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Reshaping The Future: In Conversation with Joss Sheldon

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

by Niall Walker


Joss Sheldon is an author whose radical, imaginative works have inspired a global audience. We spoke to Joss about his work, neoliberalism, and the hope for community in these increasingly isolated times...

Hi Joss. Firstly, thanks for appearing on our site. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your works to date?

I used to work for a football club, but I grew increasingly frustrated by the militarization of that sport; with red poppies on shirts and soldiers paraded at matches. So I did the only thing I could think of; I quit my job and wrote a book, set in World War One, which portrayed peace activists as heroes and soldiers as tools of the establishment.

That book, Involution & Evolution, was based on the true stories of a group of brave conscientious objectors. Whilst the subject matter in my subsequent books has changed, this ethos hasn’t; my novels are all works of fiction, but they’re all based on facts; on real world issues which I try to shape into an accessible and entertaining form.

“Occupied” is based on the occupations of Palestine, Kurdistan and Tibet. “The Little Voice” takes a look at the ways our parents and teachers make us conform to societal expectations. “Money Power Love” tells the story of how bankers came to control the world. “Individutopia” looks at how society has broken down, and we’ve all been forced to compete.

As a writer, what is your goal?

I want to make people think about the world around them, and see it in ways they haven’t seen it before. I want to entertain my readers; to make them smile, scratch their heads, laugh, smile again, and scoff or tut! And of course I want to make a little money; just enough to survive.

Your most recent work, Individutopia, is your first foray in to the realm of dystopia. What do you put the popularity of that genre in modern culture down to?

Occupied also turns a bit dystopian. Starting in a halcyon past, a dystopian future creeps up on the characters so gradually that they don’t perceive the changes around them; accepting the dystopian future they are thrown into without rebelling.

Individutopia starts bang in the future - it’s dystopian from the start.

It’s natural for me, as an author of political fiction, to be drawn to such a genre. Dystopian novels are political after all!

I think the appeal with dystopian novels is that, whilst they’re set in a dark and distant future, they tackle issues which are burning bright around us in the world today. By putting these issues in a dystopian world, we extract them and bring them to the fore; helping people to see them with 20:20 clarity. This is a literary device which, with a good dose of artistic licence, allows us writers to satire society.

I think it appeals to readers, because it helps them to see the world they live in more clearly. It expresses issues they see around them, which they don’t necessarily get the chance to read about elsewhere.

You have said that the book was inspired by Thatcher's infamous 'There is no such thing as society' epigram. What role is this ideology of isolation playing on society today?

Everything! It starts at school, where pupils are told to work hard, compete with their peers, and do better than everyone else at exams. Teamwork has gone. Play has gone. That instinct to share is driven out of us as soon as we step into the classroom.

A new mindset is instilled in us: We can’t cooperate, we have to compete. This stays with us throughout our lives. Doctors now have to compete to reduce the size of their waiting lists, salespeople need to compete to make the most sales, and shop assistants need to compete to get the highest scores on customer feedback forms.

We are supposed to take the money we earn from these jobs, and compete when we spend it; to buy the biggest house, fastest car and flashiest clothes. We still long to create a strong society, it’s hardwired into us, and so we run scout groups or take care of our grandkids, but these things are pushed to the side, unpaid and undervalued. We’re only tend to be rewarded when we compete, by ourselves, operating in isolation.