Climate Change Fiction: Multicultural, Diverse, Global, and with Animals, Too!
by Claire Datnow, plus Anna M Holmes and Jamie Mollart discuss their adult novels
Fiction can be a powerful way for students to understand how climate change has and will impact their future. Cli-Fi (climate change fiction) can serve as a springboard for lively discussions. In addition, stories offer ways in which students can envision and adjust to climate change through new technology and social adaptations. The ideas discussed below can be used to encourage class reading, enrich a unit on this topic and, hopefully, inspire students to do research, or create their own stories, poems, drawings of the future altered by climate change.
I began writing Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure (for Middle Grades and up) three years ago, horrified by the wildfires sweeping around the globe. My novel relates the dramatic story of three special young people from across the world, the amazing animals that are part of their lives, and the terrible threats of wildfires—threats that affect the entire world. Climate change is a serious reality to write about. The good news is that after decades of misinformation, denial, and inadequate attempts to reduce the dire impact of climate change, young people around the world are searching for ways to understand and to take action.
Keeping this in mind, I decided not to sugarcoat the truth. Instead, I choose decided to weave a solid base of scientific knowledge into a compelling story, in order to create a hopeful, yet realistic ending rather than gloomy or magical fairytale one. For me, the books I write will always be grounded in science. Telling a moving story does not mean making up facts—we have enough of that already—the basis of the narrative has to be the truth and reality of climate change and the need for social injustice.
After I’d completed Red Flag Warning, I saw more clearly how I’d woven diverse, multicultural, indigenous, and global themes into my story. The three protagonists are: Aisyah from Sumatra, Indonesia, whose ancestors are the Batak people: Kirri from Australia, whose ancestors are Aboriginal: and Hector from Northern California with roots in the Native American people of Mexico. The three draw strength and pride from the ancient wisdom of their ancestors. And, although they come from very different backgrounds the three become close friends.
As a writer and teacher I understand we need diverse stories to serve as mirrors that reflect ourselves and helps build pride in our identity. We also need multicultural stories that serves as windows through which we can begin to understand people of backgrounds different from our own. By weaving these strands together, I hope that Red Flag Warning delivers a powerful message: young people can work together to take action to heal the Earth. Compelling narratives interwoven with science can entertain, educate, and inspire readers. As storytellers we hold the keys to touching our readers’ hearts, to ignite their imagination to build a bridge to tomorrow that will empower them to take action for the greater good of humanity and the wellbeing of the Earth.
Environmental literacy can be integrated into subjects and activities already in the curriculum. In this way climate/environmental stories can serve as a springboard to lively discussions, projects, or research. Fortunately there are variety of novels to choose from at all levels. For a comprehensive list visit the eco-fiction site dragonfly.eco. Additional resources are listed at the end of Red Flag Warning: An Eco Mystery. For a free Teacher Handout “How to Become an Eco Detective: An Interdisciplinary Unit for Writing Across the Curriculum” here.
Find out more about Red Flag Warning.
Claire Datnow was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, which ignited her love for the natural world and for diverse cultures. Claire taught creative writing to gifted and talented students in the Birmingham, Alabama Public Schools. She earned an MA in Education for Gifted and Talented and a second MA in Public History. Her books for middle schoolers include The Adventures of the Sizzling Six, an eco-mystery series, and Edwin Hubble, Discoverer of Galaxies. Claire’s most recent novel, Red Flag Warning: An Eco Adventure, weaves in the theme of global climate change. Claire’s books for adults include a memoir, Behind The Walled Garden of Apartheid and The Nine Inheritors.
Step from Conceptual into Actualisation
Anna M Holmes and Jamie Mollart discuss their adult novels. Blind Eye by Anna M Holmes is a fast-paced environmental thriller locating the plight to save a rainforest in a global context showing how independent we are as a community.
Kings of a Dead World by Jamie Mollart is a dystopian Cli-Fi novel set in a near future where the solution to depleted resources is The Sleep, enforced hibernation for most of the population.
JM: Hi Anna, I finished your book last night and really enjoyed it. I admired the pace it moved at, the way in which you discuss BIG ideas in a way that are part of the plot, rather than expository, and I thought the characterisation was really strong.
AH: Thanks Jamie, and I also enjoyed your story, though I hope humanity avoids coming to this! Writing about big ideas in an accessible way is crucial isn’t it? No reader needs to be bludgeoned over the head. Heavy-handed approaches are massively off-putting. We read novels to, in part, entertain us and maybe make us think.
JM: The thing that struck me while I was reading Blind Eye was that it’s really interesting how we’ve effectively approached similar ideas from very different places and perspectives. Kings of a Dead World is very much ‘after’ climate change, whereas Blind Eye is set now and in some ways provides guidance on how to avert the disaster I imagine. It got me wondering how you chose this particular approach to confronting climate change?
AH: Kings of a Dead World and Blind Eye make interesting bedfellows. Yes, your story is both ‘before’ and ‘after’ while mine is indeed right ‘now’. Your story deals with a world that has tipped with limited resources tightly controlled in a dystopian society. At the end of my story I leave readers with a sense of hope.
I felt I was in a unique position to write about rainforest destruction as I love telling stories and my partner is a founder member of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). His international contacts were crucial and my own political contacts were handy to check Westminster scenes. Blind Eye started as a screenplay in 2008. I updated it in 2020 (when it was joint-winner of the Green Stories screenplay competition) and I enjoyed delving deeper and reworking the material as a novel. At least in book form it has a chance of reaching an audience. Getting a film made is almost impossible.
Jamie, I loved the imagination you brought to your story. Tell me how you built your complex future world? I am particularly intrigued by Chronos.
JM: Thank you! For me everything began with the idea of The Sleep. I was looking for the most extreme, yet viable, way of dealing with the crippling lack of resources that we will face as a result of climate change, and I came up with the idea of forcibly hibernating most of the population for the majority of the time. From there it was a case of working out logistics! I had a pinterest board which I built up as a reference point as well. It’s actually still here if you want to have a look.
I’m really interested in the idea of how the monothestic religions are fundamentally layered versions of older beliefs, but I felt that if there was such a cataclysmic change to the structure of society that the existing belief systems would struggle to hold up and people would revert to older versions. I love mythology and wanted to bring that in so I looked for gods that would reflect the two types of people that populate my world. For the Sleepers it’s Chronos, the God of time, as this is the thing they value most and for the Janitors Bacchus, the God of wine, made sense as they live a decadent lifestyle, I also wanted to touch on fairy tales and that’s why I brought in Rip Van.
While we’re talking about place, that was something I wanted to touch on with you, Anna. There’s a real tangible quality to all the places in your novel, the jungle in particular. I wondered how you went about building that or whether you’d actually visited the locations yourself?
AH: While I have visited the tropics, and trekked in rainforest, I haven’t been in the situation I describe, but my partner has. His experience, and that of a tropical forester who advised me was invaluable and a development organisation in Indonesia advised me on specifics of Kalimantan tribal groups. By the way, ‘my’ tropical forester adviser had a $100 price tag on his head - another interfering environmentalist - so I use that in my story. I did loads of desk research: environmental reports, Google Earth, videos on YouTube, images and so on. I like your pinterest board! For my first novel, Wayward Voyage, about female pirates, I spent a week on a tall ship to experience handling ropes and going aloft, as well as the usual reading and archival research you’d expect. I love film and I aim to write visually.
You have asked why I wrote my story, and of course I am keen to learn what set you off to write Kings?
JM: As with most of my writing it was a combination of things. In my day job I work in advertising and I have a deep personal conflict about the fact that I contribute to consumerism, which is one of the biggest drivers of climate change, so I knew I wanted to write something that addressed that for me. This is where all the themes of culpability and personal responsibility come from I think.
At the same time I was watching and reading a lot of classic science fiction and wanted to write something that had that sensibility. A recurring theme in all my work is the cycle of male violence and particularly in male friendships and so that is in there too.
I tend to let things percolate for a long time before I actually start putting words down on the page, so my preoccupations with consumerism, climate change, classic science fiction and the idea of The Sleep as a potential extreme solution all bumped around together in my head until I felt ready to start the actual writing process. There’s always a tipping point where I feel that I am ready to step from conceptual into actualisation, although I can’t predict when it’s going to happen, and I get a really rough first draft done really quickly, then spend the time honing and tidying it up.
I have to say, It’s been a real pleasure talking to you Anna, the thing that has really pleasantly surprised me is that despite working in different genres our work is clearly connected through a concern for our world and a desire to make people aware of climate change through our writing.
AH: This conversation has been fun, Jamie. The climate crisis is such a HUGE thing but we can’t be preachy in fiction as this will turn readers off. Well-told stories matter. It is great that we enjoyed each other's books.
Jamie Mollart is a reviewer for British Science Fiction Association, a mentor for Writing East Midlands, his first novel, The Zoo, was on the Amazon Rising Star list and his second novel, Kings of a Dead World is available now. The trailer can be watched here and the paperback was launched on February 3rd with an Exclusive Edition only available from Waterstones. You can find Jamie on Twitter at @jamiemollart
Communication with different audiences drives Anna Holmes’ work. She was a radio journalist before a career in arts management including with UK Arts Councils as a specialist dance and theatre officer then as an external artform reviewer. To find out more about Anna, visit https://www.annamholmes.com
Submissions are now open for Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors
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