Cli-Fi at the Wheelers Centre last night – that’s right Climate Change Fiction. Cli-Fi.

Covers of Wrong Turn, Clade & Anchor PointTony Birch, writer and academic, introduced three novelists in a discussion entitled:

New Dystopias: Climate Change & Fiction

A full house of well-behaved Melbournians tucked into the Wheeler’s Centre welcomed Jane Rawson, author of A wrong turn at the office of unmade lists, Alice Robinson, author of Anchor Point and James Bradley, author of Clade.

Mr Birch remarked that all three novels were about the interactions between people, whatever the circumstances in their lives and added all the books displayed great storytelling featuring strong and engaging characters. The audience was amused by Mr Birch’s comments regarding surprises in Clade such as Bruce Springsteen’s apparent prescience with titles such as Thunder Road and Darkness on the edge of town and; the Australian Rules football team ‘Carltonwood’ resulting from a blend of two currently strong clubs. Thus warmed up, Birch commented asked the writers if it matters, what writers write about? Does their work make an impact? Did they expect or want their work to affect readers?

Jane began A wrong turn by just wanting to write a story but by the edit stage she really did want to make readers think about climate. She’s learned that as a result of her book, people do experience concerns when the days are getting hotter.

Alice began from the issue and had to construct story and characters to fit the cause. Essentially her book became a family story as climate is a family issue.

James stated the bar was too high for writers to imagine they could change the world. Perhaps the opening chapters of Silent Spring or Neuromancer might have succeeded but there are not many books that actually altered the way people thought. Climate change happens on such a scale that people might be able to engage intellectually but not meaningfully. He feels that writers are more like weather vanes, picking up on what is around them rather than making real change.

Tony thought these writers might be underestimating their knock-on effect and they should be pleased as they don’t know what effect their books might have. He went on to ask about time. The books are about people, memory functions and time. He pointed out each writer is interested in how we remember.

Alice spoke about her driving concerns. To think about the future means we must think about how we got here. To look back into the past means the story of settlement and the history of the land before Europeans. What are we going to do now? How do we live now?


James felt remarkable connections with Anchor Point. There were similar motifs – particularly around time – in Clade. Jane has a time traveller called Ray in A wrong turn, who happens to be Aboriginal. Tony congratulated her on this creation and also commented on her theme of homelessness and compared an essay he had written about the subject.

James drew heavily on science for Clade. As he began to write scientists were warning about the dangers of methane burps in the frozen tundra. As he edited, the craters came to public attention. As he wrote, he invented an idea about the planet’s shifting axis which, of course, has now become observable. All the writers agreed that it was indeed unsettling to see their writing bed down in actual events. But that is the nature of climate change. Scientists predict and then we see their predictions come true.

It was when Tony Birch commented about our relationship to nature I began to really feel part of this community! He asked the writers how they conceived of nature? James remarks the power of nature can’t be denied. In his book, in the north of England around Norfolk, the Fens were created to keep the ocean at bay. Now ‘the sea is returning’. The sea will not be denied. Laura, in Alice’s book, wants the land to return to what it was. Alice believes we must succumb to nature.

James says he didn’t want the land to mirror people’s traumas. He wanted to create a book saying on some level that the planet doesn’t care. He wanted to get away from the common anthropocentric view of the world. He commented that the line between the virtual and the real is becoming less clear. The same technology that can pry into nests and follow birds on migration, showing the world’s amazing natural life, can do nothing to stem the force causing the extinction of those very creatures.


Alice remarks the books all have positive points; James’s landscape is beautiful and Jane’s book is funny. Jane said that we are born into the world we’re born into. People in the future will have to deal with what lies in front of them. Alice said that people’s lives are so busy with their everyday children and dishes that trying to deal with the big issues while real life is so involving. Tony highlighted a quote from Clade that ‘normality keeps fighting its way in’. James felt that was more about grief than the everyday life lived facing climate change but he believes that people are smart, that we will not turn this planet into Venus. Of course he recognises there are massively entrenched interests protecting their power and money. He believes we are having the wrong conversations. It’s not about whether politicians believe in climate change but whether we can recognise who is being used as a shill for powerful corporations.

Jane commented that learning about the terrors of climate change can incapacitate a person but not acting … is just STUPID.


Alice really cares about climate change – it took her seven years to write the book plus have two babies. On the one hand things she felt things going terribly wrong with the planet and on the other she made an enormous investment in the future by having children. That’s galvanizing for her – she had to do something.

James also wrote his book because he’s got small children and he noted that most people are now alienated from the decision-making process. Australia is no longer run for the benefit of the many, particularly obvious after the debacle of the mining tax.

Tony wrapped up the discussion by bringing it back to the writers’ power to energise activists. He thinks they can nudge the reader and produce ideas that Tony, for one, can recycle out into the world.

The first question from the audience was about books around a dystopian future implying a moral judgement on those that came before. Jane said after the discovery that the majority of emissions causing climate change came in her own lifetime she can only blame herself. Alice agreed the blame can only be placed in the present. She thinks of what the children will have to carry into the future. James thinks the world is always ending for writers. Apocalyptic fiction is a way to wrestle with big ideas such as nuclear war in the eighties and terrorism ten years ago. Dystopian fiction tries to make great concerns and worries manageable. He added that worrying about morality makes him itchy.

The next question was about artists’ obligation to take climate change seriously. Jane agreed that for her climate change was the most compelling issue for nature and other species. She can understand that others have different priorities but says that writers shouldn’t cut themselves out of the world of politics. Alice is deeply ambivalent. She wishes she didn’t have to care about climate change but once engaged she feels a responsiblity to try to show that each individual and their children will be affected. James thinks that writing is a political act but is wary of saying to any writer, you should write about this or that. He doesn’t think artists have a political obligation.

The final question was about books like 1984 and Brave New World, what effect can they have? James says that fiction is a way of thinking about things in an incredibly powerful way. Alice says she knows books can change lives; for her Little Women and Anne of Green Gables showed her that it was possible to make a living out of writing. Jane thinks that those books that make us alert to those kinds of futures, showing us the signposts, act as a warning; ‘Oh, no, don’t do that, that leads to dystopia and rats on your face.’ But then, possibly, we don’t recognise other, newer threats …

Tony wrapped up proceedings by admiring the humility of these three writers. As far as Mr Birch is concerned they will all influence his thinking about climate change.



You’ll be interested to see James Bradley signed his book twice. The first time, emulated by Jane Rawson, he calls the American way. Lined and signed. When asked why he crossed out his name, he did not know. So that’s why he signed again in the clear space of the title page.

It was the first time I’ve really been inspired by a group of writers. They were on my wavelength! I wish them great success and hope they do manage to nudge a few readers as Mr Birch suggested.

They could even take the time to read my book, Man of Clay, and see the themes of time, change and heat repeated therein!

New! Prize for finding typo IN book! Excitement! Wow!

Paint by numbers kit of panda eating bamboo


Where are those typos? Find ’em and you’ll win this AMAZING painting kit! Banish boredom for at least ten minutes while you colour within the lines. A decent typo from within the pages of The Ektek Trilogy (obviously if it’s the panda then it might be better coming from the last one!)

Good luck.

And I’ll even send it to you!


Le Guinn reminds us to Make Good Art (thanks, Gaiman!)

Would love to write a searing diatribe about humanity’s lack of humanity to humanity and every other species but, hey, who wants to read that? So, instead, here’s Ursula Le Guinn.

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Thank you so much, Ms Le Guinn.


I can’t help feeling that I’d quite like my books to be sold like deodorant, or any commodity at all actually, but as they are quietly sitting unread, they must be ART!! Therefore, I am an artist. Whatever I make must be art and so on round the cycle. I art therefore I art.

And what’s more, I can honestly say I have not sold out. That’s reassuring.

And nothing to do with

Ursula Le Guinn

who is a great artist who has not sold out and completely deserves her Lifetime Award. I look forward to reading and rereading her work for many years to come.


Our relationship with zoos

I’ve just read the Huffington Post’s article about zoos which reminded me of writer Derrick Jensen and photographer Karen Tweedy-Holmes’s book called Thought to exist in the wild: awakening from the nightmare of zoos.

thought to exist in the wild

In this book, Derrick Jensen compares porn with animals in cages. ‘All the animals in the zoo are eagerly awaiting you.’ He goes to a porn website and reads “All my ladies love to undress in front of the camera and have a great time doing all the photo sessions that you get to view totally uncensored.” He says, ‘It’s not enough to put these others on display. We must convince ourselves that they are desperately willing participants in their own degradation, that we are not exploiting them but doing them a favour. We are rescuing bears from the wild, saving orphans from sentences of death. The animals in the zoo are so happy that we need cages to keep the others out. The animals are rich estate owners leading lives of idle luxury.’ ‘All the animals in the zoo are eagerly awaiting you.’



Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the people of 2088

what we know

In today’s Guardian, an article entitled Climate Change is putting world at risk reports a new study, What we know.

The world is at growing risk of “abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes” because of a warming climate, America’s premier scientific society warned on Tuesday.

In a rare intervention into a policy debate, the American Association for the Advancement of Science urged Americans to act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and lower the risks of leaving a climate catastrophe for future generations.

These scientists are trying to get past the deniers by not engaging with them, rather, they wish to get on with the job; encourage Americans to get moving to protect life as we know it.

It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred. Nor are we seeking to provide yet another extensive review of the scientific evidence for climate change. Instead, we present key messages for every American about climate change.

1.  Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.

2.  We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.

3. The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.

(from the report, What we know.)

Do you think the fossil fuel industry will give up soon?

What did Kurt Vonnegut know about the environment? A lot.

Kurt Vonnegut

A wonderful website, Letters of Note has a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the Ladies and Gentlemen of AD2088. Ironically it was for a Volkswagon ad campaign. Ironically because Mr Vonnegut isn’t advocating more cars. It’s well worth a read in full here.

First, he discusses how terrible nature is and then points out that nature just wants to cut a deal with humans. Here’s the deal:

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature’s stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

If we won’t hear it from 2,000 highly trained scientists, if we won’t hear it from millions of activists around the world, then maybe we might hear it from one of the most smart communicators ever. And so it goes.


What we know video - We Brake 4 Climate

Watch the AAAS video here!



Continue reading

Jay Griffiths, Wild

One of the people interviewed in Project Wild Thing is writer Jay Griffiths.

Close up of Jay Griffiths
She spoke such good sense about children needing to be in touch with nature I sought out her books. The first I’m reading is Wild and it’s fantastic. The language is dense and lush. It’s a jungle of a book; a tramp through fecund vocabulary, an evocative trip into the wilderness of an awesome intellect. She’s our guide to wilderness and our perception of it; she’s a kind of literary David Attenborough.

wild cover

I have not been so excited about an author scince I stumbled upon Under the Sea Wind by Rachel Carson. Jay Griffiths is another learned, poetic writer exploring the world, seemingly without fear, creating an incredible reading experience for those of us in our armchairs. She delights in language and her lucid explanations of etymology of words in different languages underpins much of the book.

‘The Peruvian Amazon was called a Tower of Babel by early Spanish missionaries. Intended as an insult, it was actually a compliment, testimony to the luminous and tumultuous diversity of jungle languages, not just one tree of knowledge but millions, a forest of knowing. But the Church, the state and the education system together have deforested the human mind, forcing people to speak Spanish and aiding logging companies and others in a corporate land theft. If you take people out of their land, you take them out of their meaning, out of their language’s roots. When wild lands are lost, so is metaphor, allusion and the poetry that arises in the interplay of mind and nature. To lose your land is to lose your language, and to lose your language is to lose your mind … ‘ pg 26 Wild

She begins in Peru, seeking healing with the drug ayahuasca. (Slight detour here by way of a rambling podast – Simon Amstell chats to Marc Maron about his ayahuasca experience.) Jay Griffiths is the sort of person who will get up from the depths of depression, go to Peru with a total stranger and then wander around the Amazon continually drinking a hallucinatory drug untill she gets it right – realises she’s a jaguar – and then heads of to the next section of the book – an obvious flight into remote Canada to hang out with the Inuits. Wild? Certainly.

I’m still exploring her Wild mind and journey as well as looking forward immensely to reading Kith.

Kith cover


Here’s an excerpt on her website first published in the Guardian. She speaks of the horror of controlled crying and the political necessity for it in modern ‘civilisation’ and the need for children to have their own time.

In 2011, Unicef asked children what they needed to be happy, and the top three things were time (particularly with families), friendships and, tellingly, “outdoors”. Studies show that when children are allowed unstructured play in nature, their sense of freedom, independence and inner strength all thrive, and children surrounded by nature are not only less stressed but also bounce back from stressful events more readily.

This all makes such sense to me, particularly because my own child was schooled in an alternative environment at Preshil which, theoretically at least, allowed children freedom to explore their own choices, to develop their own minds and unleash their imaginations. My child was left alone to get on with his own business and although he’s had his fair share of teenage angst I believe he’s resilent and capable, living in another country at eighteen and learning what he needs to know to grow up and get on with the job of living.

Much of Jay Griffiths’s thinking resonates deeply and personally with me. Seek her out, check out her videos and learn from her immediately!

Jay Griffiths outside