What do you do when your love affair with Europe comes to an undignified end?
On 24th June 2016, Mike McCarthy wakes up to the news that Britain has voted to leave the EU. A committed European, he is shattered. Over the coming weeks and months, he takes a long, hard look at himself, determined to uncover the reasons why this travesty has occurred, scrutinising the faces of everyone he meets for those he believes may have voted in or out.
As he tries to cope with the looming horror of Brexit, Mike fondly recalls his visits to Europe as a young man, the relationships he formed and how these have moulded his pan-European outlook.
Digging too deeply into issues has always been his problem. Mike begins to question the views he holds so dear and discovers new things about those closest to him. As McCarthy staggers on from The Referendum to the unthinkable triggering of Article 50, he finds himself plunged himself into a different world of social comment and political media. As the strategy for Brexit emerges, he wonders where his future lies and questions his commitment to a cause that may yet plunge his and Britain’s hopes and dreams into the abyss.
Brexit has been called ‘one of the great issues of our times.’ I would go further and say it is the single most important issue of our times for the United Kingdom. Its influence has spread across the Atlantic where it influenced the outcome of last year’s presidential election, Europe, where it has influenced national elections in Austria, The Netherlands and France and across the world where the overriding sentiment is shock. It counts among its victims one Prime Minister and as I write, perhaps another. At the present time, much academic research is being undertaken across the world into the reasons, effects and outcomes of Britain voting to leave the European Union. ‘Brexit’ is the most searched for word on social media and hardly a day goes by when I do not hear the word in some context or other. Brexit is quite simply, a phenomenon.
For several years I had wanted to write a book about British culture. Plenty of words had been written on the subject, the clear majority, academic works. This determined me to write a novel. The problem with writing a ‘cultural’ novel was having a catalyst, a central tent-pole to hang a narrative from. Without a major, central theme a cultural novel could fall flat. It wouldn’t be an impossible task, but I felt I needed a catalyst to be able to complete the work to my satisfaction. Brexit gave me my chance. One such novel of the 20th Century that I had admired was George Orwell’s 1939 book Coming Up for Air. Considered today to be a major cultural achievement and by many critics the writer’s finest novel the work centres around one man, his family, relationships, politics and life history. Although nostalgia is a significant theme the overriding force in the work is the pending Second World War.
Coming Up for Air is a work of its time, a time for most people long gone; a time superseded by several diverse cultural shifts and social earthquakes. Catch 52: An everyman’s tale of surviving in a post-brexit world is also a work of its time and like Orwell’s book it revolves around one man (McCarthy) his family, relationships, politics and life history. Nostalgia is an important theme and Brexit is the central issue that the narrative is built upon. At that point, any further influence is quickly dissipated.
I didn’t wake up on 24th June last year and decide to write a book about Brexit. However, the idea evolved over the next couple of months. Ideas floated around in my mind and finally came to fruition in late August whilst on holiday in Greece. I have always been inspired by travel and may well look back to that family holiday as the spark to a different career. The ideas and themes were starting to overflow so I bought a notebook, a couple of pens and got started. I had previously kept logs and journals whilst travelling but never written a work of fiction before. In the small Greek resort, there were many different nationalities and British Ex-Pats and I sought their opinions and comments. Most people I spoke to thought it the most natural thing in the world to write a book about Brexit.
What makes Brexit controversial has been its ability to divide and polarise a country. The final voting figures in the referendum 52-48 (Which inspired the book’s title) was an early pointer to something that divided families, friends, colleagues and the different generations. It shocked because the result was unexpected by most and one year on our country is once again going through another shock. A General Election, called in the name of Brexit has back-fired spectacularly on the sitting Prime Minister and could lead to her political downfall. I’m wondering how many more scalps this phenomenon will take over the next few years.
I have mentioned the fact that much serious academic work is currently being undertaken about Brexit and this is clearly understandable. I expect that other writers will also embark upon works of Brexit fiction. Who knows… Perhaps a new literary genre, Brexit Fiction will come into being. I suppose the timing of the writing is important here. My book deals with a period from June 24th, 2016, the day the result of the Referendum was announced to Easter 2017 and the triggering of Article 50. In the brief period since Easter 2017 we have had a ground-breaking French General Election, won by a candidate that a year ago was largely unheard of on a pro-European, ant-Brexit ticket and now, a British ‘Brexit’ election that one senior political journalist has called ‘The Revenge of the Remainers.’ What we are seeing is the commencement of the backlash against Brexit. How things develop will no-doubt continue to send shock-waves around the planet.
Brexit and all its political, cultural and social fallout will be with us for many years to come. It should provide fertile ground for writers of all persuasion.
After three decades of serving as a police officer in the inner-city areas of Liverpool, P.G. Ronane retired and decided to go back to school, run for office and travel the European continent. Now 61, he is an education manager living in Wirral with his family. This is his first book.
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