The Wind in The Pylons
Background Notes continued
GLJ: “The Mole represents one other thing as well: true, conflict-free simplicity.
I had to expand Grahame’s Mole just a little here, and solved the problem, I hope, by starting the story five years after The Wind In The Willows was first published. It allows the character to be – all things are relative – that little bit more experienced. He is more of a countryman – he has his own small but productive vegetable garden – and I thought of him in terms of an old-style landworker. He looks at the depleted modern countryside with that kind of knowledge. He knows about the soil. It’s no coincidence that the animal he has most empathy with is a Harvest Mouse (Volume Two again): they talk the same kind of language.”
In a society where the Bermuda mansion, the yacht and the Ferraris are the highest points of human aspiration, The Wind In The Pylons raises what is surely the most important question of all for our future well-being: how much is ‘enough’? Or as the Mole himself puts it with characteristic simplicity a propos the Babylonian displays of wealth he sees and hears about: “But does it make you happy?”
“It’s the crucial issue, isn’t it?
We have to change. It isn’t simply that we need to consume less. We should also grasp that when we do – and consuming differently is also part of the picture – we may be much happier. The Mole gets more pleasure out of his humble hole, his few sticks of furniture and his little garden than most billionaires do from their liveried yachts, and again here I am extrapolating partly from Grahame, who had an acute idea of the pleasures of simplicity, for all that he rose to be Secretary of the Bank of England.
“But while Grahame experimented – on bank holidays – with the life of the road and the ‘loafer’ (he wrote one droll little piece under the title, “Loafing”), it was Thoreau who lived out a rather more hardworking version of the idea, seven days a week, growing beans next to Walden Pond and keeping his accounts on them, sixty-odd years before Grahame wrote his book. And though there have been countless influences on ‘Pylons’, Thoreau is probably the first to mention.
“’Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million, count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.’
Not a bad message, is it, for today’s over-reaching cut-throat multinationals? And the fact that he was an American is also significant, because if things are to change, then it’s almost certainly down to the Americans to rediscover the value of simplicity first and make it work afresh. Thoreau wasn’t a flash in the pan: he was the thinking part of a settler culture, and during the twentieth century many other Americans followed the same route as him. Try reading Amory Lovins’ “Natural Capitalism”: all that it describes in the way of lateral experiments in minimising energy and resource consumption has been happening very recently, in America.”
Buried deep in the fabric of The Wind In The Pylons lies the book’s most challenging single idea: that economic growth may not be worthy, or even worthwhile, as an end in itself, and that the ‘best’ of what we have made through it here in Britain is itself a kind of hell. Is there anyone who positively enjoys motorway driving (its relentless grey tedium is unforgettably evoked in the book) or the high-rise workplace? Isn’t there something really rather grim about the
airless, wall-to-wall carpeted suburban home? The final implication of this book – subversive in the best sense of the word – is that any civilisation genuinely seeking the happiness of its people would be following a wholly different route from that of economic growth before all else, and that ‘wealth’ defined so narrowly in terms of ownership and consumption is no wealth worth having.
The Wind In The Pylons is not simply a satire.
Alongside critique, the book engages in what amounts to an extended dialogue with the author of The Wind In The Willows, appropriating the Edwardian writer’s interest in Pan – very much a thing of its age – to its own ends.
“So far as I was concerned,” says GLJ, “the world of Grahame’s book is - can be seen as – a very parochial, very English picture of an earthly paradise.
His characters read to me as ‘little adults’, but live in a space where they can have friendships every bit as strong and uncomplicated as if they were still children – a space so untainted by real threatening evil or loss that the lucky ones can come face to face with their own god. And Pan is, of course – in Grahame’s eyes and mine – a god of nature: the ‘god of diversity’ is the phrase I hit on. In my story the Mole wanders out from this perfect place and spends a lot of his time in the fallen world of the future looking in vain for a substitute.”
A Mythology In Two Volumes
The Wind In The Pylons is published in two volumes. Volume one, to be published on October 1st 2003, covers Part One of the book, in which Mole emerges into a nightmare scenario and tries to come to terms with it.
Volume Two, covering Parts Two and Three, as Mole continues his adventure, is already nearly complete and is due for publication in 2004/5.
The Role of Hilltop
It may seem strange that a book with the potential to
create the kind of special interest levels of, for example, Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” should be published by a small independent in the wilds of Buckinghamshire, whose only other foray into adult fiction has been “Libidan” by PJ Goddard – a modern tale of the pharmaceutical industry.
However, there are similarities between the two books, which are what drew the author to the organisation in the first place.
Both are relatively easy-read comedies on one level, but both are also cautionary tales of the overweaning power of the major multinational conglomerates at another.
As author Gareth Lovett Jones puts it, “Hilltop Publishing represents the kind of grass-roots organisation which this book so clearly stands for. I did have some initial interest from Random House, but quite honestly, the idea of publishing such a book through a major multinational conglomerate would have been the
supreme irony. Hilltop’s owners actually belong to many of the pressure groups where I would expect this book to appeal (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, World Wildlife Fund); they subscribe to publications where these issues are most likely to be discussed; all in all, they are sympathetic to the cause on a practical level.
“Of course, it also means the book will have to sell by word of mouth, since there is no large promotional budget available, but again, it would have been
hypocritical to create a massive promotional campaign for a book that abhors the very idea of such things. The book expresses doubts and anxieties now felt to some degree by every thinking person – not simply those in the front-line at anti-globalisation or environmental protests, but anyone who feels misgivings when, for example, they see a jet plane shuddering by above them, or they pull the plug and watch yet another batch of dilute washing-up liquid go down the drain.
If the book is working as I mean it to, then such people may find their way to it through a process inconceivable to any Marketing Department. It’s called personal recommendation.
We are very keen to hear your views about the book, once you have read it.
If you can, do take the time to let us have your own critique of it – even if you don’t like it (we are realistic enough to know you can’t please all the people all the time): use the e-mail or snail mail address below to share your views. Or the message board on our web-site.
Journalists: please use the same channels to arrange author interviews.
A select glossary of specialist terms used in the book can be viewed/printed
in a new window click here.
Catherine or David Croydon
Hilltop Publishing Ltd
PO Box 429