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The inspiration behind Number Games by Owen Dwyer

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Owen Dwyer © 31 October 2019.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Interviews · Speculative Fiction ).

I was asked recently where the idea for my book Number Games came from. It’s very difficult to pinpoint inspiration. In my case there seemed to have been a lot of different strands of thought playing around in my head over time, which came together as a result of a trigger. The trigger was a conversation I had with my son about the cutthroat nature of the singles scene in London, where he was living and working at the time. His experiences, as well as stories he told me about friends of his, made me think about the role prejudice plays in our interaction with one another. The use of Social Media exaggerates and amplifies our inclination to accept or reject one another for the most superficial of reasons. And I’m not just talking about size and shape. All sorts of other bizarre stuff from hairstyles to clothing to jewellery comes into brief consideration before a potential candidate is swiped to rejection oblivion. This got me thinking about how brutal and isolating prejudice can be, to both the victim and the perpetrator. It was bad enough in my day, when you were left trembling with disappointment in a phone box, but at least you were given a reason. (I’ve been told this by friends of mine).

Secondary sources have always been a great resource. Great books give great perspectives and books like Gulliver’s Travels, Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale were particularly inspirational for me. These novels contain alien landscapes against which the protagonist’s natural beliefs are scrutinised. By using such a device, the authors were able to interrogate their own ‘real life’ societies in an interesting and inoffensive way. You can get away with a lot if you base your book in the future, the past or in some strange land, and, you can challenge readers to think in new ways. Jonathan Swift was ahead of his time when he wrote Gulliver’s Travels in the 1720s and the book is still ahead of its time today. His use of satire is extraordinary. Which got me thinking. We’re all so uptight and defensive in this age of political correctness – wouldn’t it would be interesting and possibly funny to reverse our roles. Why not reverse the whole world? We are all, or I am at any rate, slaves to our preconceived notions. But what do we really know or understand? Very little, probably. The big idea behind Number Games was to rethink that which we think we already know by challenging prejudice. By writing the book I found no answers, but I discovered a few new questions.

Getting published is ridiculously difficult. It’s a Catch 22 of not getting anywhere until you’re known and not being known until you get somewhere. If you renamed The DaVinci Code and sent it surreptitiously to 1000 publishers, it would probably end up on the slush pile of 999. Many classics from To Kill a Mockingbird to Ulysses were famously rejected time and again. Rejection is a fact of life for writers – we have to learn to live with it. In my case, I’ve had more rejections than a pimply kid at a disco. In my experience it is a timely and futile exercise to continually send cold submissions to Agents or Publishers. So, what do you do? The most important thing is to keep writing what you want to write and not allow yourself to be discouraged or distracted. But be practical. It helps to seek guidance from someone who knows more about the industry than you do. I sent the book into Vanessa Fox at Writing.ie for an appraisal. She gave me valuable advice and we worked through the manuscript together over a period of a month or so. Vanessa was good enough to recommend publishers who would be interested in that particular type of work and even sent an introductory email to one or two. This generated genuine interest and my rejections improved in quality – the manuscript was actually being read. I sought and listened to feedback and continued to try to improve the work. I researched publishers, readers and agents and wrote personalised submission letters stating why I felt my book would be right for them. I entered competitions. I met other writers and industry people by going to Festivals. Eventually Sean O’Keefe from Liberties Press responded to a reworked submission, resent a year after an initial rejection. We met and agreed a deal. I should probably be looking for an Agent, but I’ve been happy with Sean who has been particularly supportive and professional, editing the manuscript and giving me pointers.

(c) Owen Dwyer

About Number Games:

In a future dominated by the Chinese and run by women, a promiscuous young man finds out that his whole life has been part of a gigantic experiment. In a war-torn America, will he carry out the mission which may be his destiny?

Seattle, 2116. The world is divided into a network of vast corporations (Corpos), each controlled by a triumvirate of elderly Chinese. The masses are conditioned to extol the virtues of utilitarianism, with society dominated by the power of ‘the numbers’. Men, who have previously caused the collapse of society, must stay at home and raise children while women rule – with dispassionate ruthlessness. Enter Li, a ‘career boy’ tele-sales manager in Ireland-corpo. After years of sleeping around and getting high – and into trouble – his life takes an unexpected turn when he meets a mysterious young woman, Tattoo. Are his troubles behind him – or only beginning?

As with all the best science-fiction, Number Games gives hints of what our world might become. With echoes of Bladerunner, The Man in the High Castle and The Time Machine, this superbly crafted novel makes for a compelling – and sometimes chilling – read.

Number Games is published by Liberties Press. Order your copy online here.


Owen Dwyer is a prize-winning short-story writer who has won the Hennessy Emerging Ficton Prize, the Silver Quill (twice), the Smiling Politely Very Very Short Story competition, the South Tipperary County Council Short Story competition and the Biscuit Fiction Prize, and has had stories published in Whispers and Shouts magazine. Number Games is his third novel, following The Agitator and The Cherrypicker. Owen has a degreee in European Humanities. He lives in Dublin with his wife and their three children.