September 24, 2014
I marched in Toronto’s People’s Climate March on Sunday along with a whole lot of other people: younger, older, a woman with a green heart of tufted fabric attached to her shirt, a couple with a baby in sunglasses, a family with a puppy, a man wearing a knight on horseback costume, thousands of us. I’m thinking about the climate and its disruptions a lot these days. I’m in the midst of a new novel, my fifth. It’s a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, in which the Prospero figure is a scientist who focuses on Arctic climate. Set upon by climate-change deniers, he is cast out of his university position and takes flight to a small island in the North Atlantic with his daughter. There he begins to plan a rogue geo-engineering experiment that will also be a way to lure his ideological enemies to the island.
There’s a particular curve on Highway 400 north of Toronto where the novel began. I was on my way to a funeral with my mother and sister, listening to my sister talk about being present at IPCC meetings and the global problem of how we determine who gets to use what energy. Beneath every footstep I take beats the question, How do we live now? Climate change exists and not talking about it in life and in novels creates a different kind of fiction: a false world in which this reality isn’t acknowledged. I’m interested in how we create narratives that make space for this reality without ending up in the realm of cliché. How do parents talk about climate change with their children? How do children respond? How do we make the not-talked-about feel present? How do we create narratives that are not about despair? Flannery O’Connor says, “People without hope do not write novels … and what is more to the point, they don’t read them.” And so, how to write from hope, into hope. I love working with the frame of Shakespeare’s play. On the one hand, I think, How dare I? On the other, I love the constraints the play imposes: in terms of timeline (the play takes place in a day, I’ve given myself two days), and also character. I’m not the first to say that confronting constraint is a great way to rupture habit and find something liberating but it is.