'Prescient' fiction at William Heinemann/Hutchinson showcase

'Prescient' fiction at William Heinemann/Hutchinson showcase

Fiction presaging the turbulent political currents of recent months, and exploring the role of the novelist and storytelling in society, was in evidence at the William Heinemann, Hutchinson and Windmill 2017 fiction showcase, for booksellers and press, held at the Hoxton Hotel in Holborn last night (Monday, 20th February).

Publisher Jason Arthur set the tone by railing at journalists present for “not telling the truth – SAD!” - before dropping the Trump communication style to welcome them to the event, promising: “Fiction is not just about escaping the world, but where you find truth”.

Author Nick Harkaway revealed that his upcoming novel Gnomon (October) is one he began writing three years ago about the rise of totalitarianism out of liberalism, and set in a Britain 25 years into the future, premised on total surveillance. Its protagonist is a refusenik novelist, who is arrested and put into interrogation in a machine that reads your thoughts. He called it “a story about grief, loss, love and justice, full of anger and rage about what’s going on right now”, exploring questions of “who will live and who will die.”

Hutchinson publishing director Jocasta Hamilton with author Amor Towles. 

Meanwhile Nicola Barker said her upcoming novel H(A)PPY (July) is set in a “post-post-apocalyptic world" where everything is perfect and the young live without want in a system that is utterly egalitarian – but its protagonist is impelled to tell her own story, and her need to create narrative destroys the system. The book is highly designed, with any excess of emotion represented by a “pinking and purpling” of colour in the text, she said, noting: “It’s very expensive to print books in colour. The look on Jason, my editor’s, face when I told him was a picture.”

Meanwhile US novelist Amor Towles, whose A Gentleman in Moscow (out this month) is set in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, and tells of a man forced to remain within its walls for over 30 years, noted: “In the US readers expect more factual accuracy from a novelist than the president”, pouncing on any minor detail that may have gone astray – by contrast to Trump. Hutchinson publishing director Jocasta Hamilton told The Bookseller that having previously published the author at Sceptre, she bought the new novel on the basis of a single paragraph.

Also talking about their books were Sara Baume, whose A Line Made by Walking (out this month) is named after an artwork by Richard Long; Paula Cocozza, whose How to be Human (April), is a mysterious story of a woman’s obsession with a visiting fox; Annemarie Neary, whose The Orphans (June) tells of two children whose parents one day disappear; and John Niven, who brought the house down with his account of how No Good Deed (June) - plot summary “two dudes meet and some shit happens” - was inspired by a moment he came across an old school friend in the gutter, and thought he was a down-and-out – before realising he was simply a British Telecom engineer at work.

Tara Spinks of Lutyens and Rubinstein bookshop talks to author Nick Harkaway.