Author Reading: Kenneth McCloud – ‘The Incident’

The English Department of Royal Holloway, University of London hosts a number of events during the academic year which feature authors reading from and talking about their most recent novel. These ‘Lunch Time Readings’ are reasonably well attended by both English students and members of staff. Last year Sir Andrew Motion read from his novel ‘Silver’ to a crowded lecture theatre.

In November the guest author was Kenneth McCloud reading from his debut novel ‘The Incident’. This novel is interesting in that it is framed around one day in the life of a young lifeguard in Germany. Within this frame three interlinked stories are told: the lifeguard (present day, in the context of the novel), the grandfather and his World War Two experiences, and Gerd a refugee from the Cold War.

Each of the stories features the sea, which McCloud explained was a unifying symbol representing the human condition. This made me think about the way crystals and their symbiotic relationship with my characters are a constant presence in my writing. There are issues around co-existence, mutual dependency and the subtle on-going battle for dominance.

McCloud used his experience working as a lifeguard in Germany, and as a tour guide in Berlin to inform his novel. The fact that his grandfather’s ship was torpedoed in the World War II, and that one of his friends was tortured in the prison featured in the book, were also a factors. There is that adage ‘write what you know’, which for this author certainly seems to apply. He did however make the point that he writes reality as close as possible to the truth, but it is fiction and so feels that he can write what he likes. To illustrate that point he admitted that he changed historical reality in his book, sending one of his characters to a German prisoner-of-war camp in North Africa, even though there were no such camps after World War I.

What does this mean for me as a writer of SF? Well, it is certainly fiction, and I do write what I like, inventing new life forms and cultures. That said, I also spend a fair proportion of my time researching subjects such as the feasibility of mining asteroid belts, the latest thinking on achieving faster-than-light travel, and the psychological effects of isolation and abuse. Writing in the SF genre can be hard work, but it is also so much fun! Why write anything else?

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