Birds and Bees

Author of the historical fantasyWindsmith Kevan Manwaring and April Doyle, author of adult dystopia Hive, discuss their writing.

Kevan: I have just finished reading your book, Hive, which I really enjoyed. For a near-future dystopia it has a refreshingly life-affirming quality to it (which I think is essential if we are to avoid climate paralysis and doomism). It has both a sweetness and an edge, and reminds me of the Welsh saying: being in love is like licking honey from a thorn. So, what inspired you to write this labour of love?

April: Thanks for reading – I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It’s good to hear that the story didn’t feel overwhelmingly dark – this is a subject which is terrifying to think about in its entirety and I took the decision when I was writing to hint at the monster rather than look it straight in the eye. That would have been a very different book. In the end I wanted a story of hope.

I think the idea for Hive was probably brewing for years before I started to write it. I’ve always been interested in the natural world, and it’s a big part of my writing (as a side note I think that since the first Lockdown, like a lot of us, noticing small details on my daily walks has made me even more tuned in). Climate change has been casting a shadow for a long time now. But the subject of pollinator decline is something that I’ve become more aware of in recent years. The catalyst for the story came in 2018 during a horrible period of insomnia. After sleepless nights I was usually wide awake for Farming Today on Radio Four, listening to report after report about colony collapse, diseases in beehives, the deleterious effect of neonicotinoids on pollinators… Then, unexpectedly, Hive dropped into my head early one morning and I had to write as fast as I could so as not to lose any of it – which isn’t the way it usually works with my writing!

How about you? I’ve enjoyed reading Windsmith and I understand that it’s part of a much larger story world. I’d love to know more about what inspired The Windsmith Elegy.

KM: It’s complicated, as they say, but there are two main strands. Firstly, its prequel, The Long Woman, was started in 2002 when the world was still reeling from the impact of 9/11 (in many ways we still are, but then it was at its most raw). It felt like we were collectively going through the stages of grief – many were paralysed by shock or denial, or full of rage. With war imminent it occurred to me that we were going through something similar to the early 20th Century. Way before the First World War Centenary events started to kick off I saw resonant parallels. The massive traumatic event of war led to a huge loss of life (made even more catastrophic by the devastation of the Spanish Flu in 1919) and hard times – but this created the Roaring Twenties, where those with the liberty to sought consolation in hedonism and spiritualism.

Parallel to this was the fight for Women’s Suffrage. Yet all this was too massive (for me) to fit into a single novel – so I decided to chart the impact of one death upon one life. Enter my heroine, Maud Kerne, who lost her husband in the First World War. Nearly a decade on, she cannot accept he is never coming back, and is frozen in her grief: a life in stasis. I knew people like this and wanted to understand what that was like, and critically, imagine a way out of that: a light at the end of the tunnel: an escape hatch back into life. 

I hadn’t planned to write about a forty-something widow in the early Twenties – it was initially going to focus on her husband, Isambard Kerne, a surveyor for the GWR and observer for the Royal Flying Corps obsessed with ley lines – but Maud took over the story. ‘The Long Man’ (my working title) became The Long Woman – and it became a narrative about those left behind, recovery, and finding one’s own ‘ley’ (voice and path) to live by. Set in late 1922 and 1923, it feels eerily resonant with the current situation in Ukraine, which is causing so much unspeakable suffering. War sadly never seems to go out of ‘fashion’.

Halfway through writing The Long Woman I had a flash, a download, of the five volumes I wanted to write – following Isambard into what I call the Afterlands (in the novels).

Ten years and half a million words later, I completed The Windsmith Elegy – and Windsmith, the second in the series, fully establishes the Secondary World in which Isambard Kerne finds himself, having crossed through an Angel Gate in the opening battle of the First World War. In this and subsequent novels I drew upon my long-term interest in myth, legends, and folklore – but most of all my deep knowledge of the Bardic Tradition (I worked on The Bardic Handbook around the same time, and it was published in the same year as Windsmith, 2006, from Gothic Image).

I wanted to ground my fantasy world in something solid – and so I drew upon my fascination with prehistory, with the ancient, sacred sites I like to visit (Stonehenge, Avebury, Carnac in Brittany etc) and on Celtic Iron Age culture. My magical system draws upon the Ogham alphabet, which the druids used. But most of all, the whole series brings to life the Bardic Mysteries – ‘Windsmith’ is my neologism for a Bard and is a magician of the air who can conjure the winds with their words of power. As a writer with a long interest in the spoken word (storytelling; poetry) I have a deep fascination with the power of language. As Maud find her own voice in The Long Woman, so Isambard learns to become a Windsmith in the later novels: both become empowered through language, but in different ways.

So, a long answer to your question! I did say it was complicated. Novels are seldom inspired by one single thing. Place was such an important inspiration and influence for me in writing the novels (e.g. I walked the Ridgeway – the ‘oldest road in Europe’ – as part of my research); so I wanted to ask you about that in your novel, which has a strong sense of regionality to it, of characters moving through a landscape, and the importance of one’s ‘terroir’. So, can you tell us about this? Were there particular places that inspired you? Did you do any field research? And how important is setting for you in a novel?

AD: Place is hugely important to me when I’m writing. As important as any of the characters, maybe even more so. I’m really interested to find out that you walked the Ridgeway – I grew up near there and did lots of walks along various sections of the Ridgeway – there’s such a strong sense there of how ancient the land is, the feet which have walked that path before. It feels like a place where the veil is very thin.

In the published version of Hive the story is set in rural Kent, in and around the place where I live now. In fact the first draft was set in America, and the story begins on the West Coast, where commercial bee farmers begin their year by taking their hives to pollinate the almond orchards in California, moving gradually East as the growing season draws on, moving from crop to crop. This first version of the story felt bigger and more expansive, far more plot-led, like a thriller. An agent I spoke with about the book suggested a drastic edit: proposing a more contained setting with a smaller cast of characters – with space for their stories and relationships to breathe, giving more attention to the plight of the bees and how this would affect people at a much more intimate, human level. I think that by changing the setting the novel is much stronger for it – though if any Hollywood producers happen to be reading this I still have a copy of that first draft…

Places that inspired me? The hills and orchards of the Weald, the vast open skies and flat fields of the Thanet coast, and the beautiful rich farmland here in Kent. I loved writing about the place where I’ve lived for so long.

When researching places for Hive I spread out a map of the county, borrowing settings I’m familiar with, changing the names of some of the places and leaving others the same. The setting in Thanet – the giant greenhouses there – is a place I didn’t know at all beyond driving past it occasionally. I did what research I could and imagined the rest.

One thing I slightly regret is writing an upsetting scene in the book not far from where I live. It’s on a lane where I walk most days. Knowing the place so well really helped me when I came to write the scene, but with hindsight I should probably have set it somewhere else (the problems of having an overactive imagination…). When I’ve lived with a story for so long that the characters have become real and the places ARE real, there’s a strange sort of overlap between the story world and reality. Does this sound familiar to you? Are there things you’ve explored in your books which feel more real to you than they did before? Have any of your fictional ideas inspired you to start real-life projects?

KM: Oh, yes, very familiar with that strong sense that the characters and settings you are describing are real somehow. I’m fascinated by the act of creation. Where does imagination end and … something else begin? Do our novels come from us, or through us? Sometimes it really does seem like I’m ‘channelling’ something (e.g. the character of Maud Kerne or other protagonists from my other novels definitely wanted their story told).

The Irish mystic AE (aka George Russell) talked about this in The Candle of Vision – how in dreams it is not merely our un- or sub-conscious inventing stuff, or reshuffling the day’s events, but something being glimpsed that is … autonomous – a secret world to which we are granted a brief, tantalising flash now and then. Whether that’s true or not (and who can say?) the thought intrigues me, and echoes my many experiences of invention/discovery.

One example in particular has lingered with me (and this will lead into answering the last part of your question). When writing the 3rd volume of The Windsmith Elegy, The Well Under the Sea, I created a fictional setting called Ashalantë – an island at the crossroads of time where lost souls find each other. Borne out of my research into islands (which saw the publication of my nonfiction book, Lost Islands: inventing Avalon, destroying Eden, in 2008), including many field trips to evocative places like Malta, it became very tangible to me, as I ‘went’ there daily for a couple of years until I had built up a kind of mind palace of it – I could visualise it in 360 degrees. I loved going there – my dream holiday destination!

I returned to it in writing the interactive novel set in the same storyworld: Hyperion: tower of the winds (Tales, 2021) – and in that version the reader-player can explore it themselves by choosing different routes and actions. And over the last year I have been thinking alot about future communities. What kind of world do we want to live in? And can we use the arts to imagine a better future?

I recently gave a lecture on ‘Codesigning the ecovillage of the future’ for Arts University Bournemouth, and in this I cite the experience of creating Ashalantë. I get participants to fill in a questionnaire to harvest a cross-section of perspectives on a ‘future village’, and now I’m in discussions about taking the project into schools – as it is so important to include all stakeholders. I also run what I call a ‘playshop’ – using multimodality and play to creatively explore a chosen theme. In that I encourage participants to consider all those impacted by any such initiative, including the more-than-human and the indigenous concept of the ‘Seventh Generation’.  I’m hoping that future playshops will produce some great results – getting us all thinking about the kind of world we want to live in.

          And so, that leads me to the next question. The philosopher Fredric Jameson famously said that ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.’ And we see this in the countless dystopias on the bookshelves, on the digital streaming services, and in the writing classes. Of course it is completely understandable that people are compelled to imagine worst-case scenarios – especially with the way the world is at the moment!

I wanted to ask you: what do you think about the growing ‘pushback’ to this in subgenres like Hopepunk, Solarpunk, and  initiatives like Manda Scott’s ‘Thrutopia’? Do you think we should be trying to imagine better futures, rather than nightmarish ones? And what are the challenges of writing positive speculative narratives?

 AD: I love the idea of reading about future utopias. In fact I know a writer who is working on just such a book (and I can’t wait until it’s finished – I’m really looking forward to reading it). I admire anyone who can imagine such wonderful possibilities in our future. I am here for all of those books, and will definitely look into Hopepunk, Solarpunk and Thrutopia.

I wonder, though (and this is of course through the lens of someone who is desperately worried about the world we’re living in at the moment) whether we (and our stories) can arrive at utopian futures without losing significant things along the way. In Hive there are a lot of losses – both at a personal and a world level. But because of the ingenuity of the characters and their determination to survive, there is hope at the end, and perhaps a utopia just beyond the horizon? Not just for them, but for everyone. In other words, the nightmare is not, I believe, the end of the story.

For me, this would be the challenge – I can’t get past the thought that a positive speculative narrative would have to spring from something very difficult. What do you think?

KM: In terms of narrative causality, I think it’s pretty much a given that any speculation about possible futures emerge out of addressing the challenges that we now face: that any paradigm shift, be it positive, negative, or ambiguous, will spring, artesian-like, from the multiple pressures of the modern age. It would be unrealistic to assume ‘things will just turn out okay’ (the fatal abnegation of quietism and doomism) without some major, and probably traumatic, breakdown and rebirth. Without serious effort by people to turn things around. And people are coming up with the solutions right now – for food, energy, housing, transport, etc –  and have for decades, but without political will (as imagined in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry of the Future), or a San Andreas level event (or ‘perfect storm’ of climate disasters) it won’t happen by itself. Not that I want any kind of apocalypse, except in the true sense of a ‘revelation’! But out of adversity can arise ingenuity, innovation, and the ‘best of us’ (and not just the worst as the more nihilist dystopias imagine) and so, in terms of fiction and characterisation, that is what makes good drama. And perhaps good people!

As this initiative – the Climate Fiction Writers League – and many others, exemplify. And so, to end on a positive note – it’s been a pleasure having this conversation. Such generous sharings (and well-crafted fiction) give me hope – because paying it forward, as any good novel does, is a hopeful act. And so, to round up, what gives you hope, April?

AD: People working on solutions gives me hope – and I wish that they were more visible. When the Earth Shot Prize was televised in October 2021 it was a wonderful insight into all the work that’s going on globally to address environmental challenges. That night I was filled with hope. However I find that it’s too easy, with the daily diet of news, to forget all of the good work that’s going on. There are so many ingenious projects out there, and people who are focused on what’s possible.

Here’s to a future where politicians fully engage with the ingenious solutions that are out there. Other things that give me hope? The natural world – especially since Lockdown – noticing the daily little changes outside (including, most recently, a cuckoo that has arrived near where I live. It’s the first time I’ve heard one for years). Last but definitely not least: stories and art and music – the deep and mysterious magic of creativity and creative acts. Thank you for this conversation, Kevan, it’s been wonderful. And thanks to the Climate Fiction Writers League for this opportunity!  

April Doyle is a writer, tutor and editor who lives in rural Kent with her husband and two sons. She has been teaching creative writing to adults since 2012. April’s short stories have been published in women’s magazines in the UK and Australia, and her short story Elsewhere was published in an anthology Tales From Elsewhere in 2016. Her short story Rise on the Wings was longlisted for the 2019 Mslexia Short Story competition. Hive was shortlisted for the 2019 Exeter Novel Prize.

Kevan Manwaring is a prize-winning writer & lecturer in creative writing who lives on the ancient downs of Wiltshire. He is the author of over twenty books including The Windsmith Elegy series of Mythic Reality novels; Desiring Dragons, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, The Bardic Handbook, and Ballad Tales (ed.). He loves walking in other worlds, but sometimes he prefers to ride his Triumph motorbike.

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Solutions Spotlight

Today, Katy Yocom shares an extract from Three Ways to Disappear, a contemporary adult novel which involves conservation workers in India trying to save a tiger habitat. In part by helping villagers reduce their dependence on the national parks’ resources, and here the NGO workers deal with a drought:

“We need a dredger to dig out that lake,” she said. 

Back at the Tiger Survival office, they worked the phones for hours. Geeta and Sarah put out calls to other NGOs and government agencies, trying to round up emergency funding. Sanjay and William called their construction contacts in search of earth-moving equipment, though with the ground baked so hard, the equipment might prove useless. At the end of the day, they gathered for a briefing. “The best we can do is start in ten days’ time,” William said.

“And until then? Geeta asked. 

“I can think of only one solution. Bring in the water by tanker.”

“Expensive,” she said. “And insufficient. But I don’t see a way around it.”

The World Wide Fund for Nature – India works to protect tigers in India through Biodiversity Conservation and Footprint Reduction.

Individual Heroism as a Story Engine

Aya de León and Michael DeLuca discuss their work in genre fiction which includes climate issues.

Michael: QUEEN OF URBAN PROPHECYhas a romance backbone–I’ve seen you use this word to describe your own work so I am not as wary of speaking out of turn there as I might be. It’s also packed with people struggling to do right with what they’re given, taking responsibility for their actions, standing up for each other and for people who don’t have a voice. And giving voice to subjects that even in 2022 somehow still feel taboo in publishing: climate justice, defunding the police. For me, coming as I do from science fiction and fantasy, what I feel doing the work of a speculative element here is the main characters acting admirably even when it’s hard, doing right and speaking righteously in spaces where it’s systemically discouraged. I am delighted by this book, delighted to be made aware it is a kind of book that exists, and now I’m wondering what I’ve been missing out on. Who are the novelists out there that pointed you in the direction this book and your work in general is going–and/or the rappers and activists, if you feel more of your influences for this work came from those worlds? In what ways do you see your work breaking new ground?

Aya: In college, I read Sam Greenlee’s THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR. It was a classic Black Power spy novel about domestic armed revolution, a somber political fantasy. In my 20s, I read Mabel Maney’s Nancy Clue (queer Nancy Drew parody) and Jane Bond (James Bond’s lesbian twin sister). My work is a sort of wild intersection of these two lineages, the male-dominated Black militant legacy and the white 2nd wave lesbian feminist legacy.

Somehow I’ve figured out how to make them work together, and QUEEN OF URBAN PROPHECY borrows from both and uses a hip hop cultural lens to fight for climate justice. But my fiction world is born of both of these political fantasy lineages where the underdogs win. I write that because that’s what I want to see happening in the world.

A lot of these politically charged novels with victorious endings are happening in books for young readers. The other climate book that I LOVE that does this is Natalia Sylvester’s RUNNING. I was so moved that after I read it at the end of 2021, I wrote a whole Green New Deal young adult/middle grade novel inspired by what she was doing in YA, THE MYSTERY WOMAN IN ROOM THREE. Which really painted me into an awful publishing corner because the Green New Deal was way too politically urgent to go to a traditional publisher with that story.

If I waited the 2-3 years needed for traditional publishing, it would come out in 2023-24.I wanted the book to come out at the beginning of the Biden administration. I had an online outlet who was ready to publish it in late spring of 2021. The contract was on my agent’s desk and we were just negotiating about the editorial process, but then they got a new executive editor who dropped out before we finished executing the contract. So my project was orphaned but I was determined to get it out before the end of the year. I reached out to a number of outlets and–thankfully–it finally found a home at Orion [read the novel online here].

I had to get an exception from my YA publisher, because technically it was my next novel for young readers and they had first right of refusal. But they understand that I’m an activist as much as an author and signed off. I got a fraction from Orion of what I got for my other YA books, but that particular novel was my first intentional piece of climate fiction propaganda. I wanted to see if I could write a novel that was essentially promoting the GND. And then I wanted to get it published while the GND was still politically relevant as a platform that the climate movement was pushing at the national level. Moving forward with subsequent novels, I want to figure out how to push even harder with the climate justice fiction propaganda. 

Michael: I am kind of floored by this! That you’re using the word “propaganda” here–it spurs me. I want to see more like this, I want to be more like this. Thank you. I’m sure you’re more familiar than I am with discussion of “civility” as a tactic for discourse that is steeped in white supremacy. I was raised in that tradition, it is ingrained in me to be polite, respectful, non-confrontational, pretty much up to the last possible second before somebody else initiates violence. And that’s what this moment is in the fight for climate justice, I daresay: the last possible moment. But I’m still have trouble raising my voice, calling for disobedience and disrespect of the status quo.

I see Deza doing that in QUEEN OF URBAN PROPHECY–but only after a lot of hesitation, even knowing as she does that she’s already been pushed into the spotlight. She’s learning, seeing the consequences of her choices unfold in real time, e.g. when she gets corporate sponsorship from a clothing company that turns out to use child labor, accepting her mistakes and changing them. Did you go through a process like that yourself, one that you’re able to draw on in your writing? Do you find having an expected story framework, like a romance–or a heist for that matter–makes it easier to accommodate activist language like that? 

Aya: I come from an activist family, so I’m sort of writing the epiphany moment of politicization that I never had. I grew up in a family with a strong leftist and class and anti-racist analysis. But I really do love using these genres to write political stories. There’s a much different pressure in literary fiction to be ambiguous and explore the gray areas. But I have a very soap-boxy style with my politics. So I just set the stories in super politicized contexts and have controversial things happening to people. And then I have them taking political stands that are a reasonable result of their character development. And in the process, I’m committed to showing the movements having wins.

All these books definitely do each have a “romance backbone.” As a writer of novels with romance arcs, the form commits me to a HEA (happily ever after) ending. It’s clear that the characters are going to be romantically happy, and it also implies that the movements are on the way to being successful. But with a literary novella like yours, anything is possible.

I’m always curious about how other authors decide how to end their stories, when they don’t have any genre prescriptions. In your novella Night Roll, the character Aileen goes on a group neighborhood nighttime bike ride with an inclusive, carnival atmosphere, the ‘Night Roll’.

The momentum toward Aileen’s Night Roll built steadily throughout the story. Did you have the ending in mind from the start? Was it challenging to decide how to land the book?

Michael: The idea that Aileen would get into the Night Roll in an effort to save Virgil from the Elf was in my mind from the beginning. But I spent awhile wavering over whether to let Aileen “save” Virgil or sacrifice Christian or die in some climactic battle with Beaurein, worrying a fantasy audience wouldn’t be satisfied without a final, decisive encounter.

You’re right that the rules are different, but I think reader (and publisher) expectations do persist, and end up needing to be addressed, across genres? Anyway, yes, I did struggle with that. I wanted Aileen’s journey to be personal–I didn’t want to end up writing a “white savior”. I also happen to be a sucker for a kind of “open” ending I think of as a hallmark of literary writing, where a little more thinking is asked of the reader: what’s next, where are these characters going? 

Aya: What do you want readers to take from Night Roll? I keep telling the same story over and over: African heritage woman is going about her business and gets caught up in the climate crisis, then she decides to join the movement for climate justice. I want to leave the reader with the idea that they can join the movement, as well. 

Michael: Grace Lee Boggs, the Chinese-American civil rights activist, who was a fixture in Detroit organizing from when she first moved here in the 50s with her husband Jimmy Boggs until her death in 2012, was a huge influence on me in writing this. One thing she said that sticks with me:

“The most radical thing I ever did was to stay put.”

What that communicates to me is a repudiation of the colonizing spirit. Come to a new place not to take from it everything you can and remake it in your own image, but to listen, learn, adapt, build connections, and figure out a way to help. That was a lesson I needed to hear when I got here. And I feel like it’s something a lot of people are going to need to hear in the near future, as climate change forces all this mass migration, and as white folks begin to come to terms with colonialism and extractive capitalism’s legacy in the world.

I’d love to think Aileen’s journey could provide some kind of model or jumping-off point for that process. Put down roots, build soil and watch what grows.

Aya: The book was really grounded in Detroit. How did you pick that city as your setting? Was it because of your own relationship with the place? Was it about what the city represents in terms of the automobile industry? Neither? Both? Something else?

Michael: I moved to Detroit’s distant post-industrial northern suburbs in 2011, with my partner who had accepted a professorship at a university here. It was very alien to me at first, as it is for Aileen in NIGHT ROLL, but one of the things that helped me find footing was the amazing bike culture.

As a result of the auto industry collapse, white flight and a massive reduction in population, Detroit has a lot of wide, beautiful (not terribly well-paved) streets with hardly any cars on them that were practically begging to be converted for bike lanes, and that was already happening when I got here. So practically the whole setting and premise of NIGHT ROLL were handed to me gift-wrapped. 

Aya: As an author, I write only about the present. I have a couple of MG novels that include some time travel to the past. There’s something I seem to be called to explore there about where certain lineages of trauma and heroism come from, but I don’t ever write the future. It’s not particularly a choice–my mind just doesn’t spin any stories there. What calls to you about writing in the near future? What do you find possible to explore if you’re constrained by the present reality?

Michael: Honestly, I think I have the same trouble you do. I feel like the best I can do is look at the past, try and find the patterns and then employ those in thinly disguising the present as the future. Because the present is what I want to change! I publish a magazine that features a lot of thinking about the future, but no distant, far-flung alien world means anything to me except as a metaphor for what has happened in the past and what’s happening here and now on earth. The metaphor is important, and useful, to me. I’ve thought about this regarding what we publish at Reckoning and with respect to climate grief.

The pain of what’s happening, the injustice, the suffering, ICE detainees, heatwaves, hurricanes, refugee crises, species dying out, desertification–it’s so much that it’s enervating to try to take it head-on. So I look for another lens, weird, beautiful, maybe even a bit silly, that will let me feel my way through without getting bogged down in the quicksand of grief. Magic is great for that, and the unwritten future–like that of an infant child–helps a lot too. 

Aya: Speaking of infants, your book really took me back to my own new motherhood. In particular, the loss of biking during my pregnancy and afterwards having to wait until my own kid was old enough to ride that I could get on the bike again. (Of course, in other countries kids travel much earlier).

What was your inspiration to write a protagonist who was a woman and new mom? Were there challenges for you in writing from that POV? Did you consult with anyone?

Michael: When I started writing NIGHT ROLL, my son was less than six weeks old and my partner and I were doing the insomniac spit-up-covered zombie thing. So all the stuff about sleepless hallucinations and regular wake/sleep schedules seeming like fantasy were all drawn from life.

I’d also just watched all three of my younger sisters become mothers and go through a lot of that, including one who’s a cycling safety and infrastructure advocate in Boston. And though my partner doesn’t bike much, she was very forthcoming about how all that felt. And I was trying to be there with her as much as I could.

Aya: In the 1970s, Ms. Magazine published “The Story of X” by Lois Gould, about a baby who grew up with their gender never being revealed. Many years before the modern transgender liberation movement, it was about subverting gender roles and expectations. The way you treated Christian’s character and pronouns reminded me of that story. What were your hopes for the impact of Christian’s character on your readers?

Michael: I hope seeing Christian being allowed to grow towards and figure out their own sexuality will help normalize a little for readers the extent to which gender roles are something we as a society impose on kids. I never encountered “The Story of X”–I’m going to seek it out now! But it took me a long time, with help again from my partner, who teaches women and gender studies, to see how much work goes into maintaining those rigid categorizations and how much trauma comes out of it. 

I also meant Christian to represent the uncarved block that is Detroit’s future, and by extension humanity’s future, dealing with climate change and environmental injustice. So much of Detroit was in the process of falling into ruin when I got here, at the same time all these new things were being born, corporate “revitalization” projects alongside huge groundswell for urban community agriculture. The idea that Christian could grow up unburdened by the detrimental institutions of the past was moving for me, and representative of the hopes I have for my own kid’s future. 

Aya: What was your inspiration for the Night Roll itself? I recall watching a Critical Mass bike party roll past the corner at the end of my block one day and I was mesmerized. Do you have experience riding in or witnessing any of those mass biking actions?

Michael: Slow Roll is (was and will be again) an event organized by the wonderful cycling advocacy community in Detroit, a series of neighborhood nighttime rides with an inclusive, carnival atmosphere that were sadly derailed by COVID and are still in the process of recovering. I saw a Slow Roll going past me in the street one day, like you I was fascinated, and yes that was absolutely one of the seeds of NIGHT ROLL. And eventually I got to ride 30 miles around Detroit with a bunch of those folks in a thing they call the Tour De Troit. It was absolutely inspiring, and yes, all of that is in the book.

Aya: I am not a scholar of my myths or classic stories. Beaurein and the Elf seemed like they might be modeled on rivals from a classic story…were they? If so, which one(s)?

Michael: The Elf is an amalgam of two mythic figures. One is the Queen of the Fairies from the Scottish ballad Tam Lin, in which the fairy queen kidnaps Tam Lin and his lover has to ride (a horse) into fairyland and fight a shapeshifting battle in order to rescue him.

The other is the Nain Rouge (red dwarf), a kind of racist, anti-Indigenous trickster figure the descendants of the French settlers of Detroit dreamed up as someone to blame for their failures. The Nain’s legend has since been reclaimed somewhat, and there’s an annual Mardi Gras parade here that’s named in his honor. 

Beaurein on the other hand is just my colonizer/extractive capitalist boogeyman, a stand-in for people like Cadillac, the alcoholic French playboy and war criminal who gets credit for settling Detroit even though the people of the Three Fires were fishing and trading here twelve thousand years before, or for Henry and Edsel Ford, who in the course of industrializing Detroit also instituted all the white supremacist policies that paved the way for the race riots of 1941, redlining, Detroit’s Wailing Wall and the city’s white depopulation starting in the 80s. Beaurein’s legacy is also, unfortunately, alive in Detroit to this day.

Before we close, I wanted to ask you about the impact of this kind of political, activist speech in fiction and art. I publish a journal of creative writing on environmental justice, Reckoning, so I think about the efficacy of art in effecting social and political change a lot.

In 2015, when I started the journal, I was completely convinced that radical art and writing was desperately needed, was a worthy and admirable way to pursue activism that could produce real results, even if those results were hard to perceive. Here in 2022 that math is much harder for me, though I still believe deeply in what Reckoning is doing, and in my own writing I’m trying to engage with these issues as hard as I can.

What’s it been like for you, committing to writing as a tool for fomenting progress? How do you imagine a middle grade reader encountering your Green New Deal novel and being inspired by it–what does that kid go on to do? Write fiction? Protest? Something more?

Aya: in the past year and a half, I have become obsessed with writing about the climate justice movement, and I definitely want to inspire people to join in collective action for change. I’m obsessed with the idea of using fiction to create a literature of winning, and I wrote about it here at the Climate Justice Writers League. I really want to write more movement fiction for adults, because the young people are pretty clear about what’s at stake.

I notice that the novel as a form is often more focused on the individual—particularly the exceptional individual—and I fall into that trap in a lot of different ways. Even though all my protagonists are raised poor or working class, somehow all of my climate fiction involves some sort of celebrity or elite education. I am currently trying to figure out how to get out of that.

Of all my books that are out in the world, my most successful was THE MYSTERY WOMAN IN ROOM THREE, because the heroes were ordinary teens, the main two were undocumented. But my adult novels all have individual heroism as a sort of story engine. How do I write about people who aren’t famous or rich or doing something wildly exceptional? And above all, how do I model setting really compelling stories in the midst of collective action for climate justice. I don’t know yet, but that is definitely my goal!

Michael: Thank you very much for doing this with me! It has been inspiring and amazing.

Michael J. DeLuca lives in the rapidly suburbifying post-industrial woodlands north of Detroit with partner, kid, cats and microbes. He is the publisher of Reckoning, a journal of creative writing on environmental justice. His short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Mythic Delirium, and lots of other places. His novella, Night Roll, released by Stelliform Press in October 2020, was a finalist for the Crawford Award.

Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program, teaching creative writing at UC Berkeley. Kensington Books publishes her award-winning feminist heist/romance series, Justice Hustlers: UPTOWN THIEF (2016), THE BOSS (2017), THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS (2018), and SIDE CHICK NATION (2019) which was the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

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Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Annemarie Allan shares an extract from Breaker, her childrens adventure novel about how two children, a mad professor and the local community, come together to save the Firth of Forth from a potentially catastrophic oil spill.

The inside of the wardrobe was awash with a patchwork of sparkling greens and browns.

‘There’s no need for an external light source. The bioluminescent moss does it all for you.’

‘But what is it?’ Tom was mystified.

‘An indoor pet walker, of course!’ The professor waved at the green and brown walls. ‘A nice woodland walk even when it’s raining outside. Look!’

The children looked. The floor of the wardrobe was missing.

‘There’s a treadmill down there.’ said the professor. ‘It generates energy while you walk. Saves it up, too!’

Based in North Berwick where most of the events in Breaker take place, Fidra is an environmental charity which combats the harmful chemical contamination of the environment from consumer products, industrial processes and waste. Fidra are evidence-based, pragmatic and collaborative.

Teaching Resource for Green Rising by Lauren James

Mr B Tillbrook, librarian at Invicta Grammar School, has prepared some teaching resources for students reading the Young Adult novel Green Rising by Lauren James. This is suitable for Year 7 (age 11-12).

Green Rising Guided Reading booklet (includes: about the author, things to think about when reading, extract from the novel, challenge activity, extension tasks, letter from the author, further reading) [PDF download]

Year 7 – Green Rising scheme of work (guidance for teachers) [Word Document download]

There is also a list of book club discussion from the publisher available here.

You can email Mr Tillbrook to discuss the resources or ask for an editable copy here.

Set in a near-future world on the brink of ecological catastrophe, Lauren James’ novel is a gripping, witty and romantic call to arms.

Gabrielle is a climate-change activist who shoots to fame when she becomes the first teenager to display a supernatural ability to grow plants from her skin. Hester is the millionaire daughter of an oil tycoon and the face of the family business. Theo comes from a long line of fishermen, but his parents are struggling to make ends meet.

On the face of it, the three have very little in common. Yet when Hester and Theo join Gabrielle and legions of other teenagers around the world in developing the strange new “Greenfingers” power, it becomes clear that to use their ability for good, they’ll need to learn to work together. But in a time of widespread corruption and greed, there are plenty of profit-hungry organizations who want to use the Greenfingers for their own ends. And not everyone would like to see the Earth saved…

As they navigate first love and family expectations, can the three teenagers pull off the ultimate heist and bring about a green rising?

The Magic of Nature by Josh Martin

I just read Lord of the Rings for the first time and here’s my take away: it’s like, the OG treehugger’s book. Before Suzanne Simard and Peter Wohlleben and Richard Power’s The Overstorythere was this eccentric professor who loved languages and heroism and ended up writing a 1000+ page tome that’s as much about keeping trees in forests and hills green as it is about anything else.

What struck me in particular was its magic, and the narrow, out-of-the-corner-of-your-eye ways it appears. Yes, there are magic words, yes there are flashes of light, telepathy, possessions – but always above and beyond that I felt the power of the natural world: the cold of the mountains, the blistering heat of the lands of Mordor, the cool shade of Fangorn forest. In Middle Earth, nature is not the stronger magic, but the oldest magic: the place from which all the magic came. It’s an idea that many myths from all over the world explore, but I hadn’t expected to find these themes laid out so clearly and carefully in the fantasy story I assumed had nothing fresh for me to look at.

It made me think about how fantasy fiction has always been about how humans impact the world around them, even when it isn’t trying. Magic often seems to be speaking to a particular kind of interaction between humans and nature. If you look closely, you can see patterns forming. Some stories relate a binary of magics: one which imposes itself through order and a another that muddles along in chaos.

This division can often create a binary in morality as well – in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, chaos is characterised as an imposition to our protagonists and must be defeated or restructured in order to restore balance. In a world where the dead won’t stay dead and Free Magic erodes the fabric of reality the magic wielders must take up the position of the imposer – restoring the natural order in the face of raw and unwieldy elementals. Nix’s Charter Magic harnesses the power of Free Magic by forcing it into sense and symbols, but doing it skilfully is hard, and the order that Sabriel, Lirael et al are obliged to carve onto the world around them is deliciously slippery and hard won. The world of the Old Kingdom is naturally chaotic, always trying to slide back into mess and corruption and there is a sense that the battle of the Abhorsens is ongoing and eternal.

In its first pages, we find a similar attitude towards chaos/magic in Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. Agnieszka’s world is a forest, and the demons and monsters can pass their corruption to anyone with frightening ease: a touch, a scratch, or even a lungful of bad spores can do it. But as Agnieszka’s indenture to the local wizard (known as the Dragon) progresses and her aptitude for his straight-laced, single-minded magic exhausts her, she gradually learns there is another way. From [Baba] Yaga’s scribbled notebook, Agnieszka learns a magic that exists between chaos and order – that pushes chaos gently in the direction of balance rather than exerting a powerful will over it (It’s beautifully described and executed, and evoked for me the exact feeling I have as a writer when I’m in the process of inventing, making something up but trying to balance pure creativity with narrative sense).

There are echoes of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea in this magic, particularly some of her wonderful passages from the fourth Earthsea novel, Tehanu, in which our protagonist, Tenar, contemplates how this other, less obvious magic is more innately feminine (apologies for the long quote but if you haven’t read it I certainly hope to intrigue you enough to give it a go):

“The best I can say, it’s like this. A man’s in his skin, see, like a nut in its shell … It’s hard and strong, that shell, and it’s all full of him. Full of grand man-meat, man-self. And that’s all. That’s all there is. A woman’s a different thing entirely. Who knows where a woman begins and ends? Listen mistress, I have roots, I have roots deeper than this island. Deeper than the sea, older than the raising of the lands. I go back into the dark … I go back into the dark! Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman’s power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon. Who dares ask questions of the dark? Who’ll ask the dark its name?”

 Le Guin seems to be reflecting on how so much of patriarchal norms have been established out of enviousness for this deep-seated magic: as old and natural as anything is old and natural.

For me, it’s such a pertinent comment on our modern predicament: that men’s (and more broadly, patriarchy’s) unwillingness to stand still and listen and try to learn from this older, deeper magic is doing as much damage to the natural world that reflects it as it is to women, queer people and anyone who cannot hope to walk along patriarchy’s narrow precipice.

This seems to be the lesson that more and more writers are pointing to: embracing wilderness, not from the patriarchal sense of survival, but in the sense of allowing a wildness to grow around you, to curb the impulse to impose yourself upon wilderness and find the points where you are needed, where you can help wilderness to thrive.

We’re seeing that kind of philosophy in many, many nature books at the moment, but we’re also seeing a resurgence in popularity in the kind of fantasy and sci-fi that nurtures this outlook. I feel a nervous yearning, as I’m sure many people do, for the ending promised in Disney Movies: where things are returned to as they were before, and yet I know that the more  mature outlook presented Studio Ghibli’s Nausicaäor Princess Mononokeis the one to hope for – not a redemption but a promise of healing and regrowth. It’s the same note I tried to leave my reader with when I wrote my first book, Ariadnis, which is about the almost-war between two cities on the last island on earth and it’s sequel, which is about struggling to rebuild, but it feels time to move beyond a promise.

I want to be working towards the tentatively optimistic future that Becky Chambers predicts in her novels. I want a sequel to Uprooted that painstakingly details the healing of Agnieszka’s forest and what it looks like when it’s done. It feels like our duty as writers to continue to call attention to the wild magic of nature, to listen to what it’s trying to say and inspire more to do the same.

Josh Martin writes and draws his way through life and is currently residing in London. He has aspired to novel writing since he was a tadpole and has since graduated from Exeter University before completing Bath Spa’s Writing For Young People MA. His particular interest in heroines, fantasy, environment, gender studies and wisdom led him to write his first book Ariadnis, published by Quercus Children’s Books in February 2017, and its sequel, Anassa, published in February 2018.

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Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Linda Woodrow shares an extract from 470, her dystopian novel. The scene discusses an economy based on localism – locally grown food, artisanal household goods, refurbishment and repair, producer and consumer in at most two degrees of separation.

Duke would get a carrot today. Trade was good. It was a fine, blue sky autumn day and the market was buzzing so hard even the buskers’ hats were filling with produce and small coins. Stalls overflowed with pumpkins, tomatoes, chillies and cucumbers. There were hands of bananas and pyramids of deep red pomegranates. A young man at the stall next to him had cages of chickens and ducklings and one a few stalls up had tanks of fish fingerlings. A piglet tethered to a post squealed as people tripped over it. Along Doobie’s stretch there was a bosomy woman with a cloud of silver hair who sold herbal medicines, a man selling refurbished electronics and a woman selling vegetables, macadamia butter, tortillas and charcoal.

Doobie was wearing his lucky pink singlet. The singlet was getting very worn now, but his magic always flowed when he was in it. His pouch was heavy with coins, his cart was full of goods and his crypto account in credit.

He had only half a box left of the apples he’d brought down from his friends’ orchard near Stanthorpe. He’d been lucky with the weather – it had stayed cool and dry. But the journey took more than a week and even though he’d packed them carefully, the apples wouldn’t last. He gave one to a woman who passed by singing to herself in a high, sing-song voice. Her pale fair hair was tangled and she was dressed in ragged velvet and lace too heavy for this beautiful warm day. She looked like she needed some sweetness. She thanked him with clasped hands and bowed head.

The Farmers Market Coalition supports local farmers in the USA.

Will the Human Species Exist in Six Thousand Years?

Authors Saul Tanpepper and Sequoia Nagamatsu discuss their science fiction dystopia works.

Saul Tanpepper: Hi, Sequoia. It’s a real pleasure to be able to talk with you about your recent book, How High We Go in the Dark. I read it as soon as it came out and was completely immersed from the first page. It’s such an expansive work, but one theme that struck me throughout is connections– how we try (and often fail) to connect with one another; how our fate and the fate of the planet are interconnected; how the distant past, present, and distant future might connect. The chapters themselves are connected through theme, rather than character, which is an unusual approach structurally. Did you set out with this in mind, or was it something that came together after a period of time?

Sequoia Nagamatsu: The process of writing the novel was very kaleidoscopic in nature. It took me nearly ten years to write the book (of course I wrote another book in the interim and there were long periods away from the project). At first, the very raw/early forms of some of the chapters began as individual short stories, so the connectivity across the book does nod at a life as story collection where the narrative thrust is thematic and incident oriented. I began with themes of grief and reimagining funerary practices and several years later the plague element as narrative thread entered the manuscript.

That said, beyond the overarching themes, there are connections between characters which I strengthened/deepened in later stages of the novel, as well as dropping in hints in every chapter that compounds to the final chapter, which seeks to tie together some of the themes, character connections, and a cosmic frame.

I’m also curious about the origins and development of a story like Leviathan, which seems to be in conversation with the conventions of myth and folklore in both content and tone. Did you always intend the story to be told in this style? What do you think the role of myth and cultural memory is with regard to our modern world (and in particular conversations of the climate crisis)?

Saul: I’d had this question bouncing around in my head for a while of what it would mean to be the last person alive on a dying planet knowing you’re the final repository of all knowledge about the world and its inhabitants— the last caretaker of all memory, so to speak, not just cultural. I can imagine it would be a heavy burden to bear. But imagining is one thing, and I wanted this to be more than a simple thought exercise. I wanted to get deep inside the head of this person in a meaningful and relevant way. The challenge was to write a character who isn’t just preoccupied with trying to stay alive, but who is also obsessed with understanding who they are and where they come from, and whose circumstances give them the opportunity to seek out the answers to those questions.

For the tone and structure of the story, I took inspiration from Cormac McCarthy’s dark post-apocalyptic novel The Road. In that book, the two main characters are a child and an adult whose relationship to each other is left unclear, which got me thinking about personal lineages. More specifically, how we view our individual selves and our place in the world as the vessels of all the people who antecede us. In “Leviathan,” one character makes a conscious decision to erase the past as much as possible, as if to sever them from that burden. The second character, denied of knowing their past by the first character’s choice, yearns to understand who they are and their place in a world that seemingly offers no hope for the future. With respect to mythical elements, I didn’t set out to write it that way; rather, I think those elements arose as a consequence of the main character’s personal lack of factual context, which forces them to think about the world in a much more primal way.

That being said, I did intentionally include both myth and cultural memory in my most recent climate fiction story, “The Cloud Weaver’s Song.” I think they can be very effective tools for talking about subjects whose roots can be traced back generations. Anthropomorphic climate change is also such a large and complex problem that we risk losing people by trying to discuss it solely on a factual basis. Everyone understands the consequences of rising sea levels and drought, but very few people have yet to be impacted by it enough to change their behaviors. Storytelling — and in particular, stories steeped in myth — gives us a powerful way of teaching people what happens when we don’t.

In your story, climate change is the catalyst, causing the release of an ancient virus from a melting Siberian cave, but it’s also a constant theme in the book. You talk a lot about sea level rise and sinking cities, the California wildfires, and of course melting permafrost. I’ve employed the pandemic theme in my own writing, and as a former molecular biologist the emergence of new and archaic viruses are a real concern. But for me, the biggest threat of climate change, regardless of how it manifests, whether it be through disease, habitat loss, flooding, is how it will impact sensitive communities. More and more people will be forced to leave their homes; we’ll become uncomfortably familiar with the climate refugee designation for displaced persons. What is your biggest climate concern, and how do you think we’ll be able to address it?

Sequoia: You’re absolutely right. I think the kind of viral outbreak in the novel isn’t likely–although still something to monitor as many scientists acknowledge. Of course the nature of the plague in my novel is otherworldly in origin, so I would hope my Arctic Plague would never happen. But in some ways the plague isn’t really the point. It’s a vehicle for theme and a frame for the story. Once I introduce the plague the primary concern of the novel is how people respond and react–particularly in small, everyday ways. And in this way I think the plague in my novel is a parallel to how society and individuals respond to tragedy, to a significant upset to our world and worldview (like Covid). While looking into climate change mitigating solutions, engaging with green policies/legislation, and reimagining our industries, I think a major force that is important in addressing climate change resides with community and empathy–how we treat each other, how we think about the language that describes our relationship with the world and each other.

I think my biggest concern is that too many people will not be willing to enter those conversations, will not be interested in the plight of their fellow human beings. In some ways our Covid crisis has heightened those fears. Without empathy, we’ll make little progress in mitigating and preventing further damage, retreating back to the systems and inequities that created our problems to begin with.

And what are your biggest climate concerns? How do you see storytelling (and the arts and humanities more broadly) being part of future climate actions and dialogues?

Saul: By far my biggest frustration with the climate conversation — indeed, with any complex technical discussion — is the willingness by so many to dismiss scientific consensus based on little more than conjecture, gut feeling, or preconceived notions. Within this segment of society, there’s this misconception that they’re practicing healthy skepticism; it’s actually unreasoned denialism. There’s a huge difference between the two.

As a trained scientist, I’m naturally skeptical. I question everything I don’t personally understand and try my best to learn more about it before forming an opinion. But I don’t have to know everything about astrophysics or musical theory to accept what experts in their respective fields consider consensus, because I trust they’ve applied the most rigorous practices developing and testing their theories, and have properly vetted their conclusions through adequate peer review processes.

I wish everyone had a better understanding of this distinction, because it would make having these discussions so much easier. But it doesn’t mean we can’t reach the deniers; they just operate differently. That’s why art in all its forms is so important right now, because it’s a form of messaging that can resonate with those who rely more on emotion than logic to make their decisions. It’s a way to bridge the divide currently separating so many of us.  It’s also why I love writing science fiction, particularly hard sci-fi, because it offers me a way to reach people on both an intellectual and an emotional level.

How High We Go in the Dark starts at an ending and ends at beginnings. It’s an interesting narrative structure that delivers the climax first as the inciting event, but draws us in and keeps us reading, because what we all want is also an implicit objective in the story: a cure. Or, in a broader sense, resolution, both from the pandemic, but also from the mystery surrounding it.

We know how climate change will impact us, because we can already see its effects. We’re entering our own climax moment, but we can’t wait for the resolution to be written. We must write it now. What will the story end up being? Where do you see us being by the end of the century? Two hundred years from now? Six thousand?

Sequoia: It’s honestly difficult to imagine our world beyond a year from now, a few years. Will the human species even exist in six thousand years? Or will civilization as we know it even exist in a few hundred? That sounds bleak, but I don’t think it’s uncalled for.

While my students give me much hope–young people who care deeply about the planet and issues of social justice related to environmental catastrophe, the Covid years have certainly given me some pause, as I’ve mentioned above. We’re much more fractured and dysfunctional as a society (particularly in America) than I previously thought.

Most editors would have laughed you out of the room if you told them the events of recent years for being completely outlandish and unbelievable. And yet here we are. While my Star Trek heart would love to imagine where we’ll be in the distant future (and of course I do this in my fiction), my real world/non-writerly self is just trying to imagine where we’ll be in a few months. I think there’s something hopeful about thinking about where we’ll be in large time scales, but I think we also need to think in smaller terms–what can we do right now.

What about you? What are your resolutions? What do you see for us?

Saul: I think the answer to many of our problems, including climate change, is education— better, longer, expanded. And I don’t just mean informing the public — that’s the job of the Media, which has always opted for stories that elicit strong emotions over those that instill intellectual curiosity — but educating people how to think critically, deeply, and creatively, no matter what their chosen area of study. Not only will this help convert deniers into objective thinkers, but it will ultimately lead to better, more innovative solutions to the challenges we face today.

Now, one might argue that anthropogenic climate change can be traced back to technological advancements, from the discovery of fire to the rise of the Manufacturing Age to our current unsatisfied demand for rare earth elements, and since technology is spurred by innovation, which is itself the offspring of education, why expand education if it’s just going to put more strain on the planet? But better education will help us better appreciate our impact on the planet, and better, more directed, innovation will help drive the creation of technology that will reduce that strain and correct the damage.

About a third of the way into the book is the chapter “Through the Garden of Memory.” It’s both metaphysical journey and metaphor, and I’m guessing the inspiration for the title of the book. It’s placement in the story acts as a kind of fulcrum, a pivot point where you take us from this heavy, almost unrelenting, sense of finality and into the realm of infinite possibilities. What message, if any, do you hope your readers come away from this chapter and from the book?

Sequoia: Ultimately, I hope my readers walk away with a sense of community–the importance of forming new connections and strengthening/honoring old ones. How can we use tragic moments, times of uncertainty to reimagine better versions of ourselves and society? How can we look beyond our prejudices and differences to come together for a greater good?

And what about readers of Leviathan? Does this story resonate with your other work in terms of take-aways you want readers to walk away with or is the message/theme here particularly unique to this work? The thread of the importance of names is particularly present, for instance.

Saul: A lot of my work is dystopian, so I spend a significant amount of time thinking about how we as individuals and species survive, fight, and overcome seemingly insurmountable systemic challenges. Implicit in many of these types of stories is hope and victory. Although I’ve left the ending of “Leviathan” intentionally vague, readers are invited to interpret it as either hopeful or not.

In terms of similarity to my other works, I think my short story “The Last Zookeeper” is most similar to “Leviathan” in a number of ways— the end of humanity and the transition into a new world, characters obsessed with understanding the past in order to better understand themselves, to name a couple. Coincidentally, the narrators of both stories remain nameless, as do most of the secondary characters.

Many of the early chapters in your book absolutely destroyed me – “City of Laughter,” “Elegy Hotel,” “Through the Garden of Memory.” You take us through this emotional woodchipper right from the start. You tear us apart and then bring us back together again so that by the end of the book I feel almost… reborn. The chapters reflect this in a way, too: they’re looser, even tenuous in their relationship to one another by the very end, as if they’re exploring new connections with each other. I’m curious if writing it took you on a similar journey of discovery and redefinition.

Sequoia: I think the process of writing definitely reflected this idea of discovery and redefining relationships. As mentioned, some of these stories began as stand-alone pieces, but as I started conceiving this book as a whole, something more than the sum of its parts, I began looking at possible connections, possible scenes that would force a reader to flip back to an earlier section for an ah ha moment.

I’ve noticed readers indicating in reviews how the ending of the novel has prompted them to re-read the book sooner rather than later since they would be able to find new connections, would see mysterious characters in a new light with the information revealed at the book’s end. Applied to my own life, I think this book has helped me reflect on new ways of being. I think that’s probably not uncommon during the Covid years, but editing a plague book during an actual pandemic allowed me to dwell with questions of “what now?” perhaps more so than the average person.

How would you say writing a story like Leviathan helps you reflect upon our own realities? On your own way of seeing and navigating the world? What makes climate fiction worth writing for you?

Saul: I’m terribly frustrated by the direction our world seems to be headed, and by the division and dysfunction between us, which you mentioned earlier. I worry about the world we’re leaving our children. With regards to important social issues, I see climate fiction and other artistic expressions as a form of activism, but on a far grander scale than protests.

Art has the potential to reach a much broader segment of society and erase social, political, and ideological boundaries. Anytime I can reach people and instill in them a sense of urgency about important issues is time and effort well spent. Like the characters in “Leviathan,” we all must live in the world our ancestors created. So that our children will live in a better world than ours, we must be responsible architects of the future by making better choices today.

If I can help people envision the possibilities of their choices, both good and bad, and thereby encourage them to at least think about the consequences of their actions, then it is absolutely worth it.

Sequoia Nagamatsu is the author of the national bestselling novel, How High We Go in the Dark, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, as well as the story collection, Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone. His work has appeared in literary magazines such as Tin House, Lightspeed Magazine, The Iowa Review, and Conjunctions, among others. He is an associate professor of creative writing at St. Olaf College, where he also teaches in the Environmental Conversations program, and serves on the low-res MFA faculty at the Rainier Writers Workshop.

Saul Tanpepper is the author of the popular post-apocalyptic survival series BUNKER 12 and ZPOCALYPTO, as well as the cli-fi stories “The Cloud Weaver’s Song,” a second-place finalist in Grist/Fix’s Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, and “They Dreamed of Poppies.” A former combat medic and retired PhD scientist from Northern California, he is the co-author (as Kenneth James Howe) of the African diaspora memoirs “Relentless” and “I Will Not Grow Downward.”

Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Ana Filomena Amaral shares an extract from The Director, an adult contemporary novel inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Just like the surface of the earth, the depths are driven by sunlight and moon. As the sun was about to set, Henry and Armina decided to throw themselves back into the sea, they anchored the boat by one of the Doors, attached themselves to the cables, and with lit lanterns and camera attached, they dived. The moon illuminated the depths and exercised its power on the creatures of darkness, all the others sought shelter disappearing suddenly in the blackness. The apotheosis moment was about to happen when a new crop of regenerating plankton filled that world of gelatin and mucus and the polyps awoke from their torpor, launching themselves like starving animals in search for food.

Nightlife erupted in all its frenzy, allowing everything that light forbids. The octopuses, once timid and discreet with the gloom, become daring and powerful beings camouflaging themselves with the tone more appropriate to the occasion. Harlequin shrimps manipulate their prey, turning it upside down to immobilize it: a starfish fall from the firmament on the most fatal night. The Spanish dancer crawls across the reef collecting his food and, when disturbed, turns in the waters displaying its sensual flamenco in garish Andalusian reds. The most bizarre forms emerge from unexpected places, surprising humans and confusing their rooted stereotypes in the brain too calcified to understand such a world, where the unreal is no longer illusion. The polyps then stop feeding and the living structure of the reef prepares for its annual explosion, under the sign of the moon. The water is filled with coral spores, sections of their body released, sperm and eggs of their species. With luck, these pink constellations of lit up fireflies will stop thousands of miles away, in an expansion and supremacy hard to perpetuate.

Henry and Armina suddenly stopped and hid behind a choir, turned off the lanterns and set the camera in position. Two divers illuminated by powerful lights stirred the sand trying to either place or remove something that in the distance they could not see. It took only a few minutes, and they went up again. When they disappeared the two approached the place and immediately moved away quickly at the speed with which the water allowed them, returning to the hidden boat. They were not alone!

–   That was dynamite, I’m sure. We need to get back to shore right away, because we do not know when they’re going to detonate it. Besides I need to report this to Michael as soon as possible.

–  Of course, let’s go fast before they notice us!

Ana recommends the Oceano Azul Foundation for their work on ocean conservation.

How Storytelling Magic can be used in the Fight against Climate Change by Rab Ferguson

Back when the whole world was one Island, there was an old man who lived on the beach, who wore nothing but a loin cloth. He had a twisted and ugly face, a ribcage like tree roots running under his skin, and a scent like raw fish left in the sun.

The people from the nearby town found him uncomfortable to look at, and even more uncomfortable to be around. When he came to the market, they would refuse to do business with him. Sometimes all he’d want to do was make conversation, but even for that he was turned away.

The man’s name was Truth, and no one wanted to look at him, nor speak to him. If possible, the people preferred not to acknowledge his existence at all…

Storytelling is magic.

This is a truth I’ve learned over the years, and one I decided to explore in my Young Adult Cli-Fi novel Landfill Mountains. I wanted to write about how this strange form of magic connected with climate change, and hope.

I’ve practiced this magic myself, in all sorts of places. In libraries with children, in rowdy pubs with adults, in theatres, and charities, even railway museums. I know how it feels to take a room full of people together to an island at the start of the world.

When it comes to this magic, I’m much more student than master. Imagine Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, trying his best but not quite managing to control his spells – that’s me. I’ve been lucky, in my time, to listen to some storytellers I consider real masters of the craft, though they’d all be far too modest to describe themselves in that way. One of these storytellers was a woman named Cath, who used folk tales to start conversations around humans’ relationship with the environment.

There was another regular visitor to the market who was treated quite differently. She was a beautiful woman, with hair that shone like sunshine, and a dress made of the blue sky. If you stood and watched her dress, you could see puffy white clouds slowly drifted across it.

Her name was Story. When she visited the market, everyone wanted to be around her, and everyone wanted the pride of her buying from their stall. What she noticed, however, was that while the people were enthralled by her beauty, they didn’t actually pay attention to a single word she said. It was her appearance they cared for, and nothing more.

When Story saw how the same people who appreciated her beauty but ignored her words treated Truth, she had an idea…

Cath told stories that encouraged the listener to explore how they related to their environment. This could be the old Irish tale of Oisin, Nimah and Tia Ra na Nog, where a mighty warrior leaves his land for paradise, and when he returns many years later finds everything has changed. Or the English tale of The Tiddy Mun, a magical creature who defends his native swampland.

I worked with Cath in a theatre as she told these tales to all ages, from primary school groups to older people’s associations. I saw audiences taken away into these tales, before returning inspired to consider their own interactions with nature and how they could take action to protect the world around them.

The reason I know that storytelling is magic, is that the spell worked on me. Hearing those stories changed something inside myself. I already cared deeply about humans’ impact on the environment, but I’d felt powerless to do anything about it. Now, I’d seen something that I was able to do that I believed could make a difference. I was inspired: to use the power of stories in the fight against climate change.

The next question was, how could I, in my own small way, actually achieve that aim?

So Story said to Truth, hide yourself inside my blue sky dress. From now on, we will travel together. With my beauty and your bluntness, they won’t be able to ignore us anymore.

Truth, seeing the benefits of this partnership, agreed. This is why, to this day, you will always find some small part of Truth living inside any Story.

So, do I see my role now as using stories – written or told aloud – to pass on truths about climate change? Not really, no. How we present and tell the story of the science around climate change is important, because it impacts how people understand those facts. Al Gore’s documentary The Inconvenient Truth, and the impact it had when it first came out, is a great example of this sort of storytelling. There’s a battle out there as well, between narratives – combating the truth-less stories of those who would try to diminish the threat of global warming, or discourage climate action.

While I’d love for someone to read Landfill Mountains and become convinced of the danger of climate change, I’m aware that the majority of the audience for Young Adult Cli-Fi are already fully aware of that danger. Whether they are teenagers or adults, my readers don’t require me to wrap the truth in a story, and I don’t have some special extra knowledge I can offer them. But I do believe climate fiction has a purpose beyond being a blue sky dress that holds the truth.

Narrative and story are how we understand our lives. We tell ourselves stories of who we’ve been, who we are now, and where we’re going. The way we tell our own story, structuring our narrative of ourselves and our place in the world around us, defines our perspective of the world and informs the actions we take. It’s literally life changing.

This, to me, is why storytelling is magic. Hearing and reading stories gives us new ways to structure narratives, including our own. The Hunger Games, as a Young Adult example, gave the narrative of a teenage girl standing against powerful corporations and a corrupt society – a narrative structure which teenage girls could potentially use to help tell the story of themselves. I wonder how many of those girls, who read Hunger Games and other YA revolutionary tales, are now doing amazing work standing up to huge capitalist monoliths and protesting climate change. Not because books told them to, but because they tried on the narrative of ‘young woman trying to save the world’, and liked the way it fitted.

That’s the sort of magic Landfill Mountains is about. The way stories can change our perspective and experience of the world, altering our own reality – impacting the way we feel and the way we act. I like to think that, despite being set in an environmental dystopia, Landfill Mountains is a hopeful book. It’s about humans working out the best way they can to survive, and using stories to help them do that. So maybe that’s my manifesto for Cli-Fi, and how it can use the magic of storytelling to change the world. It can give us narrative structures with some hope within them – hope that we’re going to need to keep fighting for our Earth, even as things seem increasingly dark.

So perhaps, as Story left the town, Truth wrapped up within her blue-sky dress, she spotted a young girl sitting alone by the river. This girl was only small, but when Story looked into her eyes, she saw space and stars. There were whole universes within this child’s eyes.

“What is your name?” asked Story.

“Hope,” said the girl.

And Story took Hope’s hand, and the young girl joined them on their journey. Now Story, Hope and Truth all travel together, all separate beings, yet all part of each other too.

A final note – in storytelling, it’s considered polite to always credit where you heard the tale you are now telling yourself. I first heard the tale of “Truth and Story” on Florence Schechter’s YouTube channel. It’s a rather different version – I’d encourage anyone reading to give it a listen!

Rab Ferguson is the author of Young Adult novel Landfill Mountains, about climate damage and storytelling magic. His next book is The Late Crew, a middle-grade story about young carers and aliens, out in June 2022.  When not writing, he is a performing storyteller, and also works for a charity that champions the power of reading aloud. He also likes cycling, cats, and Bruce Springsteen, but has not yet found a practical way to combine these interests.

Solutions Spotlight

In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, Mark Ballabon shares an extract from his contemporary YA novel Home, where a group of teenagers demonstrate their projects to an audience of over 200 on the last day of summer camp:

They gathered in a semi-circle behind a long table full of all sorts of neatly arranged scientific apparatus. One of the older girls stepped forward.

“Hello, everyone. My name’s Yvonne. We have put together an experiment to explain how sea levels on our planet are rising.”

She placed a glass bottle full of blue-coloured water on the table right in front of the audience. “Now, look please at the top of this bottle,” one of the boys in the team then announced. “Do you see this straw poking up ten centimetres from the top? Look!” he said, pointing to the straw. “Now we’re going to position a heat lamp right by the bottle, and you’ll see the water quickly warm up inside and start to rise up to the top of the straw.” Soon, it was spilling over and forming a blue puddle on the table.

They explained that this showed how global warming and ice caps melting is causing the sea to expand and sea levels to rise.

Yvonne continued, “In this last experiment, you may wonder why we are using a couple of bottles and thermometers, a balloon, vinegar, sodium bicarbonate and a heat source,” she said, pointing to each item. “Well, we’re going to demonstrate how the air in this bottle, which is rich in CO2, heats up much more than this other bottle with just air in it. The CO2 is trapping the heat.”

All our team had their mouths gaping open, as this was basically showing the greenhouse effect which was going to feature in our film! I was pleased that they presented the science, yet so sad again to see how we’re harming the planet.

Mark recommends the work of the environmental charity Clent Earth, who use the power of legal systems/protocols to effect change against unlawful/unsustainable land development. They do this by informing, implementing and enforcing the law in such matters as pollution and the protection of natural habitats and biodiversity. Mark used their recommendations when he led a big local campaign to protect an area of London green belt.

A Train to the Centre of the Earth and An Chicken Intent on World Dictatorship

Angela Kecojevic and Ray Star discuss their climate fiction YA debuts. Train is a YA Sci-fi debut exploring the devastating effects of a ‘snowball’ planet, and a group of passengers who must board a hi-tech train into the earth to fix it. Nerys is on a journey of self-preservation and survival in the harshest of conditions, she and her peers have lost so much yet still have the desire to make the world great again, even with so many odds stacked against them.

Earthlings (The Beginning) is book one of a YA fantasy trilogy highlighting the realities of speciesism with a unique twist; humanity is at the bottom of the food chain, and an unexpected species rules the land. The protagonist Peridot, upon discovering she is magick-born, must learn how to control her powers, and ultimately decide whether to use them to help save humanity or if perhaps, the world would be better off if she left them to their fate.

Both novels underline the impact that humanity has left on the planet, whilst exploring ideologies to combat the problems we face today, with the hope of inspiring positive change within our readers.

Angela: Ray, it’s been a delight connecting with another Climate Fiction author. Earthlings (The Beginning) was a thrilling read, and certainly different from any other climate fiction novel I’ve read. Where did the idea for the book come from?

Ray:Likewise Angela, thank you! I loved Train and I’m so glad you enjoyed Peridot’s tale too. Writing Earthlings has been a genuinely life-changing experience for me in so many ways, and it’s all down to Peridot.

Her name stems from a ring my dad asked me to wear so that we could be together even after death parted us. I didn’t know at the time that he was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer and that less than a year later, that day would come. But sadly, it did. And so, his ring came to be mine. I’m wearing it now as I type, a plain silver band, scratched and worn, with a peridot stone embedded in its prongs. In Dad’s passing, Peridot’s life came to be.

It’s a funny old world like that. What goes up, must come down, where there is life, death eventually follows, and in darkness, more often than not… we find the light. Peridot was the light for me, and I hope readers are drawn to her shine.

Her story is the world, pretty much as it is now, only reversed. Humans no longer hold dominion over the lands, and an unexpected species rules in our place. The idea was to give readers insight into our fellow Earthlings lives, by putting us in their pawprints, if only for the briefest of moments, to hopefully inspire positive change for animals and the environment.

Angela, I thoroughly enjoyed Train, it captivated me from the first page, and I cannot wait to read the next instalment. What was your inspiration for the story, and what compelled you to write it?

Angela: I’ve always been fascinated by dystopian novels, especially books like Divergent, The Hunger Games, and The Maze Runner. The world-building was extraordinary, and they offered frightening ‘fictional’ glimpses into worlds that were deeply neglected and almost destroyed. The YA market took these books to heart. They fell in love with powerful protagonists, following their bleak and complex quests to make the world right again. 

I considered the prospect of Earth being at war with us. Blaming us for harming her, and not taking care of her. Inspired by the Jules Verne classic ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, I wanted to create a story that would test the boundaries of our imaginations.

“A train?” Someone recently asked. “To the centre of the earth?”

Yet, I wonder how many times a similar question was asked before mankind contemplated landing on the moon? I took my idea and ran with it, remembering Verne and his vision, a vision that led him to the creation of many other extraordinary adventures. Writing a book needs a little faith and a little imagination. Mine sent me hurtling down a hole into Earth!

Instead of dealing with a typical post-Apocalyptic planet, Earthlings, for me, uncovered a bleaker, harsher world that went far deeper than mere physical appearance. It highlighted a battle for control between humans and animals, something that spun the moral compass in a thought-provoking direction. Was there a turning point in your life when you decided to champion the animal world?

Ray: From as young as I can remember, I have always loved animals. If I see a worm struggling on concrete, I’ll dip him or her in a puddle then pop them back in the earth, if an animal is lain by the side of the road, I’ll stop and take them to the local wildlife hospital, if a dog walker passes, I’ll have an entire 10-minute conversation with their four-legged companion and forget to say a single word to their human. My love for animals runs deep in my veins and into my very soul.

But, for nearly 30 years of my life, I consumed them. I ate animals for breakfast, dinner, and lunch. I wore their fur, I sat on their skin, I applied make-up that had been tested in the worst imaginable ways on their young. There were so many ways that I lived a life as far apart from an animal lover as I now know to be possible, but I was blind to it. I didn’t make the connection that my lifestyle was harming the beings I professed so deeply to love. Animal agriculture is in the top three when it comes to climate change causes too, and I couldn’t ignore my contribution towards this any longer.

Dad passing made me see the world we live in for what it really is, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. When I found the beauty, I wanted to try and help it stay that way, and the Earthlings tale began to take form.

The purpose of Earthlings was set in my mind from the moment I started writing, was it the same with Train? Did you plan to write in the genre of Climate Fiction?

Angela: Yes, I guess I did. The devastation had to come first, and there is something about a frozen planet that is breathtakingly shocking. Every novel based on an almost apocalyptic landscape created characters who would fight for things to return the way they once were. (You would hope that we might have learned from some of these great books!)

Writing about surviving on Dead Earth felt right. I wanted to highlight how our need, as a planet, to understand nature and science can often take us a step too far. We disturb nature, we experiment on things that should be left alone. Quite often, it’s an answer to a scientific question that really doesn’t need answering.

Your main character Peridotbegins her life on a remote island, hidden from the ugly truth about the changing world she now lives in. Do you think, like Peridot’s beginnings, that there is a lot of ignorance to both climate change and animal rights in the world?

Ray: Most definitely. I am an example of precisely that – for 30 years of my life, I purchased products that hurt and killed animals, all the while claiming to love them. I’m frustrated that it took me so long to realise my own hypocrisy when it was right in front of me all along, I just didn’t see it.

Writing Earthlings completely changed the way I live my life. Along my journey came the desire to want to save animals, and then, on a grander scale, the desire to help save our planet too. That statement, in hindsight, seems rather daft, as I’ve come to realise that the planet doesn’t need saving. 

We do

Mother Nature is suffering, on an unfathomable level. But. She is also adapting, evolving, changing – as we have forced her to do so. Ultimately, she will survive these changes. Perhaps that’s why it’s called climate change. Not climate end. 

It’s almost an ironic narrative, that those who will not survive the harshest realities of climate change are those that created it. Us. Humans. And sadly, innocent creatures who have not contributed towards climate change, are likely to be wiped out along with us. Unless of course, we change. Become aware. Live consciously. Evolve.

Mother Nature is the ultimate force on this planet (other than time) that is not to be reckoned with. You can rage wars across her lands, detonate bombs on her fields, pillage her forests, pollute her rivers, and massacre her children, but you cannot, and will not, ever, destroy her. 

Mother Nature will always adapt. Mother Nature will continue to live on. One way or another. The question I’m left wondering is, will we?

I felt the cold reading Train, to the point I had a hot water bottle whilst reading the end chapters! What made you focus on the frozen planet aspect?

Angela: The cold is harsh and unpredictable. Throw in a world that is at war with Earth herself, and the results are devastating, both physically and mentally. The cold throws us off balance, and yet it makes us strong. We learn how to cope, how to survive. We are often much stronger than we believe! I wanted my characters to face a world that was tough, where they would need to change their habits. It was by no means easy. Suddenly, you need to think about the complications of a frozen planet, I had to ask that all-important question: how would I survive if Earth began to die?

Earthlings reached deep into my conscience and made me think about the way animals are placed in society. Did you always want to write a book that would question the relationship between animals and humans?

Ray: That’s pretty much in a nutshell the purpose of Earthlings. I want readers to be hooked on the magick and the mystery of Peridot’s powers and her ancestral heritage and along the journey, hopefully, the sub-narrative of reversed speciesism may sink in. By saving animals, we will save the natural world we know and love and ultimately, save ourselves in the process. If Earthlings awakens this thought process in even one reader, it’s served its purpose.

One of the hardest parts of writing Earthlings for me, was the research aspect. I had to witness a lot of things I do not ever wish to see again. Did you have to research a lot for Train to be as realistic as it was?

Angela: I spent a fair amount of time at Didcot Railway Centre in Oxfordshire. The staff were amazing and let me clamber aboard as many trains as I liked! I loved wandering around the old-style carriages – sitting in carriages like Harry Potter did on the Hogwarts Express! It was such an enjoyable experience back then. But I also researched high-speed trains. The bullet train in Japan is something else. It inspired me to create Hero 67, the train at the centre of my story.

The hardest part of my research was the accuracy of climbing. Flint and her fellow passengers must abseil into various parts of Earth. No easy feat! I headed off to Oxford Brookes Climbing Wall (Oxford) and had my first ever climbing lesson. Again, the staff were outstanding and even showed me how to use an ice pick. It was tiring, and yet it allowed me a glimpse into an unfamiliar world. I knew this was one area of the story climbing enthusiasts would judge harshly. Although with science fiction – there is an element of the imagination that can allow for a little leeway.

I loved the developing friendship between Peridot and Euan in Earthlings, especially as Peridot previously tried to hide her loneliness. Euan is her first true friend, and you’ve portrayed this beautifully. How important was it to give Peridot both human and animal friendships?

Ray: Two of the main canine characters, Phoenix and Freyja, are my own animal family members, I don’t view them as pets, they are as important to me as my nearest and dearest. Heck. They are my nearest and dearest, we’ve been through thick and thin together, many, many times. I tried to incorporate that as much as possible within the human-animal relationships in the story. I needed to give animals their instinctive non-human traits, yet humanize their relationships to allow for maximum empathy and understanding from readers.

Euan is one of my favourite characters, he has experienced the realities of speciesism but doesn’t let the pain he’s suffered affect his treatment of others, not even the animals who made him endure his suffering. Many in his situation, would gladly watch the world burn, instead, he gives his fire to Peridot. With so many books that focus on a romantic relationship, it was important for me to focus theirs solely on friendship. Everyone needs that one friend that would go to the end of the earth for them, that is what Peridot and Euan find in each other.

I loved how the protagonist Nerys created her alter ego Flint to deal with the harsh realities of her world, what was the motivation for this? 

Angela: Flerovium, Lithium, Iridium, Nihonium, Titanium. FLINT. Nerys chose the toughest of Earth’s elements to create a new name in a ceremony called The Naming. I was terrible at science when I was younger, but somehow, this sprang to mind when I was thinking of an interesting name.

We get an exciting yet terrifying glimpse of the world through the eyes of the animal kingdom in Earthlings. Alan was one character that stayed with me long after I’d finished the thrilling final chapter! Without giving too much away, what gave you the idea to give a chicken such a powerful role in the story?

Ray: I’m so glad you asked this question. Whilst there was practical reasoning for Alan’s species being the brains behind the enslavement of humans in the Earthling world, (they have the numbers) on an emotional level, I just couldn’t fathom for a moment what life would be like in their claws. For that reason alone, a chicken had to be the dictator in the tale, to give insight into what their life genuinely entails. Going back to the research aspect of Earthlings, the slaughter process for chickens is something that I still lose sleep over. I would not wish it on my worst enemy, I had to share their plight with readers.

On a happier note. I didn’t want Earthlings to be portrayed as a doom and gloom novel, I want the story to be uplifting, empowering, and in some chapters, funny. An evil chicken intent on world dictatorship seemed to tick that box, and Alan was born.

One of my favourite parts of Train was how the fate of the Earth was in the youth of today’s hands, was this an intentional message to the story:

Angela: Yes. This might sound cliched, but I often feel that the youth of today are given a slightly harder time. Luckily, they are more outspoken and passionate about climate issues than my generation might have been. I wanted to create a story that would show how much they care about the planet. Flint, my protagonist has guts and bravery, something today’s youth most definitely has!

The fantasy element of Earthlings revolved around ‘magick’. Crystals, herbal lore, and stars play an important role in Peridot’s life.  Is this something you’ve always been interested in?

Ray: Nature aligned rituals and magickal practises are a routine part of my daily lifestyle and whilst I wanted to share this with readers, it also gave Earthlings the opportunity to reach a much wider audience. If Earthlings had been solely about the message, the message would never have been heard. Incorporating magick into the story allowed endless possibilities within the narrative of the trilogy, which helped when writing a story about talking animals intent on world domination!

Along with the alter ego of Nerys and Flint, I felt drawn to Reed, and, without giving away any spoilers, the mystery behind his involvement in certain aspects of the story. Was his character to allow understanding for people in similar situations, that find themselves complicit in practices through family ties or work commitments they wish to be free from?

Angela: As the love interest of Flint/Nerys, I didn’t want to make it too easy on the reader. Flint, after all, created a tough exterior in order not to care or to hurt. It wasn’t going to break down easily, especially with the frightening mission that lays ahead! I wanted to show a young man dealing with his feelings for another passenger, dealing with his family’s expectations, at whatever cost. I wanted to show teamwork amongst the characters.

Ray: What would you do in Reed’s situation?

Angela: A tough question! Reed never expected to find a passenger he cared about, he was too busy preparing to save the world. I think he had no choice (without giving too much away!) in keeping his true identity a secret. Given the severity of a dying planet, I think he only had one way forward, and I’m pretty sure he made the right decision, even though it came at a cost.

Not only was Earthlings printed on recycled paper, but you also plant a tree per book sale and won the 2021 Environmental Achievement Award. Congratulations on both counts! That is a mammoth achievement. Can you tell me a little more about this?

Ray: Thanks so much, it really meant a lot to me to win this award, I try to raise awareness for animals and the environment at any given opportunity and I also try, where possible, to raise awareness of the devastating effect that literature has on our environment.

Our industry prints over 4 billion books per year and the majority of these are printed on virgin paper. The industry standard is to use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mixed paper which is a mix of virgin paper from both certified and uncertified forests, but there is no genuine accurate way of tracing the sustainability – Greenpeace cancelled its membership with the FSC in 2018 for this reason.

A solution to the adverse effect the books we know and love have on our environment, is to print on Post Consumer Waste (PCW) recycled paper. We have a huge recycling problem on a global scale so this ticked two boxes for me, but there will still be a carbon footprint to my books, and I opted to plant a tree per book sale via Ecologi too. I can’t write books about trying to save nature and pillage it in the process. It would make Earthlings meaningless.

Anyone reading this will most likely agree; trying to make a difference in the world is hard. Having my efforts recognised and winning an environmental award relit the fire I need to keep trying.

Apart from the journey into Earth and dealing with a frozen planet, there is a more sinister side to the Power Players in the story. Can you tell us a little more about this?

Angela: I was always fascinated by the expression ‘vanished off the face of the Earth’. Train covers two important elements: climate change and science. I wondered how far humankind would go to find out answers to Earth’s great mysteries. We have no idea what scientists are experimenting on behind closed doors. So, I pondered the question set around a dystopian world, a world that was freezing at an alarming rate: what if scientists were responsible for the disappearance of a third of the population? A frightening thought that I pray never happens. But I hope it makes for good reading!

I’m very excited to get started on Dominion, the second book in the Earthlings trilogy. I can’t wait to find out if Peridot will control her magick, and how will the battle between the two species plays out. Is this the final adventure for Peridot (I hope not!), or can we expect to read more?

Ray: This is something I’ve debated often but I am sad to say, Peridot and the gang will be in this trilogy and this trilogy only. After the trilogy is complete, I’ll be writing the prequel titled The Changing which will be Peridot’s mum’s tale of how the Earthlings world came to be. That will be the completed Earthlings tale… I’ll be so sad when it’s over, it’s been such an amazing experience writing it.

We finish Train not knowing what lies ahead for the characters, have you started writing the next instalment (please say you have, I need to know what happens!), do you have a date in mind for book two?

Angela: I wanted to slam the breaks on the train just as the passengers began their descent into Earth. What happens next in the story is rather surprising, and I felt it needed a whole book to tell it! So, yes, book two, Earth Station, is in the making and it really does follow in the footsteps of Jules Verne!

Once you finish the Earthlings trilogy and prequel, is there anything else you are working on for the future?

Ray: I have a duology I’m planning to write that will be focused on the oppression of nature-aligned people throughout the ages. This will be a two-book series focused on witch trials throughout history and of course, have a touch of magick thrown in.

Thanks so much for such insightful questions, it’s been great chatting with you Angela.

You too Ray – until next time!

Find out more about Train and Earthlings (The Beginning).

Ray Star is an Award-Winning author of YA Fantasy and Climate Fiction from Essex in England. When Ray isn’t writing, she is happiest spending time with her children, partner, family, and friends or walking with her dogs spending time in nature. A firm believer of magick, Ray can often be found stargazing under the moon with a tarot deck in one hand and a strong cuppa in the other.

​As an author of Climate Fiction, Ray’s books are published on recycled paper where possible and she plants 1 tree per book sale via Ecologi. It is Ray’s dream to one day open The Peridot Animal Sanctuary and Wildlife Reserve in England and that dream inspired Ray to close her business of 15 years to pursue a writing career.

Angela Kecojevic has written for the Oxford Reading Tree programme and is also the author behind award-winning adventure park Hobbledown. Train, her YA sci-fi debut, explores the devastating effects of a ‘snowball’ planet and a group of passengers who must board a hi-tech train into Earth to fix it. Angela is a sixth form librarian and a creative writing tutor. She lives in Oxford with her family. 

Reflecting on the Greenworld: Ecopagan Utopias and How Quickly they Become Dystopian by Anna McKerrow

In 2015 Crow Moon, my first ever novel – and the first in an ecopagan utopia/dystopian YA trilogy – was published by Quercus. 

Set slightly in the future, my concept for the trilogy was that the UK had divided into the Greenworld – a peaceful, utopian ecopagan community based in Devon and Cornwall, ruled by pagan witches, and the Redworld, the rest of the UK (and, to the Greenworlders, the rest of the world), which was corrupt, crime-ridden, dystopian and rapidly running out of fuel, due to an ongoing war fuel in Russia. 

All sounds rather familiar now, doesn’t it? Well, except for the part about the west country being an ecopagan utopia. More of that later.

Of course, I wasn’t being unusually prescient by writing about a war over fuel or a divided country when I began writing in 2013-2014. We have all been aware for a long time that have been many wars over oil, and there will be continuing issues over the ownership of oil and gas.

We are also aware that the petrochemical industry has for many years persuaded governments not to invest in sustainable fuel futures. Anyone who has a vague care about the environment in the past 50 years will also know the terrible things that pollution from fuel, and practices such as fracking, do to the environment. Most people also know that Russia owns some of the most fuel-rich land on the planet.

As to the division between the Greenworld and the Redworld, at the time I was thinking more about Scottish and Welsh (and even Cornish) independence which had been rumbling around for some time. Sadly, I couldn’t imagine at the time that Brexit would happen, and Great Britain would annex itself from the rest of Europe in such a strangely self-defeating act of isolationism. The pro-Brexit among us may have had a utopian vision of a better Britain, somehow, but of course, being in isolation has already exacerbated many existing problems, notably racism and intolerance, and created new ones, such as cost of living increases, food and goods shortages etc.

The first book in the trilogy, Crow Moon, is set in the Greenworld, the annexed Devon and Cornwall, which is run by pagan witches with a strong ecological focus. In these books, I wanted to represent a witchcraft which was closer to the modern witchcraft I know, rather than the fantasy witchcraft one sees so much in the media.

I should note here, by the way, that modern witchcraft and paganism are two different things. Paganism refers to a nature-based belief system in which people believe Nature is divine, and that divinity is immanent in all nature (pantheism). It includes a concentration on seasonal festivals, where the Wheel of the Year is celebrated as the natural times and tides pass by. These include the solstices and the equinoxes, and four other “cross quarter” festivals, making eight in total. Again, some of these are ancient, and some were, arguably, made up for the modern Pagan revival.

Witchcraft refers to a specifically magical practice, wherein a witch, either alone or as part of a group, works magic for their own ends. Witches can be pagan, and celebrate all the festivals, but not all of them are. Modern witches can be Wiccan, traditional, polytheist, atheist; work with particular cultural magical practices or mixes of things, herbal traditions, ceremonial magic, tarot, the list goes on. It is an incredibly “broad church” to use a heretical misnomer, and also completely decentralised and anarchic.

Usually, witches in fiction are either caricatures – warts, noses, green skin (not only a nod to anti-semitic imagery, but also a basic indictment of the older woman); they’re based around Salem or UK witch trials, and unfortunately there’s a morality message there, intended or not – this is what happens when you’re a powerful woman and want to be assertive, want to be independent or sexual or provide a challenge to the status quo in any way. Witches are also sometimes played for humour, or in a horror context.

There’s a more recent move to thriller-based drama using medieval and historical ideas about witches in modern or historical settings. But even so, it’s usually the idea about witches being supernatural in origin or ‘just having’ magical powers that then need to be controlled by some kind of stentorian medieval devices: an essentially untrue and disempowering premise.

That’s not how I wanted to represent a witch. 

To me, it made total sense to link a community run by witches to a strong ecological focus, because the development of modern witchcraft and, more generally, paganism, in Europe and the USA since the 50s, has always revered Nature as divine.1

I wanted to present the reality-based pagan approach where witches are made, not born, out of hard work, in the main. All witches of history in all cultures and all present-day ones learn their skills. No-one is conferred magical powers on their sixteenth birthday, or via an unfortunate accident, or from a curse, or a gift from a mysterious stranger. Of course, the idea that anyone can be powerful – and learn powerful methods – terrifies most societies, which is presumably why we have to have these ridiculous premises for magic in the first place. The other reason is because our secular western society still doesn’t believe magic exists, despite huge evidence to the contrary, eg people all around the world doing it.

I wanted to present witches as deeply devoted and spiritual people that work closely with divinities and nature. Once you understand that a witch has to know the natural world intimately to make magic – understand the natural rhythms of the world we live in – then you realise that the link between witchcraft and ecology/environmentalism (and, sometimes, but not always, activism) is irrevocable.

When you worship the earth as a Goddess, living and breathing, then you should care about what happens to it. Now, this is not to say that everyone in the world that identifies as a witch cares about environmentalism at all. Many don’t. But, logically, they should.

So, witches = environmentalism was not a very big leap to take. Once you have that idea in mind, you can start to imagine what witches might do to try and save the land they revere, and thus the story comes along. (Incidentally, there is also a fascinating history of the intersection between activism and witchcraft, with groups such as W.I.T.C.H and even (though not witchcraft) the recent pro-abortion activism of the Church of Satan in the US.)

In Red Witch, the second book in the series, I examined the dangers of fracking. Clearly, in the “Redworld”, a world at war for the last scraps of fuel, fracking would have been used. Resistance against fracking was very big in England at the time, and in fact there had been talk about fracking in Somerset, near to Glastonbury Tor. Obviously, the hippie community was up in arms about that and local opposition meant it never happened. The Huffington Post summed up Red Witch pretty well when it said:

“Recognisable and therefore terrifying, the Redworld depicts a society oppressed and dismantled by greed, and desecrated by the ruthless search for fossil fuels. Through the eyes of Demelza Hawthorne, the powerful yet anguished teenage protagonist, the horrors of fracking and the extreme consequences of policies which serve the rich and exploit the poor are described with a chilling authenticity. Perhaps most disturbing, are scenes where the sacred areas around Glastonbury have been mercilessly torn apart as a consequence of fracking: plans to frack in Somerset were put forward by UK Methane in 2013. As she struggles with romance, deception, betrayal and grief, Demelza’s relationship to the environment itself is also put under tremendous strain as she begins to understand her own hard-won power.”

A Magical Solution to Fracking and Climate Change? The Huffington Post, 2016

It’s interesting to look back and see that fracking was also pretty unpopular with the upper-class villages of the south west too. For a while, the dangers of fracking was a topic that hippies and toffs could both get behind. It may have been that Tory voter pressure that made the government step back from pursuing fracking quite so enthusiastically as it once did – who knows. Or perhaps it was the dragon dance that happened on the Tor in the summer of 2016.

When I imagined the Greenworld, it was utopian from the point of view of being self-sustaining, nature-loving, woman-centred, connected to magic and having its heart in the right place. I knew that no utopias are perfect, and that they often become dystopias rather quickly (the Netflix series about the spiritual guru Osho Wild Wild Country is very interesting). One of the things I was interested in writing about was how even an environmental, right-on green, witchy community run by women could very easily become corrupt because of its intentional seclusion. Like Brexit Britain, the Greenworld suffered because of its lack of connection to the outside world. It became stagnant and ignorant. Spoiler alert: in the final book of the trilogy, the Greenworld and the Redworld have to reunite to stop the end of the world. A salutary lesson for us all that no closed off community works in the long term – even a green utopia.

However, it’s interesting to look back on the ecopagan utopia I created in the Greenworld and think about some things that have happened in real life that put it into a different perspective: namely, the pandemic.

If there is anywhere in England that already inhabits the Greenworld vibe, it’s Glastonbury in Somerset. Glastonbury has a long history of welcoming spiritual seekers, from the days of the Abbey and Christian hermits living on the Tor to the Victorian occult revival, when Dion Fortune would bring her moneyed London friends down to Glastonbury on the weekends for some rural magic fun. Today, it’s witchcraft central. You can’t buy bread without overhearing someone talk about their past life regression.

During the pandemic, the already super-hippie Glastonbury got taken over by conspiracy theories about the vaccine. A very high proportion of Glastonbury residents refused to be vaccinated. If you wore a mask on the high street, you got dirty looks or shouted at (this continues still). Posters went up everywhere about how Covid wasn’t real; there were anti-vaccine marches in the high street.

What was always quite a mad place became absolutely, stark, crazy bonkers, ushering in a new, troubling allegiance between formerly as-left-as-you-can-go people and hard right QAnon philosophy. It’s the perfect storm of what happens when a group of anarchists who already have big issues with Big Pharma and government and, in many cases if not all, are engaged in being as off the grid as possible, become radicalised further by conspiracy theories.

This is not to say that all modern witches have refused the vaccine or now believe that the holocaust didn’t happen (I have heard of friends of friends who now believe this. Or that the vaccine has taken away a part of our souls. Or that vaccine passports are tantamount to a police state. Or that there is a tracking device in the vaccine. Standard paranoid crap, but you don’t expect anyone you know to actually believe it).

Most modern witches and pagans are entirely sensible people. And, indeed, I think it’s fair to say that many of the anti-vaccine, conspiracy group are likely not doing witchcraft or magic – or, if they are, not doing it very successfully. However, it is likely that they would characterise their beliefs as broadly pagan, or perhaps Buddhist or some more general new age philosophy.

Whilst I think we all could have seen a possible conflict with Russia over fuel coming, and may have been disappointed but unsurprised about the Brexit result, I definitely did not predict Glastonbury, the real-life Greenworld, going full circle to meet the fascists. And I think that there’s something sad about the fact that countercultural Glastonbury, the closest parallel in the real world to the Greenworld, is so susceptible to corruption. Because what does that say about the link between environmental activism, Nature worship and Britain’s proud countercultural tradition?

I feel sad that what I used to think of the pagan community  – a bastion of healthy resistance against the norm and a cheerful if slightly bonkers love of mother earth – has, in some quarters, morphed from caring deeply about the land and its divinity to being obsessed with how it is being controlled by a shadowy, fictional elite. Paranoia has taken over.

Eva Wiseman wrote a great article about just this in The Guardian in which she used the phrase “conspirituality”:

“A rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fuelled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews”. It describes the sticky intersection of two worlds: the world of yoga and juice cleanses with that of New Age thinking and online theories about secret groups, covertly controlling the universe. It’s a place where you might typically see a vegan influencer imploring their followers to stick to a water fast rather than getting vaccinated, or a meditation instructor reminding her clients of the dangers of 5G, or read an Instagram comment explaining that vaccines are hiding tracking devices.”

What do we want to protect Nature from now? For me, it was (and still is) pollution and harmful practices like fracking and dumping rubbish at sea. But for many, it seems that the number one concern of the Greenworld (as it exists as a mindset) seems to be revolting against a drug that has saved millions of lives.

I am disenchanted with where we find ourselves now, but I also think it’s instructive to see all this play out. With the “conspirituality” movement in our minds, it feels reasonably impossible to me that anyone could write an eco-utopia now – but, there is fertile ground for dystopia.

Find out more about the Greenworld trilogy

Anna McKerrow is an author, Reiki Master, tarot reader and witch. She lives in London and wrote Daughter of Light and Shadows, an adult commercial fantasy romance set in Scotland and the faerie realm. In 2019 her occult novel The Book of Babalon was published by Black Moon Publishing, a small press based in New Orleans and dedicated to voudoun, ceremonial magick and Left Hand Path subjects. In 2021 she published a mythic novel about grief and healing called The Bird Atlas. She is currently working on The Path to Healing is a Spiral, a nonfiction memoir about her experience of a variety of healing modalities for Watkins Books (September 2022).

How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a large fortune.

Author A.E. Copenhaver chats to their editor/publisher Midge Raymond of Ashland Creek Press about the editing process for My Days of Dark Green Euphoria, a satirical novel of how a life on the edge of eco-anxiety can spiral wildly out of control, as well as how promising and inspiring a commitment to saving our planet can be.

Midge Raymond: What advice would you have for debut authors as they work with their editors?

A.E. Copenhaver: Being able to have a book published is a huge privilege, and at the same time, authors need their editors to be advocates of their book, especially as part of their editors’ job is to help refine and perfect the book so that it is the best possible version of itself before being brought into the world.

My advice would be to make sure that authors and their editors have a very clear understanding of what the book is truly about and why it’s important. Making sure you align on the specific niche that this book is fulfilling, too, is incredibly helpful and will inform the entire experience up to and beyond publication day. If authors and their editors can align on those two things, everything else that comes after–such as drafting, revising, formatting, publishing, and marketing–will be a truly enjoyable experience.

MR: What surprised you most about the editorial process?

AEC: How fast it was! I know publishers have different timelines and processes to get books from manuscript to novel on the shelf, but I was thrilled and often surprised with how fast everything happened. I went from contract signing to publication in a little over a year, I think it was, and I know that is considered super fast. Of course I was so happy that it wasn’t going to take two or more years to get my book published, and this meant that each revision of the manuscript carried more weight for me. The first edit was the cull — getting the word count down from 97k to about 90k. The second edit was the proofread and copyedit after the professional proofreader. And then it was a couple rounds of reading the novel in its final formatted state.

I’ll never forget sitting in my kitchen amongst moving boxes and cleaning supplies as a crucial editorial moment came up. I had to get my laptop out and sit in the middle of my empty living room and make a decision about a single word that could impact how the entire rest of the book appeared on the page. And not only that, I had to make this decision just before the doors closed and all additional edits from there forward would be non-negotiable.  Luckily, everything worked out, of course, but it felt very dramatic in the moment. There is something terribly nerve-wracking about “calling it,” about saying “yes, this is the novel in its best possible form and we are publishing it now.”

MR: I find titles challenging, both as an author and especially as an editor/publisher. In what ways do you think your book’s title fits the novel, and what was the process like in getting there?

AEC: I struggle so much with titles, too! And, as I expected, I was incredibly stressed by the process of choosing a title for this novel — all due to my own anxieties about the significance of naming something, anything, but especially a book that will be published and will be something I would need to refer to for the rest of my life. That is a huge commitment!

As you know, I was somewhat attached to my working title of the novel and was convinced almost up to the end that I would get to use it! So funny. And now, of course I cannot imagine any other title for this novel than the one it has. I really adore it and couldn’t be happier with the title.

The process itself was entirely reasonable: I had a note on my phone where I kept title ideas; then we shared a few emails back and forth with our top choices for titles, and I talked almost incessantly about the title options with my early readers and my family and with you and John (Yunker). I feel like our email discussions about the title were so helpful because it was another moment where we could clarify, again, our own understandings of what the book was about and why it was important.

The best feeling in the world was when you and John and I got on a Zoom call and we all agreed on the best title out of our final options. We all came to that title at the very same moment, it felt like. And it was this momentous occasion — to have a name for this novel — and for all of us to feel equally as enthusiastic about it. I like to give kudos to my best friend and poet Marisa Silva-Dunbar who helped formulate the final iteration of the title that we all loved.

MR: How did you envision the book’s cover, and what was this creative process like?

AEC: I really appreciated how you wanted my thoughts and ideas about the cover. I kept a folder in Google Drive with images and art for cover design inspiration. I had hoped to feature lots of greenery, foliage, and definitely flowers. And when the three options for cover designs came around, there was one that blew me away. Obviously, that was the option we chose for the final cover, and to me it is truly a work of art — because it actually features an artist’s original work! The Nasturtium Garden by Leah Yunk, with graphic design by Matt Smith to include the title — to me it’s flawless! It’s a perfect visual representation of the novel, and I could not be more proud and pleased with the final novel. It’s a joy to be able to read a physical copy of this book, and I can’t thank you and John enough for helping bring it into the world.

A.E. Copenhaver: You’ve had a wide range of writing and publishing experience. At what point in your own writing career did you know you wanted to become a publisher?

Midge Raymond: I never envisioned being a publisher back when I worked in publishing; I was just becoming a writer then, and I’d been enjoying working as an editor and copywriter. It wasn’t until many years later, after my first book came out and then went out of print a year later — and John’s wonderful eco-thriller had no luck finding a home in the mainstream publishing world — that we thought about starting a small press. By then I’d worked in many aspects of publishing, from editing to proofreading to copywriting to production, and John has an extensive marketing and tech background — so together, we had what we needed to get going. We opened our (virtual) doors in 2011, and in that first year we published five books, including John’s novel, The Tourist Trail. We now publish about two books a year — in part because we have other work, and also because we’re doing other fun things like hosting the Siskiyou Prize (which of course you won for Euphoria in 2019!) and hosting our Writing for Animals classes, plus a new class with poet Gretchen Primack called Writing Like an Animal.

I couldn’t have envisioned being a publisher decades ago when I worked in New York City publishing, but things have changed so much in favor of small presses; it’s actually doable thanks to technology like print-on-demand production and e-books. And I’m glad to still be a working writer as well; I’ve found it invaluable to navigate both worlds with the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from being on both sides. It helps, for example, to have been asked to change the title of my own novel when I have to ask a writer to consider changing hers — I’ve been there, and I know how connected we get to our titles and how important it is to find just the right one.

AEC: We’ve talked a bit before about the purpose of fiction and the power of books. What sort of responsibility (beyond producing and selling books of course!), if any, do you feel publishers have?

MR: I feel as though small presses are far more free to do what they love than to have to try to predict what the market wants, as the big publishers usually need to consider. When you are part of a giant corporation, there’s a responsibility to make money that could very well eclipse your wish to publish the books you adore (especially if they are niche books or for whatever reason unlikely to have a huge audience). For the Big Five publishers (perhaps soon to be the Big Four), they do have their mega-bestselling authors who help subsidize the new and emerging authors, but the truth is that if you’re a debut author and your book doesn’t sell as well as anticipated, it’ll be tough to get your next book deal; it’s far more about sales numbers than subject matter or literary merit.

Ashland Creek Press certainly isn’t in this for the money; we’re all about publishing the books that we feel are first and foremost greatly entertaining and that also have the potential to change the world for the better. I do think that publishers have a responsibility to do good in the world; books are an amazing platform, and I think all great art has a message and a point of view. If well done, it’s never preachy or moralistic, but I do feel that art should exist to enlighten as well as entertain. And books have such a unique way of getting people talking that the more we can open readers’ hearts and minds to the myriad issues facing the world today, the more we can move forward and see things improve.

AEC: How would you compare the experience of writing and publishing your own books to helping your authors bring their books into the world? It must feel, on some level, amazing to do both, but I’m curious about how any differences might manifest.

MR: It is amazing to do both! As I mentioned above, being on both sides of the process helps tremendously in understanding what’s at stake — an editor who isn’t also a writer can’t truly understand how challenging it is to re-envision a book title you’ve lived with for so long. And an author who isn’t a publisher may not understand why a title change is necessary; I remember sitting in meetings in New York amid vivid arguments over book titles — usually it’s a lone editor versus the sales and marketing team. It was very edifying to witness editors passionately defending a beloved title and the sales and marketing folks explaining how a title may be perceived in the marketplace; it helped me learn why a title matters from a sales perspective, as well as how much it means to the author. Over the years at ACP, we’ve suggested changing several book titles, and our authors are always wonderful about it — I feel as though they know we don’t ask lightly and that we really understand the challenges of that process. And most important to us is that we are all happy with the new title; a great title can’t work if we’re not all proud of it and willing to go out and enthusiastically share it.

Bringing a book into the world, both as author and publisher, is an incredible privilege — I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it, especially given the books we publish, which I think are not only terrific reads but important to the conversations we need to be having. We’re at such a crisis moment for our planet, and I hope our books help readers feel that they’re not alone in this — and I especially hope our books reach those who may be less aware but are awakened by reading, say, a great satirical debut novel like My Days of Dark Green Euphoria.

AEC: What advice do you have for authors who might want to get involved in the publishing industry or even start their own press?

MR: A publishing colleague of ours shared a brilliant joke about independent publishing: How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Answer: Start with a large fortune.

So, my first bit of advice would be to keep the day jobs! (We have.) This gives you the freedom to publish what you love and not worry about keeping the lights on or feeding yourself. Keep your overhead low, and consider print-on-demand, which is a bit more costly per unit but doesn’t require expensive print runs or warehouse fees associated with storing unsold books; it also reduces the waste and the huge carbon footprint associated with large print runs.

I’d also suggest having a niche so that you can stand out amid the competition. When we started ACP, there wasn’t anyone else out there (that we knew of) publishing environmental and animal-themed fiction. Now there are a few more of us out there, and of course, this is a good thing — but when you’re starting out, it’s good to have a way to be a little different.

As we often tell writers, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” — and this is true for publishers as well as authors. We couldn’t have envisioned exactly where we’d be eleven years later; all we knew was that we’d just keep going — and likewise I can’t imagine where we’ll be in another decade, only that we’ll still be here, doing our thing, however that evolves.

Find out more about My Days of Dark Green Euphoria.

A.E. Copenhaver is a writer, editor, science communicator, and climate interpreter. She’s worked in the environmental and nonprofit sectors for nearly a decade.

Midge Raymond is the author of the novel My Last Continent and the award-winning short-story collection Forgetting English. Midge worked in publishing in New York before moving to Boston, where she taught communication writing at Boston University for six years. Midge lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press.

The Flowers of the Future by RB Kelly

In the early 1990s, I came across a novel that my dad had recently finished reading. He and I share the same tastes in fiction, and, although I was in my mid teens at the time, it was common for me to pick up a book once he was done with it and dive in. This one was This Other Eden, by Ben Elton, and it changed the course of my writing life.

In the novel, which was published in 1993, eco-terrorists fight to save the planet from greedy corporations more interested in profiting from environmental collapse than preventing it. Suddenly, I knew what kind of science fiction Iwanted to write.

A few years later, I had a draft of the manuscript that would eventually become Edge of Heaven, my Arthur C Clarke Award-shortlisted debut novel. It’s set in 2119, on a climate-changed Earth, where altered fluvial patterns have led to both flooding and drought, and sea-level rise has drastically shrunk the planet’s livable space. Environmental refugees are housed in bi-level cities built wherever the space can be found. Creo is one such city: dark, crumbling and overcrowded. And when a novel pathogen starts killing off its citizens, Creo is the perfect breeding ground for a deadly new wave of disease.

The novel was released in April 2020, just as the Covid pandemic took hold. I can only hope that I wasn’t as prescient about the climate science.

Today, in early 2022, I’m getting ready to launch Edge of Heaven’s sequel, On The Brink. The writing of this novel was a different experience. Whereas the early drafts of Edge were an exercise in “what if…”, On The Brink came into being in a world in which climate catastrophe is already starting to arrive. It’s no longer a question of “what if…” but, rather, “when” and “how bad.” Edge of Heaven was about what happens to the planet when it’s pushed past the point of sustainability, and what life will look like for the average person. On The Brink, similarly, is about the technological life rafts humanity will have to build if we want to survive this century. In Edge of Heaven it was a bi-level city. In On The Brink it’s the orbital factory town of Luchtstad, one of the few places left on Greater Earth where it’s still possible to cultivate flower bulbs.

The idea came to me during a glorious summer spent in the Netherlands, where I, along with a group of other late-teens and early-twenty-somethings, lived in a campsite and worked in a local factory, picking and packing bulbs. The work may have been long and repetitive – and I had no appreciation until that summer of just how dreadful a rotten hyacinth bulb can be – but the people and the place were wonderful. I was staying just outside of Noordwijk, a seaside town in the Randstad, fronted by sandy beaches and surrounded by picturesque countryside. In spring, the area is blanketed beneath a rainbow of colour as the tulips blossom, and an annual flower parade sets off for nearby Haarlem. By 2050, if current projections hold, it will be underwater.

On The Brink’s orbital cities are the answer to a question nobody wants to have to ask: what are we going to do when huge swathes of the globe become uninhabitable? How are we going to produce enough food for an overpopulated planet when so much arable land is submerged beneath rising sea levels, sterilised by drought, or subject to dangerously unpredictable weather? I have no doubt that we’ll find some kind of stopgap, because humans are stubborn, tenacious, and endlessly resourceful, but I very much doubt that it’s going to be an improvement on what we’ve already got. Luchtstad is a fanciful solution – and it relies on entirely speculative science for its existence – but, in the future of On the Brink, it’s a solution without which there would be no future, because the climate of an orbital city, unlike the climate on an overwhelmed Earth, is controllable and readily adapted to the kind of environments that plant matter needs to grow and thrive. If we can’t find a real-life Luchtstad equivalent in the next few decades, we may be in trouble, and for the kind of money that’s going to be required, it strikes me as incredibly likely that our own solution will have to involve corporate finance. Even today, space exploration is beginning the slide towards commercial control; research and development in service of the elucidation of mankind is all very well on paper, but for the kind of sums involved, it makes a weary kind of sense that it will all eventually come down to the potential return on investment. Luchtstad, humanity’s life raft, is no different.

Luchtstad monetises climate catastrophe by providing a home, job security, and a future for a group of people without access to the resources needed to survive ecological collapse – those on or below the poverty line – and trapping them in a cycle of dependency whereby keeping their job almost literally becomes a matter of life and death. Luchtstad looks after its citizens – but there’s a price for that care. You are owned by the city and your ability to survive belongs to the corporation for whom you work. There’s no escape, because there’s nowhere to escape to. After all, where are you going to go – Earth?

And that’s the trouble with life rafts. They’re supposed to be a temporary solution to a temporary problem. They’re not meant to be forever.

As a species, we’re wired to think in the short-term. That was critical to our survival when we were evolving the brain processes that have set us apart from our ancestors and allowed us to dominate the world on which we live: you deal with the immediate problem as it arises, and then you conserve your resources so that you’re ready for the next big threat. And that mindset was useful when we were dealing with short-term dangers, but our society has evolved faster than our threat response, and it’s now actively detrimental to our future. The 2008 financial crisis was the result of short-term thinking over long-term fiscal responsibility. Our democratic model of leadership is built around an election cycle that prioritises quick wins and navel gazing. And because we’re the proverbial frog in boiling water when it comes to irreversible damage to our planet, short-termism is the reason why we’ve left it past the point where we can stop the coming catastrophe. What’s left to us now is mitigation.

But I do not, and never will, believe that humanity is irredeemably flawed. That stubborn, reckless, head-in-the-sand mentality that’s got us into this mess and has been overwhelmingly failing, so far, to get us out is also the source of what I think will save us.


“The world may be broken,” says John Green, author of The Anthropocene Reviewed, “but hope is not crazy.” Yes, things look bad right now. That’s because they are bad, and we’ve let them get bad when we didn’t need to. But science fiction, which looks to the future and imagines “what if…?” has, in the past few years, begun to conceptualise a different way forward. Solarpunk imagines a world in which we’ve met our current crisis head-on and worked together to find a solution in a fairer, more equitable society. In times of crisis, the most revolutionary stories are tales of hope.

So, Luchtstad steals souls and feeds them into the corporate machine as the price of food security. So the planet it orbits has been ravaged by unchecked greed, and the gap between rich and poor has widened to an abyssal gulf. I make no claims to write solarpunk; I cut my teeth on a more dystopian vision of the future, and it’s etched its way firmly into the stories that I want to tell. But Luchtstad, bread basket of a world too broken now to feed its own, may represent the very worst impulses of a species addicted to short-term thinking – but it can’t quite erase that spark within us that seeks the beautiful from the depths of ugliness.

Twenty years ago, I spent the summer packing flower bulbs in a factory that, twenty years from now, may be under a risen sea. There’s no reason why Luchtstad, a city-sized agrifood processing plant that exists to mitigate against global collapse, should have room to grow anything other than staple, plant-based foods: it’s a crisis response, after all. But hope exists in the darkest spaces. I packed bulbs for a summer, and so Luchtstad produces not only the plants that feed our bodies, but also the plants that feed our souls. Because I believe that, no matter what the future holds, we’ll find a way to make it beautiful.

And I’d rather not live in a world without flowers.

Find out more about Edge of Heaven.

RB Kelly’s debut novel, Edge of Heaven, is published by NewCon Press and was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. The sequel, On The Brink, will be released in May 2022. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Best of British Science Fiction, Aurealis, and Andromeda Spaceways Magazine. She has a PhD in film theory and, with Robert JE Simpson, runs CinePunked, an organisation dedicated to bridging the gap between academia and film fandom.