When Peter Taylor-Gooby approached me about his dystopian novel The Baby Auction, I’ll admit my first reaction was that it probably wasn’t one for me. But I was quite struck by the strapline – “Romance, revenge, revolution – and a forensic analysis of how market capitalism destroys human kindness” – and, having read a few extracts, I feel I was maybe rather too quick to judge.
Peter told me about the passion for social justice that made him an academic, with a need to understand how modern civilised societies permit injustice, inequality and oppression. His writing and research made him one of the leading academics in the field but it never really answered his questions. So he wrote The Baby Auction to understand how real human characters, striving and struggling and loving in a world driven entirely by market forces might live a humane and generous life.
Do see if the summary might appeal to you too:
Auctioning babies makes sense; the babies go to new parents who’ve proved by paying more than anyone else that they will give them the best start in life; the parents who’ve brought them into the world get real compensation for their pain and trouble. At least that’s what everyone in Market World thinks.
Ed, a tough, spirited and streetwise young woman, and Matt, innocent and loyal, an outsider, hate this world, where the market decides everything. Anna a successful business woman and Dain one of the Enforcers who police the city, think it offers a brave new civilisation.
The Baby Auction tells the story of Ed and Matt’s love and of their struggle against Market World, of their pain and trials and ultimate escape. It also tells how Anna and Dain come to discover that there is more to life that success in the city, and that they must overcome the contempt of all those around them, mistrust and betrayal before they can prove their love for each other through self-sacrifice.
I’m delighted to welcome Peter to Being Anne with an guest post on the fascinating subject of characters, and how readers and writers relate to them.
Why do people do what they do? We know the answers in real life: because they have free will or independent natures or get distracted by tea-cakes or whatever. In writing fiction it’s a bit different, especially if you’re the writer and you believe you somehow created the characters. It’s also something of an issue for readers: one reason for reading Emma is because we want to see what choices she makes, whether she avoids the awful Mr Elton and how she grows as a person, understands (and is mortified by) the way she treated Harriet and Miss Bates, and becomes capable of making more mature choices. The same applies (with minor changes to allow for the passage of time) to Bridget Jones.
But. This is a work of fiction. Someone designed it and wrote it. These characters were set in motion and, if the book is worth reading, they are believable, they feel like real people. So here’s the problem: the author describes a real person and traces out what they do. The reader follows that because they want to find out what the character does. Does she do right or wrong? Does she become someone capable of living a worthwhile life or not? But it’s all been worked out by someone else in advance. So we are asked to believe in characters as if they were real people, but they aren’t, they are made-up, following the tram-lines of the plot.
When you put it like this it all seems a bit of a confidence trick, but it obviously isn’t: readers are not stupid, they make all sorts of distinctions between different books, they spend much time discussing them, and (thank goodness!) they go on reading.
As a newbie writer this problem worried me (maybe I should just have gone on writing and not bothered, but I couldn’t escape it). I wrote character essays for my novel The Baby Auction. I also wrote different plot lines and tried them out. In some characters went one way, in some they made a different choice and went another. I tried to work out which felt right, which seemed to work best. Engrossing, but it didn’t get me nearer an answer because I couldn’t really tell the difference.
Then I pursued a different direction. I just wrote about the characters in other settings without worrying too much about the plot line and where I thought things had to get to by the end of the chapter. This suddenly made a huge difference and felt enormously liberating.
The characters started saying and doing things I hadn’t expected and certainly hadn’t planned. Off they went in new directions, new encounters and relationships, emotional responses I hadn’t anticipated and the whole thing felt very different.
I think this is the answer to the dilemma of the character who is made by someone else, but in whom we believe and who is following the plot of a novel but whom we follow because we don’t know what they’re going to do and we really want to find out what happens and how they develop. It isn’t a confidence trick. The author doesn’t really know either and is also following what happens (among other reasons) because they want to get to the end and see how it all works out, just as much as the reader does.
Novels are funny things but they can (sometimes) be completely engaging. We feel totally involved in a created world and that applies to the writer as much as the reader. When I came to the end of The Baby Auction I breathed a sigh of relief and hit ‘save’ on the keyboard before I did anything else. Then I thought ‘So that’s how it turned out. But what if it had all been different? Maybe I should be writing that instead?’ Then I thought ‘No. It doesn’t matter that it could have been different. This is what they did, and it feels right.’ And that’s it.
Really enjoyed that Peter – and I wish you every success with the book.
Peter Taylor-Gooby’s novel The Baby Auction is published by The Conrad Press and is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, Google Books and at most bookshops. The author’s profits are donated to Shelter – the housing and homelessness charity.
My novels deal with how people live their lives and relate to each other in the modern globalised capitalist world. In The Baby Auction, Ed and Matt must find a way to lead a passionate, humane and generous life in a world run entirely on market principles, in which no-one can understand that caring for someone else might be a motive.
In my day job I write academic texts (for example “The Double Crisis of the Welfare State”). My work shows how globalised market capitalism generates inequalities between haves and have-nots and promotes a corrosive individualism that stunts our capacity for empathy, charity and love. People live for themselves and their families and vote for more privatisation and less redistribution and against the welfare state.
I enjoy hill-walking, riding my bike, holidays and looking after my grand-daughter (not in that order). I became interested in social policy issues after working on adventure playgrounds, teaching, claiming benefits and working in a social security office in Newcastle. I’ve worked in the UK, most European countries, Canada, the US, China, Korea and Japan, Australia and South Africa. You can follow Peter on Twitter, and find him on: