If you’re a fan of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, then you’ll know there’s no shortage of possibilities as to how civilisation might one day pull the trigger on itself.
Nuclear disaster, plague, war, freak weather, something big from outer space crashing into Earth – and if you’re up for the supernatural too, then what about aliens, zombies and vampires?
But there’s another trigger for the end of all things. One that perhaps isn’t explored as much in film and literature – probably ‘cos it’s too close to the bone.
It’s the apocalypse that begins at home. That is, destruction from within our own communities.
Riots, riots, riots.
Just like what happened in London, back in 2011.
The London Riots
There are some out there who’ll tell you that Mark Duggan’s death was the cause of the London riots. In case you don’t know, 29-year-old Duggan was shot by police in Tottenham, North London, on August 4th 2011. The details of Duggan’s last moments on Earth are sketchy, which made the circumstances of his death all the more controversial as some people wondered whether the police actually had to shoot him that day. There’s a lot of info on this, so if you’re curious, here’s a short video with more on Duggan’s shooting.
But Duggan’s death wasn’t the real reason that people took to the streets in August 2011. That goes way beyond the reach of a short blog post, but this much is certain – Mark Duggan’s death and the subsequent protest outside Tottenham police station two day later were inciting incidents – the sparks, but they were not the root cause.
It was just a bunch of yobs, thugs, vandals etc. That’s what most people will say, and then they’ll leave it at that.
But it was more. We’re talking big picture here. It was more than just simple opportunism and the prospect of breaking into JJB Sports for a pair of fancy footwear. A lingering frustration had been building up in these inner-city communities for many years. After all, people don’t just wake up one day and suddenly decide to trash their own neighbourhood.
One social commentator who was based in Brixton, South London, described these communities as ‘pressure cookers’.
Others spoke of a longstanding resentment about the number of stop and searches conducted against black youths.
In many inner-city communities, local facilities were being shut down at an alarming rate, and whether or not you think the London rioters would otherwise have been playing ping-pong in youth clubs doesn’t matter. By consistently closing down local facilities, the government are sending a message to the people who live in these areas. And the message is this – they don’t care about you. You simply don’t matter.
I’m not saying that there wasn’t opportunism and that the rioters were all working-class heroes fighting against the man. Of course there were yobs, thugs, and scumbags aplenty during the London riots. But you cannot leave it there, not if you’re truly searching for the ‘why?’
Anyway, I’m not here to dissect the sociology and the politics. That’s a book you’re looking for. If you’re interested in exploring the ‘whys’ surrounding the London riots, here are a couple of books I found useful while doing my own research for ‘L-2011’:
Mad Mobs and Englishmen? Myths and Realities of the 2011 riots – here.
Reading the Riots: Investigating England’s Summer of Disorder – here.
So anyway – why did I end up writing an alternate history novel about the London riots?
A Facebook post.
This particular Facebook post was by a friend of mine, Carla Rees – who lived in Croydon during the riots. One day she checked in on Facebook, but it wasn’t your average post. She wanted to let everyone know that she was safe. That she was in fact, still alive. It came completely out of the blue and I remember my jaw dropping in astonishment as I read her words.
It turned out that Carla’s flat – located on London Road – had been burned down by rioters on the previous night and everything she owned was lost. The good news? Carla and her partner hadn’t been in the flat at the time. The terrible news was that her two beloved cats and numerous musical instruments she used to make a living had been. Not to mention all their other stuff.
I was shocked. She’d lost everything and for what? These things happen to other people, don’t they? Not people that I actually know. And one thing’s for sure, Carla didn’t deserve that. She’s a lovely girl who I worked with when I was still a musician – in 2010 if I remember the year correctly. She’s the type of girl who’d go out of her way to help anyone and this much is certain – she had nothing to do with government cuts or police harassment or any of the alleged reasons why the rioters were so pissed off back in early August 2011.
It didn’t make sense.
She just happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that’s it. Terrible, terrible luck.
Carla’s post made the London riots much more real to me. And long after the rioting had actually stopped, it was still there stuck in my mind and I knew sooner or later, that I’d end up writing about it.
So here’s a quick rundown on how ‘L-2011’ (Future of London Series #1) came to be.
In 2011 (the year I began writing seriously), I wrote a post-apocalyptic short story called The Wall. It was your typical post-apocalyptic yarn – the end of civilisation and technology and all that – and set in an unspecified and far-distant future. Not an iPad in sight. I used the London riots as my trigger for this post-apocalyptic/alternate history story – the trigger being, ‘what if the London riots hadn’t stopped?’
In 2013, I started converting the short story into a novel.
In 2015, I started inserting flashback scenes into the PA narrative. By this point, I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing.
Somewhere along the way, these same flashback scenes became the story. But the flashbacks were no longer flashbacks and instead, they turned into blogs, transcripts of news broadcasts, TV shows and YouTube videos – a 21st century epistolary novel if you like. The PA narrative (The Wall) got sidelined and I started writing about a sixteen year old boy called Mack Walker, who along with his friend Sumo Dave, gets caught up in the London riots. Mack and Sumo Dave’s story fitted nicely in between the 21st century epistolary bits.
My London riots story had come a long way and it was unrecognisable from the short story I started off with in 2011. But thank God it was finally getting somewhere.
And by the way, if any of this rambling has made you interested, you can read the blurb for ‘L-2011’ here.
Streets of Oil
If nothing else, I hope the novel gets a few people talking about the London riots again. The five year anniversary is coming up in August 2016, and it seems like nobody’s talking about the riots.
These days we’re more worried about radicalised Muslims or North Korea or Putin, or whether George RR Martin will ever finish the next book.
But it would be foolish to forget the London riots. Dangerous too.
As Max Hastings said at the time:
“The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. They do not have what most of use would call ‘lives’: they simply exist.”
People with nothing to lose are dangerous because to be frank, they don’t give a shit about consequences like the rest of us. And there are thousands of them out there. They have nothing to lose, or as sociologists might put it, they have no ‘stake in society’.
What does it all mean? Simply put, it could happen again at any time. As someone said after the 2011 riots, the streets of London are ‘still slicked with oil’. And all it takes is another spark.
Fans of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, take note.