself. It had nothing to do with the Third Reich, which is closer to dysgenics anyway, but obviously any mention of the subject inevitably heads in that direction.
At some point I read an essay by Russell Sparkes from which the idea that Britain could have been ruled by eugenic based laws sprung up. I think it must have been around the time I had just finished reading William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s ‘The Difference Engine’, certainly the idea of alternate history was fresh in my mind at the time. I am not one hundred per cent convinced by this reasoning but it seems comfortable and it does, more or less, fit the facts.
One thing that I do know is that I wanted to write a book populated with main characters who were disabled. These characters were not fully formed or anything, they were just figments of my imagination waiting to be fleshed out. This idea came before the notion about eugenics, it has been in my mind for quite some time but I was never able to find a working context or develop any interesting characters. When I started work on the background material for ‘Eugenica’ some crucial pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.
I have always been interested in the 1930’s. I appreciate Art Deco, its sense of futurism, bold geometric patterns, clean lines, modernism in many functions. I also enjoyed watching ‘Buck Rogers’ and ‘Flash Gordon’ serials when they were repeated on British television during the long summer holidays. I also read ‘Doc Savage’ when I was young, a naïve form of futurism but it fed my thirst for adventure in far off places, some of which, according to the atlas I had at that time, were still unexplored. In truth the 1930’s were a time of hardship but it often seems that we create our greatest escapism when the world seems harsh and unforgiving.
Tying these threads together, in a reflective manner, gives the creation of ‘Eugenica’ a form, a reasoned shape if you will. Eugenics reached its height of influence and even power in the 1930’s so it was an obvious period in which to set the novel. Ramsey MacDonald offered a genuine moment in history from which I could divert the timeline and follow a different path. Personally I like subtlety in alternate history books. I think that as a genre it works best when it does not leap too far from the original history; things should remain familiar on the whole. Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ is an excellent example of this principle.
It is the presence of eugenics that helped create the characters of Grace and Tom. They had to be disabled in some fashion or else they would not be subjected to eugenic law. This brought the thread of disability into the tapestry but in a way that was, I hope, entirely logical and positive. I would be ashamed to think that it appeared to be just a literary device, a means of eliciting a response from the reader. Grace and Tom are not in the Tiny Tim mould, that is, they are not pathetic and overly dependent on others. Actually this was a very important consideration to me, not least because dependency is a good definition of disability. Also, they are not in the guise of Shakespeare’s Richard III either, he was bitter and twisted, blaming his own deformity for the blackness in his soul. Grace and Tom are both disabled but they are also people of ability. They do not rely too heavily on others to get them out of their dangerous situations, trusting more to their own aptitudes and, perhaps more importantly, in each other.
Both Tom and Grace are in their early teens but I am not sure when I fixed this aspect of their characters. Looking back through my notes it seems to have been decided quite early in the formative writing. I note that on the timeline Grace’s date of birth is instrumental in fixing other dates. Now I have an interesting notion as to why this is. A few years ago, quite a few perhaps, I went through a rather curious and upsetting experience. If you could get air miles for being a frequent hospital patient then I could have had some great holidays. The fact is that I have spent a considerable amount of my life in hospital from almost as soon as I was born. I am not proud of this fact; it makes me uncomfortable. That is not the point, however, the point is that from an early age I became very use to medical procedures. For some reason, I think it was in my thirties, I developed a kind of phobia for hypodermic needles. This might reasonable, I mean, unless you are Keith Richards the idea of sticking needles in your arms is generally not greeted with a smile. I was a bit like Keith, however, in that doctors had been sticking needles in me for many years. Despite this I began to develop a serious aversion to them. This was not useful for someone who is still under medical care and subject to blood tests and the like.
To cut a long story short it turned out that I had blocked from my memory a period of my history that involved me being the subject of medical experimentation. I have Myotonia Congenita, a rare muscle condition, and my parents gave permission to a doctor to investigate what was at that time an undiagnosed disease. I have since discovered that some of his techniques involved sticking needles into my muscles. One of them, electromyography, passes electricity into the muscle through the needles. I believe the quantity of electricity is slight but you have to remember, I was a child. Doctors did not speak directly to patients then, they spoke to you through a nurse and nurses were not always nice people. I remembered some of them as being quite harsh, as if pleasing the doctor were more important than considering the perspective of a child to all these strange goings on.
It seems that I have a lot of pent up anger connected to this period of my life.
In ‘Eugenica’ I subject Grace to some of the ‘medical procedures’ that I endured, including being made to run in underclothes in front of total strangers. I got no pleasure out of this but, perhaps, a form of catharsis. Grace became something of a surrogate to me through whom I could relive, in a controlled fashion, some of the things that were done to me in the name of science. That might come across as something of a criticism of science and it is. I like science, I have a passion for Palaeontology, I try to read Physics, I love Natural History, but science is a human invention and like all things human it goes wrong. That is what happened with eugenics really. Sir Francis Galton began, like so many pioneers of a new science, with good intentions; to improve the stock of the human race. Good intentions really can pave the way to hell. Eugenics was bound to fail because genetics was hardly understood back in the 1930’s and some eugenicists were quick to turn away from the apparently monumental task of improving their kind to launching the war on the weak, giving rise to the brand of eugenics termed ‘dysgenics’ and so graphically represented by the Nazi regime.
Science can and does go wrong, sometimes we get Jurassic Park and sometimes we get Eugenica.
Like the proverbial genie that was once in the bottle ‘Eugenica’ is now out there. I have to admit to being a little disappointed in the response to my book, it has not set the world on fire yet. Of course there are many more people publishing books onto the Amazon Kindle, and good luck to them, so I have to work a little harder to get my novel noticed, that is just the lot of the independent author, this, however, is not a pity party. ‘Eugenica’ is written and people are reading it, for that I am grateful. The experience was worthwhile and I like the end product, so does my wife, she just finished reading the complete book and it got her seal of approval! Perhaps mixing eugenics and disability in a book is not a sure fire guarantee of the next best seller, I know from practical experience how some people have an aversion to disability, but I think that there is some integrity to my work, illustrated and vindicated in this post, so I am happy. I have accomplished something, the longest novel that I have ever written at some 160,000 words, and it seems that I have laid a few ghosts to rest in the process. I would, however, like another reader so if you feel inclined please download a copy and let me know what you think!