[GUEST POST] Peter Liney on The Age of Dystopia


Peter Liney was born in, what Thomas Hardy called, ‘Melchester’, Wiltshire, UK, though he has spent a good deal of his life travelling, with Australia and Thailand acting as his second home for ten and two years respectively. His list of occupations is embarrassingly long, everything from teaching English to Italian football managers and Japanese pop stars to acting, selling sewing machines in the Australian Outback, and two days as a trainee stuntman (he gave up, thought it was far too dangerous). He loves photography, music – both listening to and playing, and is a great movie lover. Which is possibly why he has been accused of not writing books at all, but ‘movies in a book form’. If he wasn’t a writer, he would’ve loved to have been an opera singer, so we should all be grateful for his writing success.

THE DETAINEE, published by Jo Fletcher Books, is available in paperback in the UK on July 3. Also on that date, the second part of the trilogy, INTO THE FIRE, is released in hardback.

The Age of Dystopia

by Peter Liney

It’s strange, when I started to write THE DETAINEE TRILOGY it never occurred to me for one moment that I was breaking the mould in any way. And oddly, when the first book came out in hardback last year in the UK, it didn’t seem to occur to any of the reviewers either, nor indeed, anyone I know who read it. But when it was published in the US, well, that was a very different reaction altogether. Suddenly I was fielding questions like, ‘What was it that persuaded you to write a dystopian story not for a YA audience?’ and ‘Do you think this is the beginning of a trend for dystopia for old folks?’ As if I’d somehow cunningly spotted a lucrative gap in the market.

Needless to say, I’m not that smart. I didn’t write this trilogy for old people any more than I did for young ones. It’s a story I wanted to tell and thought would appeal to everyone – young and old. Though perhaps that’s doing it an injustice – some of the things I saw (and still see) happening around me, the blind alleys we seemed to be rushing down – perhaps it was more of a story I felt I had to tell. That just like when you notice there’s a little smoke coming from one of the plane’s engines and you sit there thinking, ‘Has anyone else noticed that? I mean, is that normal?’ in the end you just have to say something, whether it turns out to be hugely embarrassing or not.

Mind you, if you stop and think about it, dystopia might well be a more frightening prospect for OAPs rather than YAs. When you’re young, you have an almost unquestioning faith in your future, a blind belief that nothing will ever go wrong in your world. Of course you’ll achieve all your ambitions, realise your dreams and live for ever (must admit, it’s been a bit of a shock that I wasn’t picked for the World Cup squad yet again; scoring that winning goal in the final is proving more of a problem than I thought). The idea that a dystopian world might really be waiting to mug you around the next corner is probably of about as much concern as the notion that one day you might die without having made the tiniest of ripples on the surface of this world. But older people – oh, they know about things going wrong, all right. About dreams not being realised, ambitions not fulfilled, ‘living’ getting in the way of ‘life’.

Show a teenager a world where the government has gone broke and can no longer afford to look after society’s weaker members, they’re not going to worry too much about it – it’s all too far away. Tell old people that you’ve created a society where senior citizens who can’t support themselves are sent out to live the most wretched of existence on Garbage Island, where they’re held prisoners and constantly terrorised, and you’d hardly blame them for listening for a knock on the door. I think I was responsible for my poor old mother losing at least a month’s sleep while she was reading the first book – and I still haven’t had the heart to tell her that it’s trilogy, that the story continues with INTO THE FIRE.

But in the end, THE DETAINEE trilogy is all about hope. I wanted to write something that was, ultimately, uplifting and life-affirming. I wanted to write about those old-fashioned qualities – honour, bravery, sacrifice, duty, etc – so that was perhaps why I chose an older hero (and after all, in this day and age, sixty-three isn’t exactly scrapheap material). I wanted to write about the things that ennoble us, and I think that’s something we can all relate to – young or old.