Today, 5 November 2015, marks another milestone in my journey to publication – the so-called cover reveal. The good folk at Hodder & Stoughton just unveiled the front cover design for my debut novel, Sockpuppet:
Seeing this image, you'd be forgiven for thinking my book is some kind of response to the recent shenanigans involving David Cameron and – you know – a dead pig’s head. (A dead pig's alleged head, I should say.) But you’d be wrong. There's no connection, though my book does seem to have experienced more than its share of pig-related coincidences in the past few weeks.
In Sockpuppet, hacktivist protesters don cartoon pig masks to fight back against the government and corporations that are sucking up our data and tearing away the last shred of privacy from our ever-more-surveilled world. The inspiration for this fictional protest movement was the real-life Anonymous collective and their iconic Guy Fawkes masks – which were in turn inspired by Alan Moore's V For Vendetta. My protesters, who call themselves TakeBackID, are provoked into action by a series of damning political leaks that, for reasons too complicated to go into here, become known as ‘pig-gate' – and hence their choice of pig masks as an emblem.
All of which should help explain Ben Summers' striking cover design, which brilliantly plays on this pig-mask motif to convey one of the book's main themes - the slipperiness of online identity.
By the end of September this design, and the edited manuscript, were both complete and I was already working on book 2. At which point, as you may have noticed if you have any access to the UK media, pigs suddenly began to take on a whole new significance in the context of political protest. I watched in amazement as a thousand pig-memes bloomed on Twitter, and laughed out loud when people started calling this cooked-up scandal #piggate – in a direct echo of my book. Then came the coup de grace. As Cameron's Conservative Party began their annual conference in Manchester, the anti-austerity group The People's Assembly produced a cut-out pig mask for protesters to wear. A mask that looked oddly familiar:
Reality was starting to blur with fiction. Which is why I felt the need to write this post and state for the record: my book has nothing whatever to do with where our Prime Minister did or did not put his – ahem – parliamentary privilege while at university. No pigs were harmed in the making of Sockpuppet.
So that's the story of how my book began to bleed into real life before it was even published. At the very least it's given me a fun anecdote to share when Sockpuppet hits the shops next May – but it's also made me hopeful that, in writing the book, I've managed to capture something truthful about our crazy contemporary culture. About the way these social media flurries flare up and balloon – and the powerful effect they can have on the real world, and on real lives. Of course, Sockpuppet isn't the only work of fiction to contain a weird foreshadowing of the #piggate affair. Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror had a very different – and very dark – take on a Prime Minister's intimate relations with an even-toed ungulate. But when reality starts throwing back echoes of a fictional world you've created, you sit up and notice; and wonder whether somebody's trying to tell you that you've touched on something important. Which is why I now feel the #piggate malarkey has added an extra unintended twist to my novel, and to the awesome design work of the team at Hodder.