I had recently read The Detainee by Peter Liney - chronicling the adventures of the Big guy Clancy stuck on an island - where the old and infirm of a dystopian society are sent away - as garbage to rot the rest of their lives out. It was a powerful and emotionally draining book - a soul-searching attempt at questions around the devolution of human society and mind. I loved the book - the prose, the ideas and the wonderful execution. So with the second book in the series coming out - I am pretty excited that Peter actually agreed to do a guest post on what ideas influenced him to set upon writing this fascinating trilogy.
I was asked recently what some of my more direct literary influences were for The Detainee Trilogy. Of course, like every other writer, there were many, but it got me thinking about what books had had a more subtle, lingering influence, and I came up with one rather surprising one: Don Quixote.
Why I would equate the ‘Big Guy’, Clancy, an ex-heavy who’s dealt out more than his fair share of violence over the years, with the gentle, soft-in-the-head righter of wrongs of Miguel de Cervantes’ tale might not be immediately obvious, but it’s true nevertheless. One of the reasons Clancy ended up on that grotesque Island was because he’d forsaken all violence. If he’d stuck to his old trade he would’ve no doubt continued living on the Mainland and in something close to luxury. But he began to question his lifestyle, to believe in other things: integrity, honesty, and what that Knight of the Woeful countenance would’ve no doubt described as ‘the nobleness of the human spirit’ – very old-fashioned stuff in the twenty-first century, but then, Clancy is a very old-fashioned guy.
The fact that I chose to make the hero of a dystopian novel an older man (63), has caused a great deal of interest and comment, but I wanted to write about someone who believed in traditional qualities and values, and who better than a poacher-turned-gamekeeper? Clancy follows in a fairly long line of classic heroes who have renounced violence, only to find that they then have to take it up again in the pursuit of a greater Good. And that’s the way I wanted my hero: a traditional tough guy fighting for what he believes in, taking on the world in his pursuit of putting things right – just like our intrepid Man of La Mancha. And for a good-old fashioned hero, what better than an altogether modern heroine? In many ways Lena dominates the trilogy with her incredible inner strength, the way she inspires Clancy to fight back, to tackle apparently insurmountable odds in the same way she has.
And just how insurmountable those odds are: the Island must be one of the grimmest places ever imagined (I spent forever debating whether to include one particular aspect of the story) but if I had to nominate the three words used most to describe the trilogy, I can guarantee that ‘believable’ is right up there. The foundation thought for The Detainee was a question I first asked myself at least fifteen years ago: ‘What are we going to do when the elderly outnumber the young?’ And do you know something, all these years later, I still don’t have an answer – and it doesn’t seem as if any of our politicians do either. Is it so far-fetched to think that human garbage might end up being expelled along with the everyday kind? I’ll leave you to answer that.
In Book 2 of the trilogy, Into the Fire, our heroes think they are going ‘home’, yet the panicked authorities have resorted to even more desperate measures to rid society of those they can no longer afford. Furthermore, the government has paid for its lack of imagination by being made to realise that there are always those waiting to take advantage of such situations, that the most tyrannical of leaders often steps into such anarchic vacuums – though there have been few leaders quite as frightening and formidable as the one who enters Into the Fire.
For me the best fiction is ‘believable’ fiction. The moment I can’t relate to a person or situation is when I start to lose interest. I’ve never known any old men from La Mancha who thought they were knights, but I flush with pride of my species when I think about what he believed in and was so determined to fight for. I’ve never worked for the Mob (you’ll be glad to hear), but I still understand the need to stand up against what you think is wrong.
Old-fashioned it may be, but that’s really what The Detainee Trilogy is all about.
About the Author:
Peter Liney was born in Wiltshire but has spent a large part of his life overseas. He has written sitcoms for ABC and Channel 4, and drama for the BBC and South African radio. The Detainee is his debut novel. He lives in Salisbury.