Guest Post: Why I Write Dystopian Fiction by Emma Pass

After the Hunger Games, dystopia became a trend – a huge trend, with many different stories exploring many different scenarios. But I didn't set out to write dystopian fiction because it was fashionable. I first had the idea that would become ACID when I was fourteen years old. Back then, YA wasn't even a genre (as a reader, I went from to Sweet Valley High and Point Horror straight to adult novels). But as a reader, I'd always been fascinated with what if? I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. The four minute warning was a very real part of everyday life; we even had an assembly about it, and I remember feeling incredibly anxious about the threat of nuclear war, knowing that if the warning went off while I was at school I'd never see my family again. In the midst of all this, aged 9 or so, I read Robert Swindells's Brother in the Land, a post-apocalyptic children's novel about life after a nuclear attack on the UK. About people who survived. Reading it helped soothe my fears somewhat: I began to feel there might be some hope should such a disaster ever occur – if you were one of the lucky ones.

This fascination with books which looked at disaster, survival and hope continued through my teenage years and into my adult life. After graduating from university in 2002, I decided it was time to take my writing seriously. By 2007, I'd signed with an agent, but the novel she took me on with didn't sell. At the time, there were a lot of things on the news about the UK that were making me uneasy: stories about how the Shetland Islands, a group of islands more than 100 miles off the north-east coast of mainland Scotland (and one of the smallest local authorities in Great Britain), had more CCTV cameras per person than the San Francisco Police Department; about shops being able to tag products, allowing them to keep track of where these products went so the stores could monitor their customers' lifestyle habits, and Tesco installing face scanners at petrol stations so that screens could play targeted ads at people. Scary stuff.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I started to wonder what life in the UK would be like if the authorities really did watch everybody all the time. What if they controlled everything about our lives – where we lived, where we worked, who we were in a relationship with, even what we ate? What if they controlled the internet, replacing it with a state-run intranet a bit like North Korea's Kwangmyong network, where everything uploaded onto it is controlled by the authorities? And – most sinister of all – what if the government had been replaced by a police force who were in charge of everything, locking people up for the slightest transgression? This was 2008-9, when the world was in the grips of the financial crisis, so it didn't take much to imagine a situation where the UK government had been ousted after failing to deal with the country's debt, allowing a militia called ACID (the Agency for Crime Investigation and Defence) to take over and isolate the UK, now known as the Independent Republic of Britain, from the rest of the world.

Dystopia might have become a trend, but  - as with most trends, there's a reason for that. Books imagining dark futures speak to us because we want to try and make sense of all the terrible things that are happening around us in the real world, right now, and still feel like there is some hope for the future. Stories that show a heroine or hero fighting the system that oppresses them helps us do this. So while trends in fiction might wax and wane, I think there will always be room for dystopian stories – just like there will always be room for stories in any genre.

BIO: Emma Pass is the award-winning, Carnegie Medal-nominated author of two books for young adults, ACID and The Fearless, published by Penguin Random House. When she's not writing, she runs workshops in schools, libraries and community settings, mentors other writers and has been a writer-in-residence for First Story. She is also the co-founder of the popular Author Allsorts blog and the UKYA and Children's Extravaganza (UKYACX) and lives with her artist husband and her crazy greyhound G-Dog in the East Midlands.

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