‘Electoral democracy, for pretty much the entire nation, is nothing more than a spectators’ sport.’
Rupert Dreyfus’s debut novel Spark explores the individual in the face of big business and reacting against a system geared towards a select self-interested few. In this author interview I asked Rupert about writing, self-publishing and a worldview that led to the events outlined in Spark.
Q: Spark is your first self-published novel. How did you find the process?
A: The writing process was liberating. Prior to Spark I’d written a lot of stories but they were completely different in style and message. They were more personal and less satirical. I suppose I tried to take a more literary approach which, looking back, didn’t really suit me. I eventually got bored and tried something in the transgressive/ satirical style. Once I found a voice I was happy with and realised that I no longer have to obey literary conventions, it became an all out war.
However, the process of getting Spark read by people has been about as much fun as counting bum warts at a pig farm.
How are you coping with marketing and promotion?
This has all been part of the problem. Self-publishing is a bit like trying to get a fire going with a box of wet matches. One of the differences between self-published authors and traditionally published authors is that self-published authors have to go to readers whereas readers know where to find traditionally published authors. It’s frustrating, but you’ve just got to keep banging your head against the wall and hope that some cracks eventually begin to show. That said I’m terrible at marketing. I’m particularly terrible at social media. Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook; I can’t get the hang of them.
As for promotion: I just try to keep it as real as I can by contacting people who look like they”ll enjoy what I’m doing rather than spamming everybody. I definitely think self-published authors should knock the spam approach on the head. Nobody appreciates a message along the lines of: “Thank you for following back. Please check out my new young adult romance novel about teenage witches and living with acid reflux.”
Do you feel in any way associated with the corporate world now that you’re ‘in business’ as a published author?
Every time I sell a book through Kindle, Amazon make some money out of me so it’d be naïve to say that I don’t. It’s not an ideal situation, but the Kindle platform is the main way to reach people these days.
What was the greater influence on writing Spark: the hacking or the objection to corporatism?
I suppose the objection to corporatism is the greater influence because I have first-hand experience of it and feel like a lot of people deep down despise working in the corporate environment and can relate to Jake’s sentiments.
When Snowden revealed what was going on in the intelligence agencies were you surprised the general public couldn’t care less?
From what I can remember it was hard to gauge the reaction of the general public when Snowden first revealed the extent of what was going on, but I don’t think the majority were indifferent. What we do know is that in the middle of last year the cloud storage company Tresorit commissioned a poll and found that most Americans thought that Snowden had done the right thing in exposing PRISM.
The latest Yougov poll I can locate also found that the majority of people in the UK thought that he was justified. More recently Yougov have released a poll showing that most people in the UK are concerned with online security. Based on this I think a lot of people care about the government departments abusing their position of power, but what happened here in the UK is that the government made it virtually impossible for the media to report freely on the situation. They made an example out of the Guardian by threatening them with legal action, forcing them to smash up their hard drives and even stooped so low as to call them traitors.
And then you’ve got newspapers like the Daily Mail who publish all sorts of nastiness about Snowden. It’s no surprise that mainstream media coverage has generally been poor which then distorts the perception.
In the 21st century can literature change the way society thinks about itself?
One of the great things about literature is that it has the ability to challenge society’s perception of itself. Whether it’s in a cultural, political, philosophical or personal capacity; literature is one of the best ways of getting something said about society. I suppose what’s unique about the 21st century is that the internet has gone mainstream – at least here in the West. It’s changing our relationship towards ourselves and each other in weird and wonderful ways. There’s a lot for writers and artists to document as we pass through the Digital Age; particularly given how fast everything is moving.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
In the everyday sense of the words I’m a bit of both. One minute I think the world is fantastic; the next minute it gets on my nerves and I’m banging my head against my laptop screen.
In philosophical terms I’d be considered a pessimist which is different to how today’s society perceives pessimism. For those who aren’t familiar; philosophical pessimism is closer to the nihilistic worldview which resonates with me. However, while I have recognised that life is essentially meaningless and the world is in a perpetual state of chaos, pessimism falls in to the trappings of preserving the status quo so I try to snap myself out of it.
Have you approached agents or publishers with Spark?
I approached one big literary agent (I forget which one). I knew from the off-set that there’s little chance of Spark appealing to publishing houses, but I wanted that feeling of rejection so I could get on with the DIY approach.
In your experience is self-publishing a good thing or a bad thing?
I think self-publishing is ultimately a good thing, but there are a lot of teething problems. Right now there’s a lot of stigma attached to self-publishing and for a lot of readers out there our stories might as well have terminal leprosy. However, I think it’s understandable that aspiring writers are bored stiff of trying to penetrate the publishing industry and are deciding to go it alone. I also think that in many years to come the self-publishing model is going to be the way forward and literary agents are at risk of becoming obsolete. I think professional editors and publishers will be around forever, but agents and even marketing teams could disappear entirely at this rate.
And we should remind ourselves that self-publishing is nothing new. William Blake, the Romantic poet, self-published as a means of avoiding interference from the church and state. This is important to note because when you take the self-publishing approach you have a greater degree of creative freedom because there’s only you and whatever beta readers you use involved in the whole process. There’s no pandering to publishers which can compromise free expression.
However, there are also some negatives with self-publishing such as a lower standard of grammar, people trying to make a quick buck, some people are probably best not putting their stuff out in there in the public domain etc. But at the end of the day writing is for everyone and we should allow people to be creative in their own way.
Bearing in mind the issues raised in Spark, if you could change one
thing about the world what would it be?
I suppose it would be good to see more disaffected people, who have previously had no engagement in political issues, realise that it’s more fun to be a rebel than a bleating sheep. Spark was very much about this. Jake shows us that even an idiot can spark a revolution from his bedroom although he probably couldn’t name his local member of parliament.
And finally do you have a message for anyone who voted Conservative in the 2015 general election?
My message to Conservative voters would be the same as my message to all voters: electoral democracy is a scam evidenced by the fact that most people didn’t want the Tories in and yet we ended up with them. 4 million voters wanted a UKIP government and got only 1 MP while 1 million voters turned to the Greens and got only 1 MP. The system is rigged in favour of the two main parties which has made it almost impossible for smaller parties to have any chance of getting in. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, in the interest of democracy, we should all push for proportional representation in the short term. Otherwise it’s like playing a board game where the rule book favours only two of the players and everyone else has no chance of winning.
However, there’s a bigger point to be made. I appreciate that we have to consider voting while it’s all we have, but we ultimately need to recognise that turning up to a polling station once every five years to put an X next to the candidate you hate the least to implement policies you’ve had zero control over has little to do with democracy. In a real democracy communities would come up with their own policies and may use representatives to implement them with a process of recall. However, what we presently have is an elite telling the electorate to vote for their business-serving policies. And then once they’re in power, they shut the door on us. So we now have a situation where, other than the 650 elected MPs and those folks who go out of their way to be councillors, the rest of us spend the 5 years between elections with virtually no involvement in the political process other than complaining about it.
Electoral democracy, for pretty much the entire nation, is nothing more than a spectators’ sport. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if the world was apple pie and hugs all round, but we’re on course for ecological meltdown and, more immediately, the vulnerable and poor are being punished for crimes committed by a negligent financial system. We can either accept that this is the natural order of all things, carry on voting and nothing really changes or we can sniff the bullshit and find ways of doing something about this critical situation we face.
These were really thoughtful questions by the way, Chris. A lot of food for thought. Thanks very much for your time!
Thanks to Rupert for taking time out to answer questions. If you want to know more about Spark, and Rupert’s other writings and ideas follow the links below.
To find Spark on your own national Amazon web page click the link and change co.uk to com, or de, or fr, depending on where you are in the world.