Debut novel earns Mal flattering comparisons

Ashton author Mal Jones receives the Quagga Prize from principle Judge David James during a ceremony in London
Ashton author Mal Jones receives the Quagga Prize from principle Judge David James during a ceremony in London

A CAMPAIGNING Wigan author’s debut novel which drew comparisons with Orwell has earned a major literary award.

Mal Jones’s Can Openers is a carefully crafted thriller which sounds a stark warning about where we could well be heading.

And he was delighted to be invited to a prestigious ceremony at book giant Waterstone’s in London after the book was announced as runner-up in the British Quagga Prize for independently published fiction.

The Ashton 52-year-old has already seen the success of the book result in a number of public speaking engagements.

It even earned him an honorable mention at the New York Book Festival.

He is already well into his second novel, set this time in a Wigan old people’s home where the squabbles of the residents turn into serious questions about what quality of life they may soon be looking forward to.

Mr Jones, by day an experienced social worker and union activist, has crafted Can Openers to raise wider concerns about the way the welfare system is being increasingly run as a target-driven business rather than as a compassionate helping hand.

It is something he warns he is increasingly witnessing professionally first hand.

And a growing frustration in the current state of affairs was the motivation to start to lock himself behind the keyboard of his word processor inbetween work duties.

Can Openers (rowanvalebooks) is being talked about in the same breath as George Orwell’s 1984.

But Mr Jones is quick to say that his hero at the centre of the book, Frederick Smyth, was purely coincidental.

The novel invokes a disturbing future where every aspect of people’s lives are determined by the authoritarian Dependency Department. This organises people by a supposedly scientific formulae based around the presumption that the poor are inherently feckless and self-reliance should be encouraged at all costs.

Smyth is approaching the peak of his civil service career as head of the district unit before his ambitions for promotion are dramatically halted when a shocking and brutal murder turns his life upside down.

Darkly comic, Can Openers is packed with twists and turns which keep the reader guessing.

It is set in a stark near future where survival of the fittest is official state policy - he credits current Tory social security supremo Iain Duncan Smith “for inspiration.”

Mr Jones always intended the novel as a warning about the type of society we are creating as well, he admits, as a form of therapy to help cope with a stressful job that can extract a huge price from such professionals.

After more than three decades at the sharp end in the public sector as a mental health social worker, saxophonist Mr Jones was able to draw on plenty of personal experience, offering support and compassion during increasingly difficult times.

The book has been widely circulated within the psychiatric profession...with much positive reaction.

Mr Jones is worried the welfare budget is increasingly being run as a business, where private companies make increasingly healthy profits from those unwell and in acute distress.

He said: “It is really satisfying that Can Openers is helping to make some people think about how we want to look after people in need.

“I have been invited to speak at public meetings because of it which was very encouraging.

“And now the Quagga Prize recognition, which has been great, particularly if it leads to more readers.

“Basically, Can Openers started off as a collection of ideas I wrote up as a form of therapeutic type of thing to help cope with the stress of the job and it just sort of grew from there.

“But these are the type of things that are beginning to happen right now - never mind the future.

“I came into social work 30 years ago firmly believing that I can help people and there are so many that need some support.

“But what worries me today is that all I see around me is the pressure to turn the job into a box ticking exercise, which, because of the cuts, is completely losing sight of what it should really be all about.

“It is something that makes me angry and concerned, but this book isn’t about lecturing people. I hope the humour which runs through it keeps people on board and help them put things into perspective about what is and isn’t important.

l To order a copy contact the publishers at www.rowanvalebooks.com/store.html