Okay, we’re all friends and colleagues here – I can talk honestly and directly.
I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m winging it. A novel I wrote won last year’s Fantastica Award, and is being published this year by Brio Books in Sydney. In it, I journey fifty years into the future to find out how things turn out.
Is it YA? No idea. For the record, I no longer wonder whether any of my work is MG, YA, nu-adult, lit-fic, spec-fic or any other mindless label I’m supposed to care about. What I care about is finding out what happens when, mindful of history, you extrapolate events and trends, and try and save the human race and the planet. Keep your goals achievable, right?
My novel? Long-story short – I background the hell out of global warming, climate change, 21st century politics (yawn), and instead focus on my protagonist’s journey through a semi-demi-maybe-kinda-post-apocalyptic future where billions have died from climate extremes, the sea level has risen seven metres, Moscow is a lush tropical garden, Antarctica is the promised land, and humans have defaulted to what I believe is our biological high-water mark – medievalism.
Digression: my previous MS, a pirate novel set at the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment (unpublished even though it’s brilliant), prompted this exploration of the future. I wanted to know if we’d actually moved on from medievalism to something permanently, humanly and humanely, more enlightened.
Well, yeah but nah. Trump, Morrison, Boris and Emperor Xi are in power, and the Australian government is controlled by corrupt men and women who fight for burning coal, and against stuff like human rights and democracy.
Whoa! I got political there. Sorry, not sorry – if you vote Libs or Nats, you’re voting for denier fascists. Harsh? Nope. I’ve checked.
So, back to my “YA” novel, set on a planet frying from our emissions.
Is there some kind of political pedagogy underlying my narrative? Am I covertly trying to impress or convert readers to my ‘warmist, Leftist, alarmist’ ideology?
Nope. No way.
Am I trying to ‘give readers hope’?
Am I painting a picture of a future without hope because I personally feel none?
For what it’s worth, and you can call me a pretentious wanker for trying, I’m painting a picture in which we understand our biology, and the reasons we are currently facing the extinction of our species. I’m also suggesting a potential way out. I’ve researched this stuff for two decades, and A/ we’re in trouble, B/ we could easily deal with Anthropogenic Global Warming. So why aren’t we? Why are we rejecting science?
Science is the process of finding better questions. Anyone who tells you science is about ‘proving’ stuff is lying or has no idea. Andrew Bolt, George Christensen, Rupert Murdoch, Scott Morrison, et al are lying.
Science is an anathema to religious / political extremists, but those same extremists, working for global capital, control our governments.
So how, in this era, do we give our readers ‘hope’?
For one, we don’t bullshit them.
I grew up on Russian Folktales. My dad, a card-carrying communist, travelled to Russia to see the communist utopia for himself. He brought back some crap Russian “Lego” which shattered readily into sharp, plastic shards, and a cheaply-printed book of Russian Folktales. In this book, which I still keep dear to my heart, I met Baba Yaga, I met the Soldier, I met the Brave Daughter. I learned hardship, struggle, privation, injustice, and the kindness of strangers.
So, here we are, talking about writing fiction for kids in an era where humans are destroying the planet to profit the few, without regard for the many or the future. My Russian heroines and heroes are my guide. The Russian Soldier confronted evil head-on, using wisdom and guile to win. The Russian Brave Daughter listened to everyone on her path, was kind to anyone who needed help, and endured because she cared.
When we write, we too must care. We must inspire young readers – readers of any age – with truth. Deep, human truth. We must never lie to them and, to do that, we must first never lie to ourselves.
We must understand our motives. We must research. We must rail against injustice, and must never, ever bullshit our readers. Whether they are five or fifty-five, we must offer wisdom and fellowship and empathy and love and understanding.
If you do this, truly, with your hearts open, your readers will know. They’ll understand. It won’t be about ‘politics’. It won’t be pedagogy. It will be truth, however difficult, fuelled by love.
And this, in our final moments, is our high-water mark. Shared love. Love that cares not about self but about others.
Let’s arm our readers – young and old – with truth.
Ben Marshall – award-winning author, script-writer, film maker.
Ben’s careers have spanned a wide universe … science journalist, farm worker, factory hand, deckhand, nurse, midwife and now a writer of fiction.