With Brexit grinding on and President Trump in the White House, some people might argue we’re already living in a dystopia, so why write a dystopian novel?
I began work on Psychotopia in 2016. We were in the middle of the Brexit campaign. Remember the lies on the side of the bus? The moment blatant, shameless lies became legitimate political strategy. And a man who had been taped boasting about committing sexual assault was running for president.
The mood of uncertainty and the sense that the existing political order was being overturned weighed heavily on me. But my original idea had not been to write a dystopian novel at all. I was simply interested in writing a story told from the point of view of a psychopath.
As I got deeper into my research, another, bigger idea came to me. The thought of a single psychopath is frightening enough. But what about a world in which the number of psychopaths is getting close to – and will soon exceed – the number of non-psychopaths.
I tried to imagine a society on the verge of reaching that tipping point.
What happens when the number of psychopaths is close to the number of non-psychopaths?
Will politicians have to start formulating their policies to appeal to psychopaths? Will psychopaths end up being in charge?
My original idea, of a story told from the point of view of a psychopath, was still in there (though it ended up being a bit more complex and ambiguous than that). But by setting it in a society where psychopaths are becoming more dominant, I think it became a much more interesting and disturbing idea.
Of course, events in real life have moved quickly since I wrote the book.
Trump may not be a psychopath, but he is certainly a narcissist. And narcissism is one of the key traits of psychopaths.
In 2016, when I started writing the book, it seemed unimaginable that he would win the vote. When you write a dystopian novel, that’s what you try to do: imagine the unimaginable.
Now I just sit back and watch it unfold.