The Earth Below

Dystopia. Romance. Escape.

How did you come up with the world in the book?

I have always wanted to write a dystopia, and I’ve attempted to do so before, first when I was seventeen. However, I had given up on writing fiction, and concentrated on my academic career.

A strange series of events led me to write this book. First, a friend decided to become a polyamorist, and outlined his reasons for this choice. It struck me during our conversation that, while I thought he should be free live his life in that way if he chose, I would not be well-suited to such a choice. I began to think about different ways in which people arranged their relationships. Shortly afterwards, I had abdominal surgery, and was on a cocktail of painkillers, as well as other drugs to treat my severe asthma. I had a very strange dream about two people escaping from an underground post-apocalyptic society which had strict rules requiring consecutive relationships with different partners. The four people in the dream – Marri, Macon, Felix and Vin – all became characters in the book. I dreamt the first three names.

When I woke up, I wrote the dream down. After three chapters, I realized I couldn’t stop. It was as if the story possessed me. I’d never shown my fiction writing to anyone other than my sister before, but after I sent my story to some friends and family, they told me to keep writing.

Is the city in this book based on a real city?

Origianlly it was designed to be deliberately ambiguous and generic. However, as I lived in England for a time, the London Tube was my primary inspiration for the underground railway system. I’m obsessed by abandoned buildings and ghost railway stations. There’s a peculiar kind of beauty and sadness about them. You can see the images I used to write this book via my Pinterest account.

Did you research this book?

Yes. Once an academic, always an academic. For differing conceptions of marriage, among other things, I consulted Stephanie Coontz, Marriage: A History – How Love Conquered Marriage. I discovered that societies have organised sexual partnerships in a multiplicity of ways (some even more unusual than the arrangements in this book) and concepts of what constitutes marriage vary vastly from society to society and from time to time.

For a history of underground London (including giant rats!) I read Peter Ackroyd, London Under. I also watched a number of documentaries on underground cities, consulted a book of photographs called Subterranean London, and looked at a number of blogs.

As to what would happen if humanity were wiped out tomorrow, I consulted Alan Weisman, The World Without Us, which describes how cities and human structures would decay. I looked at many, many pictures of abandoned cities.

I have a fascination with revolutions, economics, behavioural economics, class systems and the way in which the law works.

Is Marri based on you?

Marri shares certain features with me, other than colouring: a tendency to speak one’s mind; a hatred of rules that don’t make sense; as well as passion and honesty. But she also combines aspects of my sister and other women I know and admire.

If Marri was wholly me, she’d be a total klutz, she’d have a variety of physical limitations and ailments, and she wouldn’t be small and dainty. Also, she’s not educated or intellectual. She’s never had that chance, whereas I was lucky that my parents gave me every opportunity in life.

Have you been trained in creative writing?

Although I undertook a Bachelor of Arts, I majored in English literature, History and Medieval Studies rather than creative writing.  I have written a number of academic books and textbooks.

I read voraciously, in almost every genre. There are so many books in our house that they spill off the bookshelves. In my view, a good book has two aspects:

·         Good writing; and

·         A ‘hook’ which makes you want to read on, so that you care about the characters and about what happens to them.

I hope I’ve lived up to this aspiration.