Clare Carson on Politics and Protagonists
Clare Carson on Politics and ProtagonistsSubmitted by: Emily Zinkin 09 Sep 2015 - 04:09
My dad was an undercover policeman and people often assume he must have objected to my teenage acts of civil disobedience. He didn’t. After I went on a CND march in 1981, a photograph of me waving a placard appeared in a newspaper. I agonised for days, wondering whether to tell him or not. In the end I showed him the photo and he laughed. He laughed about the arrest too. He made a couple of digs of course – he was a cop after all and cops can’t help the banter. But we had our own lives, did our own things, got on with it.
Sam, the narrator of Orkney Twilight, is an eighteen-year-old political activist whose father is an undercover agent. It’s my first novel and I wanted to write the kind of book I wanted to read. I enjoy books with a political edge, particularly old spy thrillers, but they often have a weakness - their female characters are marginal. Fictional women are allowed to behave in all sorts of ways these days – bad mothering, cheating on their partners, enjoying a bit of sado-masochism – but they are rarely allowed to be involved in politics. So it seemed obvious to me when I started writing a novel that my main character should be a girl who was politically engaged.
Orkney Twilight is set in 1984 and the politics of that era were as much about our ideals, campaigns and protests as about Westminster. Unions, nuclear weapons, Thatcherism, feminism – these issues loomed large in our lives and were the subjects of passionate argument. Or at least they were among my friends and me.
Sam’s background draws on my years of political activism in the early eighties. I was sixteen when I went on my first CND demonstration. At school we arranged for The War Game - a banned film about nuclear war –to be shown. I went to peace camps at Greenham Common and Upper Heyford – protests outside airbases where American nuclear missiles were stored. More marches followed – for the miners, against apartheid and the National Front.
The friendships were always as important to me as the politics. In 1983 I was arrested, along with a couple of hundred other people, when we refused to move from outside the gates of Upper Heyford. We were locked in a community centre for the afternoon while the plods did their one-finger typing of the charge sheets. It was fine, as I recall – mainly because I wasn’t alone, but stuck in a room with my mates.
Orkney Twilight involves Sam, a teenage political activist, a friend and her dad, an undercover cop, in a chase across Britain in 1984. At one point, Sam finds a hole in the fence around Greenham Common and crawls through to the other side. Some people might think it’s another example of a woman behaving badly, but I disagree. In fiction and in fact, women should crawl through the holes in the fences to the places where it’s difficult to go.