Ok, so, I have a new book out, and, one of the lines used to promote it is, ‘We’re watching you.’ It’s a line that, as a crime writer, people have asked about, so huddle up and I’ll let you into a secret: when my husband and I drive past GCHQ in Cheltenham, we mutter, ‘Spy, spy, spy,’ over and over, because the urban myth is that GCHQ can pick up every word uttered within a 5-mile radius. Okay, okay, I know how childish that sounds now I say it out loud, but, messing about aside, there is a darker reality: we are being watched.
Think about it. Right now, you are, unless you’ve printed it off, reading this piece online, on that there world wide web. And it’s a great invention, the Internet – it’s utterly mind bending. But here’s the thing: online, everything we do can be tracked. Our computers leave a search engine history. Everywhere we digitally visit, we drop, like a line of crumbs in a forest, a trail behind us that signals where we’ve been. Heck, flip onto Facebook and before you’ve even typed in your latest status, a sidebar ad pops up and tells you about something you were pondering on only the other day. Spooky.
But this isn’t paranoia, this isn’t some (ironically) piece of make-believe fiction – this is real. When I started to sketch out the first ideas for my debut novel, The Spider in the Corner of the Room, an unprecedented scandal was exploding: whistle-blower Edward Snowdon leaked classified NSA files. The NSA – the National Security Agency of the USA – were shown, through Snowden’s files to be, along with other international spy agencies, carrying out warrantless mass surveillance of global citizens, bugging buildings for political and industrial espionage, and all the while without the knowledge or authorization of the USA government and its partner countries – never mind the public.
And seeing this all unfold, hearing the gritty reality, that’s when the line, ‘They’re watching you,’ began to grow in my mind – and I began to merge reality with fiction. I had already sketched out this uber-intelligent, troubled main character – Dr Maria Martinez. And, crucially, she had Asperger’s. Now, people with Asperger’s say what they think, tell it how it is, while neurotypical people (i.e. you and me – society) don’t always say what they mean, tell white lies and often hide their true thoughts. So I thought: what if I used Maria and her Asperger’s to highlight society’s flaws, highlight the out-of-control, deceitful NSA-type snooping, the lies? The two juxtaposed positions – Asperger’s and neurotypical society – then provided me with an intriguing platform to explore the wider themes of injustice, deceit, corruption, power and lies – all the threads we can link to the NSA scandal.
So there you have it, that’s where the phrase ‘They’re watching you,’ stemmed from. It’s something to remember, that phrase, every time we go online, that and muttering, ‘Spy, spy, spy,’ whenever you’re near GCQQ. It’s your call!
Nikki Owen is an award-winning writer and columnist. Previously, Nikki was a marketing consultant and University teaching fellow before turning to writing full time. As part of her degree, she studied at the acclaimed University of Salamanca – the same city where her protagonist of The Spider in the Corner of the Room, Dr Maria Martinez, hails from. @nikkiwriter