Interview with Douglas Board

Interview with Douglas Board

Today's interview is a little different from the one's I usually post here, but brings some light on a genre that doesn't get discussed often; the life of a satirical writer.  

Disclosure: Political views are that of the author. Writers and Authors believes in discussing books of all genres. 

Douglas Board is a British satirist. His first novel ‘MBA’ (why is so much of the world managed by assholes?) was published in 2015. The UK’s Bookseller compared it to Franzen’s Freedom or Eggers’ The Circle; Booklist Online called it a ‘hilarious fiction debut [which] takes no prisoners’. ‘Time of Lies’, a taking apart of post-truth, post-Brexit British politics came out last summer. British political writers acclaimed it as ‘a milestone in dystopian fiction’ which ‘has our Brexit era nailed’.

Interview with Douglas Board
On both sides of the Atlantic, these are crazy political times. What challenges does that pose for the satirical writer?

Giant, for any writer on book-like timescales. For example ‘Time of Lies’ was conceived around 2013; the writing started before a referendum on Brexit was on the cards. At the very least you must have a deep story which isn’t fast-moving. In ‘Time of Lies’ that story is deep social division – the mutual ignorance and contempt between ruling class and ruled which I see in my country, in the USA and more generally. Social division can’t change fast (sadly).

So don’t shoot at a moving target.

That’s fundamental, but not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Readers only get to the deep story through plot and a host of details: in that shallow water the crazy political weather can wreak havoc. The writer’s challenge is a bit like this: your target may not be moving, but the clothes you’ve worn to the range could suddenly look inappropriate.

Literally days before the release of your White House satire, we’re reading ‘Fire and Fury’, Michael Wolff’s tell-all exposé. What’s the deep story in ‘The Rats’, and how are the story’s clothes looking?

The novelette’s deep story is exploring delusion. I think anyone who has led or coached senior leaders (I’ve had the good fortune to do both), knows more than they might like to let on about delusion. ‘The Rats’ builds on that. How are the clothes looking? I did miss that there are 3 TV screens in Trump’s White House bedroom but overall I think I’m grinning: I’d no idea that the Trumps are the first Presidential couple since the Kennedys to have separate bedrooms, but the story has an intuition in that direction; in a scene hinting at the Emperor’s new clothes, the president in ‘The Rats’ appears naked but for a dressing gown. In ‘Fire and Fury’, the newly inaugurated Trump spends forty-eight hours roaming the White House insisting that he didn’t own a bathrobe. ‘Do I seem like a bathrobe kind of guy, really?’. Actually, I count that as a win; but the prize has to be when Wolff pictures Trump thinking of Comey: ‘And always there were rats. A rat was someone who would take you down for his own advantage. If you had a rat, you needed to kill it.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Interview with Douglas Board
How did having leadership experience help you satirically? Have you had the experience of being attacked or mocked?

I think the laughter which comes from being willing to laugh at yourself, or an important part of yourself, has a different feel, and more insight, than just laughing at others. I believe that’s true in both of my novels – perhaps most obviously in ‘MBA’, given that I help teach at a business school in London.

And I have been mocked. I had the privilege of serving for several years as trustee and then treasurer of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. Collectively we were constantly mocked as ‘liberals’ by the right-wing Daily Mail, although the kind of causes to which we allocated funds (such as fighting AIDS or helping refugees) were precisely those where Diana had set an example. When I stepped down from the Fund to chair Britain’s largest refugee charity, that drew the Daily Mail’s fire.

Imagine if Diana were alive today, and going to meet Trump on his forthcoming British visit … wow!


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