To mark their 80th anniversary, the advocacy group Liberty delved into their sizeable list of contacts and got hold of 79 of the world’s best writers, then asked them to contribute pieces responding in some way to the word ‘liberty’. The results were thrillingly eclectic. Ali Smith wrote about D.H. Lawrence and her Barclaycard. Kate Tempest implored us to remember freedom and liberty – ‘such blazing / And important words.’ ‘Idealists like to claim that freedom is indivisible,’ wrote Julian Barnes in his contribution. ‘Pragmatists know that it is not: on the contrary, it is easily divisible into thousands of parts, each of which has to be fought for, defended, and fought for again.’ Even Edward Snowden, not necessarily known for his prose style, sent in a piece of writing that described a contraption H.G.Wells might have first imagined. ‘The mass surveillance systems of today, systems that pre-emptively automate the indiscriminate seizure of private records, constitute a sort of surveillance time-machine,’ he wrote. ‘A machine that simply cannot operate without violating our liberty on the broadest scale.’
Over the past eight decades, Liberty has campaigned for civil liberties and human rights through the courts, in Parliament and in the wider community. They’ve also forged close ties with writers, from E.M. Forster and H.G. Wells to the more than 120 authors currently signed up as Writers at Liberty. For this recent initiative, they chose the number 79 so that there would be one clear empty space to be filled by the winner of a public competition. After sending out the word and receiving a postbag full of responses, the judges at Liberty, including Five Dials publisher Simon Prosser, chose a shortlist, reprinted here, and a winner who became the 80th writer, the last piece in this great mosaic.
Five Dials is proud to present the entire shortlist in this issue, which includes work by Chris Keeling, Kate Matthews and Peter Jackson. And, of course, we’ve included the submission made by our winner, the 80th writer, Simon Tonkin.