The cashless society – which more accurately should be called the bank-payments society – is often presented as an inevitability, an outcome of ‘natural progress’. This claim is either naïve or disingenuous. Any future cashless bank-payments society will be the outcome of a deliberate war on cash waged by an alliance of three elite groups with deep interests in seeing it emerge.
I don’t think that the business of having babies and tending the hearth has much to do with the dearth of female travel literature. You can scale down on extreme environments and cart the tots along with you (I did), or take a break to write something else for a few years – biographies of travellers, say. A change of gear can stoke creativity.
Television has a lot to answer for, churning out endless programmes depicting random blokes with beards yomping across the jungle. During the six months I spent in both the Antarctic and the Arctic, I observed that men perceived the landscape as a beast to be beaten into submission, like a mammoth outside the cave.
It was at my first event for Shtum, almost exactly a year ago at Dulwich Books in London, when I first got a taste of the impact the book would have. Almost everyone asked me about autism. It may seem naive but I didn’t expect it. Despite having been a father to a non-verbal autistic son for almost 16 years, I had never had an in-depth conversation with anyone about the subject, apart from solicitors, barristers and doctors.
The event at the bookshop was something of a watershed in my life – and not an altogether comfortable one, for I had never been a joiner. No groups, no clubs, no societies, no Facebook groups, nothing. I had guarded my privacy and opinions. This had nothing to do with shame surrounding my son’s autism – far from it. But it was based on two long-held realisations of my own character: I hated confrontation and felt my opinions were of little value. And when one is crippled by the first, the second feels like pulling teeth. The first has not changed; the wrongness of the second, I am still coming to terms with.
The prolific Scottish novelist Alison Kennedy once observed that while children’s authors can say they “just make things up” because “it’s great fun”, other novelists have to dress up writing as something much more serious. In this, Kennedy’s first book for children, the sense is of an author gleefully letting herself off the leash. From the opening scene in which Bill – a shy, fastidious badger – finds himself trapped inside a bag which smells “as if someone had been crying inside it … and then maybe after that had been sick” and is being carried by someone with “a heart full of nails and sand and nastiness”, we are in a surreal, funny and vividly imagined world.