1. What am I working on now, or just finished?
I finished my second novel Cli-Fidelity towards the end of last year and I’ve started on my third, provisionally titled Frack That. Fracking for gas has been part of the US landscape for some time, although not without criticism. In the UK and other parts of Europe it’s a relatively new and highly controversial process which stirs up a lot of emotions, both pro and anti. Frack That is set in a sleepy English village waking up to the prospect of being fracked by a multinational oil and gas company. Some of the locals are appalled at the idea, but not all of them, so it becomes a very divisive and personal issue. The storyline explores the issue from different perspectives, from individuals to corporations, from science to the environment.
2. How does my work fit into the cli fi genre?
My first two novels, 500 Parts Per Million and Cli-Fidelity, are set in the future when global warming has played havoc with our weather and way of life. Although they’re fiction, I like to think they’re not fantasy. I base the plots around issues flagged up in scientific reports, on situations with a credible basis. Cli-fidelity, for instance, features an underwater nuclear reactor moored to the sea bed. You might think this is fantasy or sci-fi, but the French government, which is strongly pro-nuclear, has been working on the idea for some time and it could become a reality in the not-so-distant future.
I wrote my first two novels as part of a trilogy, and one day I’ll return to the future and write the third. But Frack That is set firmly in the present, and the subject matter is clearly related to the climate change issue.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I like to take topical issues as the subject of my writing, and they don’t come much more topical and important than climate change. I’ve been very interested in it for years, and that interest kick-started me into writing fiction. But of course it’s not necessary to write about topical events. Some of the best fiction is historical, and as I hopefully progress as a writer I might venture into genres other than cli-fi.
But there is one aspect to my cli-fi writing that particularly motivates me, and that’s the desire to bring to life scenarios in scientific reports that don’t seem to resonate widely. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of dry scientific publications documenting the adverse effects of global warming, but they haven’t really sunk into the public consciousness. There are a number of reasons for this, particularly the denial campaign mounted by the fossil fuel industry. I see my own efforts, paltry as they are, as an attempt to counteract this and to engage people through the medium of fiction as well as faction.
4. How does my writing process work? Explain your writing days and nights. How do you work? How do you outline or plan the story?
For me the writing process starts with an idea that is interesting and relevant. Then I flesh it out in note form, thinking about characters, background and plots. I try to make my plots credible in the sense that there is some scientific basis to them. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t see myself as a sci-fi or fantasy author, although some might disagree. But you certainly don’t need a science degree to read my novels. My main concern is to entertain the reader, to make him or her want to keep turning those (electronic) pages.
Once I have the basic characters and plot in place, I leap in and start writing. One of the thrills of writing is to start with a blank page and watch it fill up, then another page, and another, until finally you stumble over that finishing line. I don’t do a detailed chapter by chapter breakdown of what I want to write. I go with the flow, but within the boundaries of my initial notes. When I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll go back to the beginning and revise it, as well as checking my research. Then it’s back to the beginning again for a second revision. I find it hard to let go.
I gave up my job as an economist to become a full time writer, and I write five days a week, rather like going to the office. I have a daily word target, but I’m not fixated on it. Some days go well, others badly. I don’t have writing nights, fortunately, because I have the luxury of being able to write in the day. Writing is a solitary experience and I try to get out for a break and make human contact. At the moment the snow is good in Scotland and I go skiing. More often I wheel my bike out of the shed and trundle off down the road. It’s less exciting, but safer.