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Friday, 27 April 2018

Two heads are better

Gilbert and Sullivan. Lennon and McCartney. Lee and Ditko… In many successful creative partnerships you can perceive two quite different impulses at work, impulses which might be expected to pull in opposite directions and tear the project apart but in fact the result ends up being something greater than either might have achieved on their own.

It's the underlying principle of the Hegelian dialectic. Start with thesis, move on to antithesis, and in the fusion of those you might make something original and meaningful. (Luck plays a part too, but I don't think Hegel covered that.)

Thesis and antithesis is pretty much how Can You Brexit? came about. While sketching out the planned structure of the book, I'd only dimly considered what the style and tone of the writing would be. I wrote an opening that was surreal rather than laugh-out-loud funny -- more Theatre of Cruelty than Spitting Image -- and I envisaged the pinch points in the narrative being increasingly disturbing episodes between sections that would be largely informative.

But then when Jamie Thomson came in as co-author, he reminded me of something I should never have forgotten: if you want to keep people's attention you need to entertain them. Jamie rewrote the opening with the sort of comedy flair that gets audiences laughing helplessly at the best political satires. Where I'd have gone New Statesman, he took it in the direction of Private Eye.

You might think these two different sensibilities could not coexist. On the one hand a serious analysis of political and economic reality, on the other a fast-paced and funny narrative with twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. They mesh because we each share some of the other's approach Jamie can drill down into political detail with just as much rigour as me. And when we write a script, I come up with as many of the gags as he does. It's just that each of us takes the champion role for one of those two things That's what makes the difference between creative conflict and creative cohesion.

Comedy doesn't mean a work of art can't be serious; it just stops it being sombre. Something can be thought-provoking without becoming dry and boring. When you can get people laughing you're waking their minds up too. So a reader who you are entertaining with the writer's whole orchestra, everything from intellect through passion to humour, is a reader who'll give you their full attention. That's a lesson more politicians could do with learning.

Talking of which, if you live in the United Kingdom you'll know we have local elections coming up next week. Brexit remains the issue that will probably have the greatest impact on the country over the rest of my life, so I'll be voting on the basis of what the parties have to say about that. But whatever criteria you use, do go and vote. If nothing else, it's how we earn the right to have a grumble.

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  1. For one consumer's opinion, it works fantastically in this book. And I don't live in the UK, so many of the details were entirely new to me.

    Seriously, anyone who enjoys some thinking-person's fiction, and especially those who've ever railed at decisions made in the political space, should not miss this.

    1. Thanks, Michael. Can You Brexit? is probably not what most people were expecting me and Jamie to come up with, but I think another fantasy gamebook would have been boring. We did enough of those back in the day, and they're all back in print -- along with dozens of Fighting Fantasy old and new. It was time for something completely different. I'm glad you think it worked out okay.

    2. Definitely the right call Dave. I'm hoping you've started on your Trump follow-up!

  2. I enjoyed it immensely as well. It's harder to run a country than people think. BTW, speaking of two smart heads, Elementary starts back up in the USA tomorrow (April 30) at 10 PM Eastern on CBS. No idea when it hits the UK.

    1. I always wait till I can get the whole season as a box set. I'm too impatient to just have one episode a week.