In December 2013, London’s Dazed magazine launched a competition calling for short stories ‘based on surveillance culture’. I’d long been a fan of the magazine, and was drawn to the theme, so thought I’d give it a whirl. I wanted to look at online surveillance, privacy and metadata, and concerns around the trails and traces we deposit in online spaces.
The first few sentences of a story came to me quickly, and I was off. I found it easy and fun to explore on the page the liberating, if at-times anxious, aspects of online experiences, and of adult chat platforms in particular. The narrative flowed into a first draft, and with the deadline at the end of January 2014, there was ample time to refine the writing and consider the themes more deeply.
‘Twitch’ won first prize in the competition, and was published in the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of Dazed and on its digital platform, dazeddigital.com. You can read the story here. I was in the UK when the print edition was out. I remember clearly the thrill of seeing the magazine on the shelves of WHSmith in Preston, and taking it down to see my story on its glossy pages. It’s since been published elsewhere, including in Star Observer, and was an obvious choice for Broken Rules and Other Stories.
The phenomenon of surveillance changes and grows, and its effects can be pernicious. Smartphones and devices, with capabilities to listen and watch and record, are ubiquitous. I’ve noticed CCTV cameras in a local park, lurking among the treetops. In private spaces there can often be a smart device close-at-hand.
A couple of years ago, pre-pandemic, walking to the supermarket in the middle of the day, I was ‘invited’ to the kerb for a ‘chat’ by one of three police officers in a patrol car. They found it noteworthy that I was on the streets again after they’d seen me walking in a neighbouring suburb that morning. They described what I’d been wearing earlier, what I’d been carrying, where I’d gone. I’m not sure what was more troubling: being stopped without a legitimate reason, or knowing I’d been observed so closely, that incorrect assumptions had been made, and all without my having been aware.
There’s much more to say. These themes continue to occupy me and the stories I write. One of the longer pieces I’m currently working on takes a fresh look at the dynamics of ease/unease in online spaces such as those described in ‘Twitch’. A lot’s happened in the eight years since.