Although I wrote and published four novels before The Waste, my latest book dates back to my earliest attempts to start writing seriously. My first unfinished novel was a serious fiction story called Colony and was set in an alternate Earth occupied by an apparently benevolent alien race. Put simply, I didn’t have the skills or the experience to do the novel justice, so I abandoned the book and switched my efforts to writing for small press and indie SF / fantasy magazines for a couple of years before embarking on my first completed novel, the epic fantasy The Map of the Known World.
And yet over the years, as a lover of science fiction and dystopian novels and films, the basic premise of Colony stayed with me. After completing my fourth novel, the historical fantasy This Sacred Isle, I returned to my SF story. The first thing that changed early in the writing was the title as Colony was the name of the (excellent) SF series starring Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies. My unfinished novel was also more of a police procedural but I moved away from that approach. However, one element that did remain was that of the aliens being, at least on the surface, benign, with their rule of Earth largely supported and unchallenged by humanity.
Although my primary aim when writing any novel is to intrigue and entertain the reader, in The Waste I wanted to explore contemporary concerns and themes. So, for the setting of the book, I wanted a world with clear roots and parallels with our own. The Waste is set in an alternate version of modern Britain, for although this is a science fiction novel with aliens and spaceships, there is also homelessness, foodbanks, environmental damage, poor public housing, and the mistreatment of immigrants. For some, the new society created by the Seraphim is a paradise; for many others life remains a painful daily struggle. The world of The Waste is a dystopia, but a dystopia hiding in plain sight, where the quest for money, power and status is treasured above all else, where poverty is judged to be a symptom of personal weakness, where compassion for the suffering of others is seen as misguided, mawkish. In this world, all the functions of government, along with almost all commercial enterprises, are run by the vast, monolithic PAX company.
The main character of The Waste is Percival Spare. By the metrics of his life – career, relationships, money – Spare believes he has utterly failed. He is lonely, unfulfilled and routine-trapped. In many ways, Spare’s journey as a character is not so much about taking risks – although that is certainly part of it – but about seeing, really seeing, the injustices of the world and realising he must do something, however small, however insignificant, to stand against these injustices.
The Waste is a novel that went through many iterations, and although you can never be sure how a book will be received by readers, I was sure this was a book I wanted to write, felt compelled to write in some ways, and that provided ample motivation through the many years it took to reach the final version.
The Waste is published on 27 October - the eBook version is available for pre-order for just £0.99 / $0.99.