Amanda Craig: 'Brexit is a lightning rod for rural people'

PUBLISHED: 17:36 03 July 2017 | UPDATED: 17:36 03 July 2017

Amanda Craig

Amanda Craig

Archant

Amanda Craig tells Bridget Galton how her latest novel was inspired by the credit crunch. The Lie of the Land supposes what happens when baby boomers suffer a financial crisis that upends their lives

When Lottie and Quentin’s marriage founders and they lose their jobs, they cannot afford to divorce. The solution? Lease a damp Devon cottage close to Quentin’s ailing parents and rent out their North London home. Cue a fish out of water journey as privileged townies encounter rural poverty and isolation.

“I was thinking about that treasury note ‘There’s no money left’,” says the Kentish Towner. “I wondered what if instead of it being a national problem, it was personal, between a couple, and it forces them to live a different life? I’m interested in relationships between people and money - to put in actual sums what it costs to have a middle-class life, or do a weekly shop. Having been very poor myself earlier in my life I remember weighing up cost with need. If you’ve ever been there you never forget what that feels like.”

When Craig bought a Devon bolthole, she realised that such a beautiful area was “also incredibly deprived.”

“It was a real eye opener just how low people’s wages are.”

In the book, Lottie’s mixed race son goes to work in a pie factory and encounters both casual racism and zero hours contracts.

“The glory of London is that unlike every other capital in the world it doesn’t ghettoise the poor,” says Craig. “We have them all around us, right next door. It’s one reason why we still have a moral conscience. But I was interested in discovering an overlooked group of people; the poor of the countryside. Typically in fiction the countryside is an enragingly perfect rustic idyll full of posh people in Range Rovers which I think reflects the increasingly urban nature of the professional middle-classes. People no longer see it as a place where people work incredibly hard for low wages, they see it as a theme park.”

Like Dickens, Craig takes as her theme “people moving between rich and poor and the struggle to be a decent human being despite poverty.”

It’s echoed in the unlikeable Quentin, a serial philanderer, minor TV celebrity and editor of a “Spectator-type magazine”.

“All my characters are on a journey to become better versions of themselves. Quentin is deliberately annoying, entitled and snobby, but he will change. When all that is taken away from him he discovers the popularity and access to privilege has come not because he was wonderful but because of his job. Without it he’s middle aged with a wife who hates him, back in Devon where he thought he had escaped from, looking after elderly parents. It makes him face up to things.”

Craig also weaves in a detective thread concerning an unsolved murder in their cottage that came cheap “because it’s been the scene of a hideous crime. We discover who and why.”

Ultimately ‘though, Lie of the Land is haunted by the division of Brexit that’s seen urbanites deride their rural counterparts as bigots.

“Brexit was the lightning rod for the rage of so many people. Before the vote I could feel a great boiling up among small farmers and people in provincial towns. There was so much frustration and the EU and immigration were blamed.

“I have a kind of double vision, I voted remain, but can see clearly that if you can’t get your child into school, get a doctor or housing in a place you’ve lived for generations that’s complete dynamite. Those people were just not being listened to. That’s why we’re in this catastrophic mess. All this rage and hatred has split the country down the middle. It’s very dangerous.”

The Lie of the Land is published by Little Brown, £16.99

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