Catherine Greene is a Research Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics. Her research interests are the philosophy of finance and social science.
In this interview, we discuss her latest book, “The Red Hairband.”
Welcome! Today we have Catherine Greene, author of The Red Hairband, a fascinating post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, filled with philosophical topics, from time travel and the vision of an ideal society to the value of technology and the future of mankind.
Welcome, Catherine Greene! Let’s first talk a little bit about your background. You are a philosopher, right?
Yes, I studied philosophy at university back in the mid-1990s and then had a career in finance, and then I went back to university to do a PhD in philosophy in 2009.
And so I sort of am a philosopher. I did a bit of teaching and I am still associated with the London School of Economics. We were getting some funding to look at some maths and philosophy of finance issues. But I also have a job in a non-profit. So I’m a little bit of a philosopher, I guess you’d say, but it’s not my full bill-paying job.
Something I’m always interested in, is this question: How do you get to become a philosopher? You know, what is this moment when somebody decides, I want to be a philosopher?
For me, it was something rather pragmatic. I originally signed up to study history at the university, and I did better at the end of my first year in my philosophy exams than in my history exams. And also the philosophy department at LSC allowed you to take more outside options. Instead, I would just have to do history if I’d stayed in the history department.
So that’s really why I made the transition. And I do like that philosophy is so applicable to different fields of study. So you can be a philosopher of lots of different things and I think that appeals to me. It’s sort of the way I see it. It’s a way of thinking, a way of reasoning and studying how you argue, and how you look at other people’s arguments. In a sense, it is domain-independent, and that sort of appeals to me.
And how does philosophy relate to your literary writing? Do you think that philosophy has something to do with your decision to write? There are all these philosophical in your book – do you think that being a philosopher informed your treatment of these questions? Would you have written this book if you had not been a philosopher?
I think I would have done it, even if I wasn’t a philosopher. I’m still really interested in history, and although it’s science fiction and as such in the future, I felt to some extent that I was writing history.
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A lot of the facets of the totalitarian regime I didn’t make up. They’ve all happened in the past. Where philosophy has been really important is in doing my PhD. I became a much better writer, so a huge debt of gratitude to my supervisor for that. I think my style before and after the PhD changed quite a lot for the better, so it was a big influence in that way.
Although it’s science fiction and as such in the future, I felt to some extent that I was writing history.
Also, I think that philosophy and fiction are very similar in that I see it just as a different way to make an argument. I could have said the same things in an essay, but it probably would have been quite a boring and rambling essay. Whereas I think that if you engage people emotionally, sometimes that’s a better way to make an argument.
We mentioned already that your book is science fiction, but I don’t know – is it really science fiction? It’s a post-apocalyptic novel, I would say. Now, about science fiction, or future speculative fiction: What are your ideas about this genre? There is a spectrum of different kinds of speculative fiction. Some books are very technically precise, and you can almost imagine flying the spaceships that they describe. And then other books go more into a fantasy direction where things like magic happen. In your book, there’s no magic, but still, it feels like it is not about technology.
I was sometimes also surprised by the technology. For example, these people live, at least in some parts of the book, in very technologically impoverished situations, like one would imagine a post-apocalyptic society.
But then, at the same time, they have tablet computers. And the tablets work. And so I was wondering, where do the replacement parts for the tablets come from if Samsung is not operating? Where do the solar panels come from? Who is extracting all of the metals that are needed for these technologies?
So it seems like your aim was not really to be technically precise in these descriptions. Would you agree?
You’re right. But I see it more like philosophical thought experiments, in a sense. The point is not the technology, but to think about what people are doing and what motivates them. And so you sort of assume a situation and see how people’s characters and their motivations play out. Yes, it’s absolutely not about technology. I don’t generally like to read science fiction that is tech-heavy.
I sort of skim over any dense descriptions of how a gun is firing, or how some things are put together, or how to fly a spaceship. That’s just not what I enjoy reading.
I sort of skim over any dense descriptions of how a gun is firing, or how some things are put together, or how to fly a spaceship. That’s just not what I enjoy reading. So yeah, I see it more as a thought experiment. And in my mind, to answer your question, I just assumed that there was so much lying around. If they scavenged, then there wouldn’t be a need for any new mining. But of course, the technological issues of time travel are highly improbable. So I just assumed a number of these things and progressed from there.
About time travel in your book. I didn’t see time travelling in a “classic way” in your book. But there was this idea of somebody’s consciousness being uploaded in what we today would perhaps call a computer of some kind. Is this a transhumanist thing? Did you want to actually talk about transhumanism when you talk about the uploading of consciousness, or was it just necessary for the plot?
To be blunt, it was just necessary for the plot. And so I intentionally wanted to leave it open because I find it slightly irritating sometimes in science fiction films in particular, where there is this new technology and it always works perfectly.
And I wanted the guys who primarily do this, the Historians, as they are called in the book, to be a little bit incompetent and not really sure about what they’re doing. And for there to be a little bit of doubt in the readers’ minds about whether they are actually succeeding and what they think they’re doing.
We don’t always use the technology we have perfectly. I still mess up with my laptop, and I don’t think that some society in the future is going to succeed in all their aims perfectly. So I left things intentionally vague sometimes. But essentially the uploading of consciousness was to a great extent just a device to get characters in the right place.
But I also noticed that the whole novel has very strong religious motifs. It doesn’t sound preachy and it doesn’t sound religious, but it is very much influenced by discussions that we normally associate with religion. So, for example, life after death. Or this kind of limbo in which one character exists, which is a disembodied state, almost how we might imagine Catholic purgatory. And there are many other religious images. There is one character who involuntarily becomes a hero or almost a saint. An accidental saint.
And I was wondering, why are there so many religious topics in the book? Are you particularly interested in religions? Are you a religious person?
I’m an atheist, but I find the notion of having faith in ideas interesting and quite dangerous. So that was the main thing that I wanted to explore. When we are really sure of our belief system, it often allows people to view others as expendable and not treat them as fully realized human beings.
I think when we look at history it’s not only religion that does that, but political ideologies as well. In the book, I wanted to draw those two strands together. The overarching aim, therefore, is to suggest that we should never have total faith in our ideas or our visions, because this would give justification for people to behave absolutely terribly towards other human beings. That’s really the main message of the book.
The overarching aim, therefore, is to suggest that we should never have total faith in our ideas or our visions.
And as you mentioned, I also want to question the ease with which we hold up people as heroes, when actually the character who does become a saint is not someone who should be a prophet and is not someone who should be admired in any way whatsoever.
Another thing I noticed in the novel was that all of the societies that you describe – because you describe different societies over time – they all tend towards totalitarianism. So it seems somehow to be inevitable that things go bad. Is this something that you believe? I mean, the first society you describe is a kind of Nazi world in which people are indoctrinated and the children are already raised to live in this mental world of the society and to have these strong beliefs in what they have been taught. But then also the “good” society, where the people initially are happy, over time tends to also become totalitarian. We have this society where those who live by the sea, and actually they are not as free and happy as they perhaps initially seem to be. So their society has also undergone a transformation and they start resembling the society they were going away from.
Do you believe that we can actually have an ideal society? Can we strive to make one, or are we doomed to be stuck in these bad societies time after time?
It’s interesting that you say that, because I’m slightly less pessimistic about the people who live by the sea. I thought that, you know, they’ve been through a very hard time and they were doing their best. I did not, in my mind, think of them as turning totalitarian. I don’t think we always tend towards totalitarianism. No. Sometimes we have revolutions that seem entirely needed and justified. For example, if you think about France or Russia, they were dealing with very repressive societies. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution: in some senses, they were completely justified.
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But that momentum also leads those new regimes to essentially adopt many of the characteristics of the regime they’re overthrowing. So that was what was in my mind. But that doesn’t mean that totalitarianism was destined to happen.
I think part of the reason why it sometimes does happen is due to the strength of the conviction of the people engaging in those revolutions. They are certain that they are right, that their vision of the future is correct, and that therefore anyone who stands in their way can legitimately be gotten rid of in one way or another. So although that’s what interested me, I definitely don’t think it’s inevitable.
This also seems to be the case for the people by the sea, right? I mean, they also think that their way of living is the right way, and whoever stands in their way has to be eliminated.
Yes, that’s true. That’s true. But at least in the beginning, they are much more liberal than the society that surrounds them, which is not necessarily saying a lot. I also think that if people are living in such strange and difficult situations, they don’t generally behave best. And it’s difficult to
stay open-minded when you genuinely think that your life and your whole way of life are under threat. I think that does push people towards some level of extremism. But fortunately, most of us are not operating under those very constrained circumstances most of the time.
Another place where the books seem to be very pessimistic is about the
effectiveness of psychiatry. I thought that there was quite a bit of criticism of psychiatric methods in there. You have a character who is in need of help. It’s not clear if the character is crazy or not, but she is clearly suffering. And then she goes into a kind of treatment. And this treatment is spectacularly ineffective and unhelpful. And instead of being helped, she dreads this treatment even more.
And there is another case, where somebody is troubled and goes to this society by the sea. And there’s Mary, who attempts to do the same thing. She attempts to approach the troubled person in a psychologically therapeutic way, but this also fails. So we don’t have any actual examples of successful or beneficial interventions in this book.
That’s an interesting connection that you made. I hadn’t actually equated those two situations, but you’re right, they are similar. So that was unintentional. I have to admit that.
But in the case of Laura, the woman who has just had a child, that does express a certain frustration that I have in general.
That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of very good psychiatrists and lots of very good therapists who help people and do very good work. But to take a step back, one of my friends said to me, if men had babies, there would be a whole strand of surrealist literature dealing with that. I wanted to explore this in a slightly different way.
Why is it so difficult to make predictions about society? The problem is not the complexity of the task, but the concepts we use to think about the world.
My frustration partly is that a lot of people feel, after they’ve had a child, that they can put it down to hormones and say, it’s all natural, you know, you get over it, it’s fine, which I find somewhat unhelpful. It genuinely is the situation you’re in, and the situation is the problem rather than some kind of chemical imbalance. And I wanted to explore that in a more general way. But I didn’t want to turn it into a sort of a miserable section, very depressed and sad. I wanted to try and make it interesting and perhaps even a little bit funny.
But yes, I do have some scepticism about the way that people are treated, particularly after having had children.
I also have children, and I actually have an impression that sometimes the opposite of what you say might also be true: That sometimes we over-medicalize pregnancy. In this whole process, medicine is very strongly involved, hospitals and checkups and technology. And then afterwards, you have to freeze the umbilical cords and pay even more for that, so that your future child will be able to heal its cancer because it has this bit of tissue. And this is a business that makes a lot of money for a lot of people.
And so I was wondering, do we not perhaps tend to forget a little that this is actually a natural process and this is something that mammals are supposed to do naturally and without any medical intervention? And it has been going on for millions of years and it went well most of the time.
Are we not over-medicalizing this? What do you think?
Yeah, I think sometimes we are. But it’s also, however, easy to think back and say, well, it went well most of the time. It did. But it also was a major cause of death for women and it was incredibly difficult to survive beyond age five.
So clearly some level of medical intervention is very positive. It’s a long time since I had my son; but originally I wanted to take a sort of all-natural way, but things went horribly wrong. We got an ambulance, and I was very happy at that moment for all the medical intervention that was available to me at the time.
But yes, I agree one shouldn’t think that medical intervention is always necessary. And I think that one could argue that the incidence of caesareans may be too high, and sometimes we forget the risks that medical interventions can also bring about. So yeah, I take your point. But personally, I was incredibly grateful for the medical intervention.
We should perhaps distinguish different kinds of intervention. Obviously, some are clearly beneficial like painkillers or something. And then there are these mostly empty promises of whatever will happen with your umbilical cord if you freeze it, which seems to be more a money-making scheme rather than something that actually works.
I do agree about the medicalization of the mental aspects of it as well. I think a lot of the emotions that people go through afterwards, although not always positive, are to be expected and are entirely reasonable given the circumstances that you’ve just been through. So to always try and treat it with drugs, I think is definitely open to question.
It seems to me that sometimes, perhaps in older societies, you would also have more social support. For people having a baby, there would be a group of mothers that could provide some kind of support and exchange. There would be perhaps a wider family that could take care of the children, and that could help take the load off the mothers in the first years. But in our societies, this happens less and less.
Now let’s talk about social influence. This is also a topic in the book: that we are responsible for our future. The future is not going well, both our real and your fictional one. And so now we have the responsibility to do something. You are arguing in the book that small steps can achieve meaningful change. So we don’t need to necessarily wait for Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or someone else of the rich, famous and powerful to come and change the world.
You argue that sometimes small changes can also be effective. And so the question is, does this also apply to you as a philosopher and as a writer? Do you think that you have this responsibility to change things by writing this book? Is this one of these steps that could perhaps help avoid the bleak future that you describe?
Well, my thought around that theme was more that I’ve reached an age where I realize that I am not going to effect any big changes in the world. It is highly unlikely that I will leave some massive mark on the world. I think a lot of people have wildly optimistic and enthusiastic dreams in their twenties and maybe their thirties. But then, once you reach your forties, you’re like, I have to make the changes that are within my control and be happy that I’m achieving something, whether this is actually true or not. But that theme in the book is really just reflective of my personal journey, I guess, in sort of dropping the wild ambitions of my twenties.
I’ve reached an age where I realize that I am not going to effect any big changes in the world.
You become a little bit more realistic as you get older.
I find that idea quite comforting, that you can make small changes and still make a difference. And, of course, if everyone makes the same small changes, they add up to something much more significant.
I think we are also kind of unlucky to live in this time period… It seems to me that we had a very good world in our youth. It was still good, it was still promising, and it was still possible to dream of making it better.
And then it has very quickly deteriorated. At least this is how it feels to me: that now the world is significantly worse than it was in the mid-eighties in all sorts of ways. Not only ecologically, but also politically, and in terms of the hope for a better future. When I was young, we were demonstrating, for example, against nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and it looked like we might be successful.
We were seeing all kinds of disarmament and it looked like things would be getting better. And then the Soviet Union collapsed and it looked like we were making progress towards a better world. But today, this feeling does not exist in the same way, or does it? We essentially have the Soviet Union back. We have all sorts of other terrors everywhere. And I don’t know whether young people can feel that they live in a world that is worth fighting for. What do you think?
I find this thought troubling. I do like to remind myself that, I believe since the beginning of time, older people (and I count myself among them now) think that the past was always much better, the children were better behaved, the world was better organized. And I believe you would even find some snippets from the ancient Greeks talking about how bad things are now, and that their day was not living up to the high standards of the past.
So I do question myself when I slip into that. And I try to remind myself of the many ways in which the time when I was younger wasn’t ideal, but perhaps I wasn’t aware of its shortcomings. So I think it’s not a fantastic idea for people of my age to try and take away the natural optimism and hopefulness of the younger generation, claiming the reasons to be extremely pessimistic. And you’ve outlined some of them. Well, I think most young people are aware of them, but if it were up to me, I would like them to keep some of their optimism so that they feel that they are able to take more action.
So I try and temper my pessimism with the thought that perhaps everyone when they hit 40, starts getting pessimistic.
Let’s now talk a bit about what the role of technology is in your book. Since it’s a post-apocalyptic situation over large parts of the book, technology is mostly broken. And often the point is the triumph of human survival or ingenuity over the broken technology.
But also sometimes technology enables us to do wonderful things. In your book, it enables us to transcend death. And in reality, of course, we have the same. We are seeing this enormous development of technology since our youth. Right when I started studying, I had a mechanical typewriter. I didn’t have a computer. In 1985, there were no computers for normal people. There were some in offices, but you didn’t have one as a student.
And today everybody’s running around with their phone, which is a powerful computer. And my children are 12 years old and they have their own phones. So is this a good thing in your opinion? Or is it more dangerous than beneficial? Has the world become worse because of all this technology?
I’m thinking about, for example, the mating rituals of humans where, you know, we used to go to bars or we used to go dancing in order to meet people. And today they’re swiping on their phones and there is no real human socializing involved in the process of finding a partner.
Is there something being lost there or is it also a chance that some new things emerge that are valuable?
I don’t really know. And I also question the way that I view the past. There have been some really interesting articles in The Atlantic. I can’t remember who wrote them. One of them was asking, what did we actually do before smartphones? And I think it’s easy to think back and imagine ourselves sitting in a corner reading novels and books that improve our lives. But this also reminds me a bit of the time kids were flicking through comic strips, which is not better than flicking through stuff on a smartphone. I don’t know.
But televisions were installed all over the place and you’d have it forgotten, totally forgotten that you would have televisions where you put money in to make them run and they would be in doctor’s surgeries and all sorts of places. So I think it’s important not to have an idealized version of what we were up to back in the eighties. And I definitely wasn’t always out doing improving things and hanging around with my friends and having a fantastic time.
Cartoon strips and magazines like that weren’t addictive in the same way that I think phones can be.
On the other hand, I think that there are reasons to worry. For example, cartoon strips and magazines like that weren’t addictive in the same way that I think phones can be. Although the people writing cartoon strips wanted people to keep reading them, they just don’t have the same power to engage a reader as there is on a smartphone, where you’re continually shown new content. So that addictive element I do worry about. But I think that there are advantages too, and sometimes I do have to sit myself down, remind myself of those.
So for example: If in the old times, kids met someone on holiday or a school trip, the only way to stay in contact would been to write letters, which is quite a large burden to overcome. And generally, I did never stay in touch with anyone beyond maybe one or two letters. But kids now can message each other and stay in contact and it can often give them a really nice network that they can draw on when they do go back to these countries. I think is enormously positive and can really draw people together from different parts of the world. But the vindictiveness that can come into it worries me, the sort of doom scrolling of videos that are just designed to draw people in.
People as well as large-scale events, for example, the Durch Tulip Mania or the technology crash in the early 2000s, are sometimes said to be irrational. But what exactly do we mean by that?
The data gathering worries me also, especially when schools make a lot of use of tablets and computers. It does concern me what data a lot of companies and organizations are gathering on kids today that will be used to shape the way that organizations interact with them when they’re adults.
Yeah, I do think there are lots of reasons to worry, but the past wasn’t great either, and there are advantages. I think the problem is, as always, how we manage these negative consequences.
Yes, I see what you mean. So perhaps I am guilty of this, of idolizing the past and thinking of it as having been better than it actually was.
Perhaps we need to slowly come to an end with this interview, but it’s so interesting. Another motif in the book was vegetarianism. I noticed that all the bad people in the book are vegetarians and all the good ones eat mammals, as you put it.
That was not intentional, although I’m not sure that there are that many genuinely good people. I think mainly the “good” people will come up in part three of the book, and also the main character in book two. And I don’t think I explicitly say whether she’s a vegetarian or not.
They go to a restaurant and the weird one, who is actually from the future, is a vegetarian. And she forces the other one to also have a vegetarian meal. And so, yes, it looks like something is always wrong with the vegetarians in the book. So you eating meat, is it intentional or is it a kind of personal failure to be a vegetarian? I mean, would you say that you would have liked to be a vegetarian and you tried and could not, or don’t you see the point of it at all?
No, I do see the point, and I am definitely eating less meat than I used to. So I think there are lots of good reasons to be a vegetarian. But every now and again, I really feel the craving for a burger or something. So in an ideal world, yes, but I think I shouldn’t beat myself up too much about it. Well, none of us are perfect. I do my best.
It’s similar with me. I mean, I also see the point of vegetarianism. I see the suffering of animals, especially in this industrialized agriculture that we have. And I understand why people are vegetarians. And I see the ecological consequences of eating meat. And I believe that the world would be better if we didn’t. But for the same reasons, I find it very difficult. But we also eat as little meat as possible at home. Often we’ll just have one steak and cut it into smaller pieces and share it among four people. You can add vegetables to it and cook it up in a way that uses a little meat just for flavouring, instead of making it into the central part of a dish.
Let’s talk about books in general. You write a book and this in itself shows a particular attitude towards the world. You know, the book market is sometimes said to be shrinking and people don’t consume books so much anymore. Does your book have an audiobook?
What do you think: Is there a future in writing books? Is it a career for you, in the first place? Is it something where you think that you might at some point be able to make a living from that? Or is it just a hobby?
For the moment, it’s definitely a hobby. I would love to make a living of it. I know that the chances are vanishingly small, but yes, in my ideal world, yes, I would like that. But it’s highly unlikely.
About the book market in general, I don’t know how many people read books on their Kindles and other e-readers versus print books. I personally love having a print version because I put it on my bookshelf and it’s like a photo album. I remember when I read that particular book and what I thought at the time.
But it seems that the whole book publishing system is also somewhat broken. Because we have this enormous concentration of publishing houses, where essentially they are only five or something and they own the book market and there’s very little opportunity for smaller publishers to have big successes. And so, if you are not Stephen King, and if you are not one of these big names, then essentially your book will sink if you don’t get picked up by Hollywood. If you don’t end up with a movie version of your book.
So you say that you would like to continue on this path. So what will your future projects be? If you wrote another book, would you be thinking of a continuation of this one? Is there a second part of it, would it be on similar topics, or would you like to do something entirely different the next time?
So no, I’m done with those characters. I don’t want to see them again. I finished that one. I’m happy with it. I have very little interest in what they do for the rest of their lives.
I’m interested in flipping the idea that artificial intelligence becoming conscious is a bad thing.
I am starting another book specifically on technology and consciousness. So I’m interested in flipping the idea that artificial intelligence becoming conscious is a bad thing. I want AI to be the hero of the book, to be conscious. But I haven’t yet got that far along with it. I’ve only done the first few chapters, so I don’t know where it’s going to go. I don’t really plan things out in huge detail before I start, but I am really interested in exploring the interaction between humans and technology.
So you say that the AI becoming conscious is not a bad thing?
No, no. So AI in a sense becomes the hero. But I would want to show that the way we use technology can almost make automatons of us, and it’s down to our use of the technology. That’s the problem, not necessarily the technology in and of itself.
And then someone’s AI becomes conscious, but it’s trapped. It doesn’t know where it is. So it just arrives almost in toddler form. It’s not entirely rational. It’s not what we think of as all-knowing or all-seeing, conscious A.I., but it’s there as a child version, so it needs to go through phases of irrationality and growing up alongside the human it’s attached to. So the book is exploring the interaction between humans and AI and, in a sense, questions the extent to which technology and our use of it can, in effect, imprison us. So that’s the idea.
There is this long discussion, in the philosophy of technology, whether technologies are autonomous and whether they develop without societies being able to control them; or whether we do have effective control over technology. What do you think?
So this might be a slightly glib answer. A few years ago I watched something about robots taking over the world and technology going crazy. That was a documentary and there was a robotics professor at the end who said, “You really just need water and sand.” However good these robots get, throwing sand on them, or salt water in particular, they’re not going to do so well. So I think of the absolute limit. We can control them in some way, but I don’t know.
I meant, not controlling a specific artefact that might be dangerous, but more generally, controlling the whole development of technology. Because, for example, with the iPhone, this was forced on us. Nobody before the iPhone said “I want to have a telephone and carry it around on the way and be speaking all the time into my telephone when I’m riding the bus.” This was not really a thing people needed. And then we were given an iPhone and then everybody had one. And now we cannot imagine living our lives without it.
But it doesn’t seem that this technology had been created as a response to a need of society. It was just forced upon us and we didn’t have a choice. We had to adopt it.
Or do you think that this view is wrong?
So I think the case is stronger, actually, with some other things. Electronic money wasn’t necessarily needed. But at least in the UK, it’s hard to use cash now in many places.
So I think there are a large number of cases where things are being forced upon us that aren’t necessarily in our own interests. But I also think there are the beginnings of some sort of backlash against that. I know a few people who are exquisitely looking for phones that really don’t have any tech attached, that just make phone calls, or that maybe have WhatsApp and Google Maps because we can’t read a map anymore. But apart from that, nothing.
According to Erich Fromm, modern technology is to be blamed for constant surveillance, destruction of the planet, and widespread AI-caused unemployment.
So I do agree, but I think we might be reaching the beginnings of some kind of backlash against that. And another thing crossed my mind as well: If you wanted to run a criminal enterprise now and make it really secure, you would keep your records on an old-fashioned ledger. Or the safest place for your passwords really is on a piece of paper. You know, in a book on your bookshelf, because no one will look on your desk anymore to find the passwords, so there they’re probably safe.
I think more and more people are conscious of the issues, and intentionally turning off their phones and leaving them off in the evening because they realize that it’s just not good for them to still have access to the Internet late into the night. So we may be getting a bit more control over these technologies.
I noticed that in your book, unsurprisingly, the most interesting characters are women. Is there something specific, in your opinion, about the experience of women? We already talked about childbirth. This is obviously one area where the experience of women has to be different from that of men. But otherwise, do you think that there is something specific about women’s literature? Is your book a book that is more a woman’s book than it would be a man’s book or doesn’t this matter in literature?
I hope that it’s not a woman’s book. I tried to make it not a women’s book. And my favourite character in the book is a man in the third part. I think he’s the only genuine hero in the book.
So no, I didn’t have it in mind that I was writing for women.
And in the second part, which deals with someone who’s had a baby, I tried to write it in a way that I thought would interest anyone who hasn’t had children – be that male or female.
So, no, I tried to address it to everyone and anyone who would be willing to pick it up and give it a go. It’s just that I personally don’t like a lot of authors who are traditionally associated with women like Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte. I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get on with those authors but I haven’t. I like reading Lord of the Rings and that kind of stuff, which stereotypically is seen as more of a man’s book.
Lord of the Rings is a good example, too, because it has almost no female characters. In the movie, they blew up some of the female characters, to give them a little more screen time. But in the book itself, it’s almost all men. Probably like that was in Tolkien’s world. I mean, this world of an English college wouldn’t have included many women back then.
Yes, but that doesn’t bother me. I don’t need female characters to identify with the book or enjoy it or engage with the characters. So, in my mind, I was just writing interesting characters, who I hoped would engage readers, whoever and wherever they might be. I didn’t actually pay that much attention to whether they were male or female, I just focused on the journey. It just so happened that I thought it would work better if the first and second main characters were female and the second one had to be because she had a baby.
Anything you want to say to conclude? Or perhaps you would like to give some advice to readers who would look at some career like yours, or perhaps women going into philosophy or thinking of becoming writers. Is there anything you would like to give as an advice?
I suppose my advice would be, and it’s not just to women, would be just to keep plodding on. I think even if you’re trying to achieve something that is many steps away, just try to get small steps forward and towards where you want to be.
Even if you’re trying to achieve something that is many steps away, just try to get small steps forward and towards where you want to be.
I found on quite a number of occasions, finding jobs, getting things done, that there are so many hurdles and obstacles. But if you just keep trying, you just have to keep staying in the game and keep rolling the dice. And even if things don’t turn out exactly as you want, you can usually get somewhere adjacent to where you want to be, and then later find an opportunity to sidestep.
So I think, yeah, don’t give up. Just make sure you’re still in the game. That’s my advice.
Thank you so much for this. Is there anything other closing statement you want to make? Is there anything else we forgot to talk about?
I don’t think so. But yes, if you like science fiction, speculative fiction, I’d be enormously grateful if you give my book a try. And thank you for this interview.
So that you too for having been here with us, and see you hopefully next time, when the next book comes around, or when you write another article for Daily Philosophy. And for the moment, goodbye.
Catherine Greene is a Research Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics. Her research interests are the philosophy of finance and social science. Before studying for a PhD she had a career in finance and still consults an ethics and investment strategy. More information is available at www.catherinegreene.co.uk