British horror and fantasy author Angeline Trevena‘s debut novella Cutting the Bloodline (released on May 12th) was originally written as a stage play. An adult dystopian thriller, it follows magazine journalist Kenton Hicks as he sets out to change the world. In a future Britain where people are tested for the criminal gene, where carriers are outcast, and babies testing positive are aborted, Kenton simply wants to gather the stories of those who have suffered. However, as his book gathers pace, and he investigates further, he finds that the crime free-utopia they enjoy was sold to them on a lie.
Angeline joins us today to talk process, dystopia, and whether or not human beings can fundamentally change – weighty stuff, indeed.
HORROR WORLD: What can you tell us about Cutting the Bloodline and its inspiration? What can readers expect to find in this brave new world?
Angeline Trevena: Cutting the Bloodline is set in Britain 2052, where the majority of the populace enjoy living in a crime-free society. This ideal world has been created after the discovery of the gene responsible for causing criminal behaviour. The whole story came from an article I read about the possible discovery of this gene, and I began wondering what the consequences of such a discovery would be.
My version of Britain has been pushed to the brink of collapse with soaring unemployment and poverty, and a hugely increased wealth gap, all of which led to an explosion of criminal behaviour. A very desperate society were ready to accept any kind of salvation, and they weren’t interested in asking too many questions.
HW: While the world of Cutting the Bloodline is certainly different from our own, but what is it to you that makes it “dystopian”? What is it about this kind of story that attracts readers?
AT: While this is set in a crime-free society, the benefits of it are masking the sinister and terrifying consequences, the brunt of which are born by women.
By the time the story is set, the government have passed the Abortion Bill, which sees babies tested in the womb, and enforced abortions for those carrying the criminal gene. While the trauma is all too real for the fathers, the women have the added pressure of society’s judgement. It’s widely considered that a woman carrying a genetic positive baby has done something wrong, despite the fact that the gene may well have come from the father. They suffer the physical trauma of the abortion, without counselling or proper aftercare, with many abortions being rushed, or happening late in the pregnancy. As the story unravels, we find that the burden women carry in this society, is even heavier than anyone realises, with all sorts of consequences that are carefully hidden from the public.
I think dystopian fiction particularly appeals to readers when it’s a believable future, when it feels like a possible progression from where our society is today. With today’s political landscape, and societal gender bias, I think Cutting the Bloodline portrays a future which is scarily possible.
HW: I’m fascinated that Cutting the Bloodline started life as a stageplay. Other than just the format, what changes did it undergo in taking on this final form? Are there any performative elements that you think stayed with it and particularly informed the final prose?
AT: I quite literally used the original script as my outline, which meant that, while I had the dialogue and characters in place, their settings needed to be created around them. The first draft needed to be fleshed out with description; of the characters, the settings, and the action. By the third draft, I was still adding to the world around the dialogue. The story itself hasn’t changed much, but the timeline has. I needed to break up a lot of the longer scenes, and slow down the progression of the relationships. Previously, everything in the story had been revealed through dialogue, and I moved a lot of that into action and description.
Whenever I write, I always do so with miniature imaginary characters performing on the desk in front of me. My brain’s still hard-wired for theatre, and Cutting the Bloodline retains the strong dialogue that leads the story. It’s still quite dialogue-heavy, and there are only a few settings, a small cast, and no requirement for big special effects, so it’s still a very performable story.
HW: Where do you see your own literary influences surfacing in Cutting the Bloodline? Given the topical themes and the political and ethical considerations underlying the story’s basic premise, what other influences – outside of other fiction writers – did you find influencing you as you worked?
AT: With the real-life UK facing another five years of austerity measures after the recent General Election, this book has turned out to be very timely. I’ve always been politically minded, and while I originally wrote the story five years ago, the re-writing has been heavily influenced by what I’ve seen happening in our country’s politics in recent years, and where I see it going in the future.
I previously worked within the justice system for several years, so the idea of the existence of a criminal gene is one I was keen to explore. I’m very much a believer that we are entirely responsible for our own actions, that our choices are our own. Of course, there are outside influences that can be powerful, traumatic, compelling, and while they can offer an understanding of someone’s actions, I don’t think they can be an excuse for them.
In recent years I’ve become aware of feminism in a way I never was before. Through the rise in social networking, and the influence of people around me, it amazes me that so much hatred is unleashed upon people simply because they want to be treated as equal humans. And this goes for any minority, or perceived minority. I can’t understand why it’s so difficult for us, as humans, to view other humans as human, and treat them as such.
HW: What lessons did you learn while writing Cutting the Bloodline? Taking that into consideration, what advice can you give other authors who are reading this?
AT: Cutting the Bloodline has been such a huge learning experience. This was pretty much my experiment to see if I could self publish. I’ve even learnt how to code an ebook (who knew my misspent youth creating a MySpace profile would come in handy!) Of course, I’ll never know it all. Just like writing, there’s always more to learn, and ways to improve. But there is so much experience, knowledge, and support out there for the taking. I’ve lost count of how many podcasts, blog posts, and articles I’ve consumed.
Excuse the tired metaphor, but self publishing is a lifelong journey, and there are several people ahead of you on that road. You only have to ask, and people will walk with you for while, and help you out with your journey. It’s amazing how supportive the online writing community is. Just remember, there’s a lot of people behind you on that road too. Always repay the kindness that’s shown to you by helping someone else out.
HW: Do you think that good and evil are (or can be) innate characteristics? More than just a moral quandary of ‘Can we accurately judge one from the other,’ do you believe that a person could be inherently one or the other?
AT: No. And I have to say no, because I have to believe that we can change as people. I said before that I worked in the justice system, and I met people from all walks of life there, with a million different stories, and the one thing that, universally, had brought them to where they were, and that determined their future, was their attitude. That’s not something you’re born with.
You can throw two different people into an identical, and desperate situation, and they’ll handle it differently. Is that in their genetics? I really don’t think it is. Because people can always surprise you, and you can even surprise yourself. We all have the person we wish we were, and there’s nothing stopping us from striving to become that.
HW: What would be your personal utopia? Dystopia? Prediction for most-likely-topia?
AT: You know, when the world didn’t end on 21st December 2012, I actually found myself a little disappointed. Not that I expected us to all instantaneously disappear from existence, but something that shook everything up would have been interesting. I have this dream that, one day, people will return to living off the land. The technology we’ve become so reliant on is actually much more fragile than we like to think. One big solar flare could knock out those satellites, and goodbye world as we know it.
Of course, I wouldn’t last five days. I’m not practical, I have very little initiative. I couldn’t scavenge, or make a shelter, or a raft, or anything. But I’d love to see humans return to a place where they need to be more intuitive, more in tune with the earth. But one man’s utopia, will always be another man’s dystopia.
Unfortunately, I think the most likely outcome is that we will be our own destruction. We’ll simply run out of things to consume.
HW: What’s next for you? Not just what are you writing now, but what are you thinking about (or thinking about thinking about) writing? Give us something concrete and something tantalizing, please!
AT: Now I know I can do it, the self publishing world better watch out! I have another stage play I might transform into a book, a collection of fantasy short stories about romances that simply can’t happen.
But my next project is a series of dystopian stories. They’ll be set in the same city, with each focussing on a new character. The first will be “The Bottle Stopper,” a story I’ve unsuccessfully tried to write so many times, but this time, I know what needs to change so that I can finally get it out of me. It’s the story of a young woman who puts a lethal plan in action to escape her abusive uncle.
Angeline Trevena was born and bred in a rural corner of Devon, but now lives among the breweries and canals of central England. She is a horror and fantasy writer, poet and journalist. Cutting the Bloodline is her debut novella, and she has several short stories published in various anthologies and magazines. In 2003 she graduated from Edge Hill University, Lancashire, with a BA Hons degree in Drama and Writing. During this time she decided that her future lay in writing words rather than performing them.
The most unlikely of horror writers, Angeline is scared of just about everything, and still can’t sleep in a fully dark room. She goes weak at the sight of blood, can’t share a room with a spider, but does have a streak of evil in her somewhere. Some years ago she worked at an antique auction house and religiously checked every wardrobe that came in to see if Narnia was in the back of it. She’s still not given up looking for it.
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