Following the publication of Number 11 in November 2015, I was uncertain what to write next. But seeing Richard Cameron’s stage adaptation of The Rotters’ Club at the Birmingham Rep a few months later made me start thinking once more about Benjamin Trotter and his schoolboy friends, who would now be approaching their mid-fifties. I liked the idea of writing about them again, but couldn’t think of a story strong enough. Then, on June 23rd, 2016, the British people voted to leave the European Union. I knew that I wanted to write something which would trace the undercurrents of anger and division leading up to this momentous decision, and it seemed inevitable that Benjamin, Doug, Lois et al should be the ones to help me in the task.
At the same time, I was aware that twelve years had gone by since publication of The Closed Circle, and there would not be too many readers who remembered the previous books well enough to be ready to plunge into a sequel. So I was determined to write Middle England in such a way that no prior knowledge of the characters was necessary.
In any case, I wanted to focus mainly on the younger characters: in particular Sophie, Benjamin’s niece, and her husband Ian. Telling the story of a young couple who disagree about almost everything but must nevertheless find a mode of living together seemed an obvious way to dramatise the fault-lines running through modern British society.
Unlike most of my previous novels, Middle England does not really have a ‘plot’: it merely follows the outlines of recent British history – beginning with the election of the coalition government in 2010, ending in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum – and finds parallels between all the major, landmark events and developments in the personal and family lives of its disparate characters. This made it an easier and more relaxed book to write than many of its predecessors, and I finished it quickly, in about ten months. Re-acquainting myself with Benjamin and the others was like meeting old friends after a long absence, and I hope that readers share the same feeling.