Posted by Literary Titan
I Spy with My Little Eye analyses and discusses our changing behaviours as a society. Why was this an important book for you to write?
This book was important for me to write for three different reasons. First, on a personal level, researching and writing this book has helped me think through a number of concerns that have been in the back of my mind for a while about the direction in which our society is heading. As a result of this process, I’m more convinced than ever that I, as a parent, need to make active choices that go against some of today’s societal trends if I’m to provide my children with a sensible worldview and a solid starting point in life.
Second, I find it worrying that there isn’t greater debate about the values and norms underpinning our society. I think we need to acknowledge and perhaps rethink many of our behaviours if we wish to solve some of the symptoms of ill-health that are plaguing our societies, such as stress and anxiety, financial indebtedness and shallow aspirations. It’s difficult to change course if we don’t know where we’re heading. Acknowledging the problems is therefore a good start. I raise a lot of issues for discussion in this book and it’s my hope that it will be used for spurring debates in schools, book clubs and other places.
Finally, as I see it, questions around morality have too often been outsourced to, and monopolized by, organized religion. What I want to show by using the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues is that being religious is not a precondition for being concerned about, and engaging in discussions around, morality.
This book uses a combination of statistics, quotes and recent topics to illustrate various points. I thought the research was outstanding. What was one thing that surprised you while you were researching this book?
On the whole, the data I used in the various chapters supported the hunches I already had about the issues I raise. In that sense I wasn’t particularly surprised by what the data showed. That said, I was still horrified to have my suspicions confirmed, especially when it came to statistics concerning children, such as the large amount of time they, on average, spend in front of screens, and the little time they spend outdoors.
This book looks at some of the problems affecting Britain s society today. Is there a problem that is unique to Britain? What is a problem that is shares with the world?
Although I’m drawing on material mainly from the British context, the issues I’m discussing are applicable to many more countries than the UK. I would argue that much of what I write about are trends found across the Western world. For example, in the first chapter titled Pride I discuss how today’s ‘celebritisation’ – the increased celebration of celebrities – affects the aspirations of young people towards careers that come with fame and glamour. This trend is far from unique to Britain. Seeing, for example, that the reality TV series Keeping Up with the Kardashians is apparently aired in 167 countries, I would say this issue is rather widespread.
Also, the role of the West as a predominant exporter of popular culture and information means that the norms and values we experience today in Britain may well be the norms and values experienced across the developing world in the years to come, if they aren’t already.
I think it would be a worth-while exercise to organize cross-cultural debates around the issues I raise in this book. For example, it would be interesting to set up panel debates at universities for students from different countries to discuss commonalities and differences in how they perceive values and norms playing out in their respective societies.
I understand that you currently live in London, but you’ve also lived in various other countries. How has this affected you as a citizen?
I was born and raised in the Northern Swedish countryside and I have moved many times as an adult, both within countries and across countries and continents. For over a decade now I’ve called England my home; starting off in London, moving out to the Essex commuter belt, and more recently setting up shop in rural Devon.
These moves have naturally altered the mirrors in which I see myself in relation to other people and cultures. Each time these contextual mirrors have changed I have had to step out of autopilot mode and take stock. In that sense, I think the many moves have made me wiser and more understanding as a person. They have also added a comparative perspective to my societal observations. For example, I think I have a better grasp of American politics because I’ve lived in both Montana and Washington D.C. And, I think I understand European geopolitics better because I’ve called Sweden, France, Spain and the UK my home.
On the other hand, I would probably have exercised a louder societal and political voice if I had stayed in my home country. Being an immigrant comes with a natural wish to blend in, and to be accepted. Especially after Brexit, I have sadly found myself adding things like ‘my husband is British’ or ‘I’ve been in England for many years’ when I meet new people simply to justify my existence in this country. I must also admit that I’ve had a fear when writing this book that people will think ‘who are you to come here and judge us?’ I sincerely hope the book won’t evoke such feelings.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
In my next book I highlight the Western world’s evaporated trust in politics, business, and international institutions and argue that we need to tackle this lack of trust through greater focus on integrity and honesty in public life. I shed light on a number of the mechanisms believed to induce integrity through interesting (and hopefully amusing) cases from around the world, including whether Donald Trump’s fibbing can be stopped by naming and shaming, and if FIFA’s culture of corruption is finally an issue of the past. My intention with the book is to re-package academic research into an approachable format and let interesting cases bring the theories to life.
The book is only in its research phase so it won’t be ready for publishing for quite a while still.
Which direction is our society heading in? Does it provide a good enough nurturing ground for the next generation to flourish? Is it time we took a good look at our values and behaviour and changed course? Dr Linnea Mills offers a frank discussion about the prevailing norms and values in today’s Britain, interpreted through the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues. She tackles head-on topics as diverse as celebrity culture, work-life balance, immigration politics and economic divisions. This is a book for anyone with a keen interest in society, philosophy and politics. Get inspired and join the debate.
Posted in Interviews
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Posted by Literary Titan
Mervyn vs. Dennis is one of the funnest books I’ve read this year. Mervyn struggles with keeping his strange and intrusive boss out of his personal life. What was the inspiration for the relationship between Mervyn and Dennis?
Most of us have made a friend that we later regretted. I wanted to take that idea to its furthest extreme. Likewise, unless you’ve never worked or been extremely lucky, you’ve probably had a boss who made your life a living hell. Both of these situations are familiar comedy tropes but I wanted to combine them into something fresh. In both personality and outlook, Mervyn and Dennis couldn’t be more different. Mervyn is liberal and open-minded whereas Dennis is bigoted and mean-spirited. I wanted to explore whether two such disparate men could ever reconcile their differences or if they’d clash until the bitter end. During the writing process, this was something I was careful not to over-plan. I had some ideas of how their relationship would end up but I wanted it to evolve organically just like a real friendship or enmity.
What I liked about this story is that Mervyn is just trying to make it through life like many people. When you were building Mervyn’s character and background what was one thing you hoped came through in the end?
I wanted Mervyn to be likable, despite his flaws. Mervyn is extremely skilled at getting himself into embarrassing situations but I always wanted the reader to be on his side. Although he has moments of irrationality, I was careful to make his actions believable. Whether he makes the right choices is up to the reader but I wanted those choices to make sense, no matter how poor they might be. Mervyn has roots in picaresque fiction, British comic literature and modern sitcoms. He’s slightly too unhinged to be an everyman character but hopefully he’s relatable enough for the reader to become invested in his story. Comic novels, by their nature, tend to have eccentric characters. Sometimes this results in shallow personalities and caricatures but I wanted all the characters in my book to have believability and depth, especially Mervyn himself.
When Mervyn firsts meets Dennis he pretends to be racist so they can connect. Why did you choose that as the catalyst that propels their relationship?
Mervyn pretending to be racist is set up as a joke but nearly every event in the story is caused by that initial lie. Dennis is emboldened by Mervyn’s faux racism, showing how even a careless racist joke can cause a butterfly effect. Likewise, when Mervyn brings a swastika mug to work in an attempt to shock, it inspires Dennis to do something even more extreme. Although the novel is primarily a comedy, I wanted to explore the causes and consequences of prejudice. Alongside this, however, I was careful to avoid having a didactic message. It’s fairly common knowledge that racism sucks. People do need reminding sometimes but they don’t need it spelled out. What interested me most were the roots of Dennis’s hatred and the depths of his denial. In the wake of Brexit in the UK and the shadow of Trump in the US, racism is unfortunately topical right now, and there’s never been a more crucial time, in my life at least, to take a stand against it.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will that be published?
I’m currently rewriting three of my earlier novels. First off, there’s Grand Theft Octo, another comedy. It’s more satirical than Mervyn vs. Dennis, with less overt social commentary. It’s the story of Jonathan Doe, an entrepreneur of businesses the world has never seen including freelance taxidermy and (you better believe it) octopus teasing. Originally a 140,000 word epic, I’m on target to trim it by at least half. Next up, there’s The Papyrus Empire and its sequel The Black King. They’re dark thrillers that kick off a series about a global secret society. I’m hoping to have Grand Theft Octo ready in the next few months with The Papyrus Empire to follow. To keep up to date, please join my mailing list.
Deep in debt, Mervyn Kirby gets a job he doesn’t want by pretending to be racist. His new boss Dennis Lane thinks he’s found a kindred spirit. When Mervyn confesses he’s not really racist, Dennis thinks it’s just part of the act. Day by day, to Mervyn’s horror, Dennis worms his way into Mervyn’s private life. Despite his fears, Mervyn is torn: his new job pays well but he despises Dennis and everything he stands for. How far will Mervyn go to free himself? How far will Dennis go to become friends? Will they settle their differences or end up killing each other? And why are so many shifty people carrying pineapples around town?
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