Advances in medicine have led to scientists talking about a "cure" for old age, and it is this concept that first-time children's author Gemma Malley explores in her novel, The Declaration.
Malley writes about a world where science enables people to live until they are hundreds of years old. Naturally, the population explodes—and the government's answer is to forbid adults who want to live longer to have children. They sign a declaration to promise to adhere to that rule.
When couples break the declaration, their children are taken away, and this is the fate of the book's central character, Anna. She grows up as one of hundreds of "Surplus" children, taken from their parents to live in a state institution, Grange Hall. There, the Surplus live a meagre existence and are brought up to be useful; they are groomed as servants. Anna is brainwashed into accepting this system until a new boy arrives at Grange Hall under mysterious circumstances and starts to question all the beliefs she has grown up with.
Malley says she decided to write the book after reading a wave of stories about cures for diseases that affect the elderly. "If you 'cure' old age, what happens to children?," she asks. "The need for children goes away. I already feel that we have this great suspicion of teenagers. Then I began to think about the issue from a young person's point of view and that's when the character, Anna, arrived.
"I thought about the kind of world it may create, if everyone was older. When people get older, they become more conservative and resistant to change. They are also more interested in rules—so this future world becomes quite regimented, but because it has happened gradually, people don't really notice it.
"Since people only need to worry about their own future, it makes it a much more selfish world, too. People are very suspicious of the younger generations because they are not 'like us', and they resist new ideas. I worked for the Civil Service for a few years and there was a real culture of 'this is how it's done', and it was very hard to break down those traditions.
"Writing about this kind of world reminded me of an experience I had when I was a teenager, during a school trip to Prague before the Iron Curtain came down. A group of us stepped over a rope in Wenceslas Square to take a photograph of ourselves in front of a statute—the next thing we knew, the police had arrived and arrested us! Our main worry, because it was an exchange programme, was that the teenagers we were exchanging with would be punished because of our mistake. It was quite serious. That sense of losing my freedom was probably at the back of my mind when I started The Declaration.
"The Declaration is not a book that says: 'This is what is going to happen to the world.' It's just taking one idea and showing to the nth degree what could happen, before we all get carried away with the wonderful idea that we could all live forever. I'm often the first to buy anti-ageing cream, but there are long-term implications for living longer."
The Declaration (Bloomsbury, 3rd September, h/b, £10.99, 9780747587750)
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