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A children’s author has come up with the best Remainer response to Brexit

Will of the People, Sarah Bee - Credit: Archant

When idiocy and immaturity take over, all a writer can do is blow a literary raspberry

A young man, dishevelled and downcast, trudges into a corner shop. He gazes up at the shelves. They are mostly bare. A sad bunch of darkening bananas greets him at eye level. The top shelf holds more interest – some exotic booze, including imported rum. But these items are out of reach in more ways than one: the gobsmacking price tags indicate that he can’t afford them. It seems an age since he was sailing gallantly down the Thames on a pirate galleon, a podgy blond caterpillar urging him on, a gurning hippo shining a spotlight on his arse as he gleefully mooned a warthog and a bemused owl.

Will of the People, Sarah Bee – Credit: Archant

You may deduce from my own dystopian vision of the UK post-Brexit that I’m not taking the whole thing very seriously. I only wish that were true. Since last June, hardly a day has gone by that I don’t experience that kind of rumbling dread that so many of us now live with. I cycle between deep melancholy, bewilderment, and helpless fury. I dwell on the opportunities that could be lost to me, attempt to unpick the surging societal and political factors that came together to create the mess, and fret about the security to be rudely snatched away from my friends. I struggle to understand the legal implications, attempt rational estimations of how things might pan out, try to hold off the grim grey visions of a country folding in on itself. Also, once or twice a week, I splutter with laughter, point at some beleaguered public figure on the news and go: ‘What the arse are you on about, you gigantic bellend.’

Will of the People, Sarah Bee – Credit: Archant

Try as I might, I can’t get beyond the colossal absurdity of the vote to leave the EU, and the even more colossal absurdity of the flailing circus that is now the context of our lives. It may be a coping mechanism, but whenever I try to engage with the issues more soberly, I soon fall back into silliness. Brexit is many things, most of them almost unbearable, but above all to me it is the silliest thing to happen in my lifetime. On the night of the vote, when it started to look like things were turning, I started cackling like your mother watching a male stripper. A sense of humour was a bright inflatable animal against the gathering storm.

Over the months, this resorting to chortling gave rise to an idea. A great childishness seemed to have come upon the country; a refusal to listen to sense, a foot-stamping stubbornness, a screaming insistence that this is this and there is no that. In the disquieting aggression and sneering unreason of commentators and the public, I felt an absolute abdication of maturity. The same few empty phrases, deployed endlessly as if they were favourite nursery rhymes, buzzed my head like drones. Out of this repetitive noise came the daft notion of the much-celebrated, invincible ‘Will Of The People’ as a real person – an ordinary bloke who had suddenly become the most powerful figure the nation had ever seen. He was the crap hero that this country deserved, and the one it was going to get whether it liked it or not.

I’ve published an all-ages picture book before (The Yes, ‘confusing for adults and children alike’), but I realised the emergent Will would need a distinctly adult outlet. This would be the stupidest story ever told, appropriately sketched out in broad strokes, but without insulting anyone’s intelligence (much). The legend of Will would need to be told by relatable characters, I thought – and so a lovely family of bears came to be, and then an entire ursine section of the population. Certain public figures would need to be assigned animals too. A toad? No, a hippo: oafish, goofy-looking, but capable of causing horrific damage. (There’s also a pig, but with less thoughtful subtext. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.)

When I started to write his story, Will was a one-dimensional villain, an outlet for my bile and frustration – and there’s certainly fist-clenching and invective-spitting in there (although no actual swearing, somehow). But then he became more sympathetic: a poor, misguided sod out of his depth, longing for something better just like the rest of us, vulnerable to his own ego and the cynical machinations of insects and farm animals.

Likewise, the story itself turned out to have more depth than I’d first thought. It was going to be a withering, cathartic satire, a simple lesson in ‘here’s your idiocy’. But it’s turned out to be a real expression of sadness for everything we’re losing in ourselves. My heart breaks for the innocent bears, who can only stand helplessly by as things go from bad to bleak. I wanted to write something that would provide some light relief for people who share my perspective, but the darkness has got into it. As a blissfully oblivious Will cavorts on his boat, the shadow of hate lurks behind him.

The book has a few days left to hit its crowdfunding target, helped along by the wonderful support of the likes of Ian Dunt and even (to my delight and hilarity) AC Grayling. If it makes it, Will will have his shot at fame, glory and true publishing sovereignty. If it doesn’t, well, every berk has his day. I’ve built enough hysterical muscle in the last year to be able to laugh it off if things don’t work out: you need to be able to do that when you’re living through one of history’s dumbest jokes.

Will Of The People by Sarah Bee and Joey Everett is now funding on Kickstarter, ending at 11.01am Friday 28 July.

Images: Joey Everett

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