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6 Degrees From Wolfe Island to Climate Change

This month we begin with Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar a novel I know little about except that the island in question is being destroyed by rising rising sea levels. 

I’m picking up that eco theme for my first book. We’re heading south in search of warmer climes. Our destination is the Caribbean. In Archipelago by Monique Roffey, a father and daughter flee their home on the island of Trinidad when heavy rains are forecast. They are still scarred by the family tragedy that occurred only a year earlier when a torrent of muddy water destroyed their home. As they sail via archipelegos along the Venezuelan and Colombian coast towards the Galapagos Islands, they see the damaging effect of tourism on  fragile natural environments.

My next link is to another novel which reflects on the issues of climate change. Riverflow by Alison Layland takes us to a small riverside community that rises up in protest at the threat their fields and woods will be destroyed by a fracking operation. Tensions mount as the rain beats down relentlessly and the river rises to an ominously high level.

Floods have sadly become a very topical issue here in Wales in recent weeks. Storm Dennis brought chaos when river levels rose to unprecedented levels, leaving thousands of homes and businesses under water. Environmentalist experts have warned we can expect these “once in a generation” events to happen more frequently as the climate warms up.

For days local newspapers, television and radio stations talked about little else other than the floods. But that topic has now been pushed down the news agenda by the prospect of a Coronovirus pandemic.

Which gives me my third link.

In Station 11 by Emily St John Mandel, the world is gripped by a flu pandemic so virulent its victims die within 48 hours. In a few short weeks Georgia Flu sweeps across the globe and claims the lives of 99.99 per cent of the world’s population. The few survivors must learn to live without power, mechanised transport or antibiotics. (talk of antibacterial hand washes, toilet paper and Happy Birthday to You on repeat cycle are long past).

I wish I could offer you something less depressing but it doesn’t get any better because my next book gives us something else to worry about: nuclear war.

The Last by Hanna Jameson opens shortly after a nuclear war destroys much of the Western world. Twenty guests at a hotel deep in the Swiss countryside learn the truth in text messages sent hurriedly by their loved ones in the destroyed cities. Cut off from the outside world and fearful whether help will arrive, when they discover the body of a young girl they are confronted with another fear: that one of them is a killer.

The Last is a locked room/dystopian fiction mash up. Unfortunately the mix of genres doesn’t work that well. The mystery of who killed the girl fizzles out and the dystopian element lacks true menace. The guests seem more concerned about food supplies than they are about the risk of radiation spreading to their part of the world.

Nevil Shute did a far better job of conveying the imminent threat of radiation fallout. On the Beach details the experiences of a mixed group of people in Australia, one of the few habitable places left on earth after a nuclear war.

As monitoring reports indicate the steady southward progression of the deadly radiation, the Australian government provides citizens with free suicide pills and injections so they can avoid prolonged suffering. They also despatch a submarine to track down the source of a mysterious and incomprehensible radio signal originating from Seattle, Washington.

Early editions of the book includes the most famous lines from T S Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Whether the future comes via a bang or a whimper, unless you’re a climate change denier, you’ll know the signs are not good. Fires; floods; melting ice caps; threatened species give us a general idea of the problems we face..

But the author of my final book in this chain argues that we don’t know the half of it yet. The situation is “worse, much worse, than you think.” says David Wallace-Wells,  in The Uninhabitable Earth. In short chapters he covers the brutal reality of problems like “Dying Oceans”; “Unbreathable Air” and “Plagues of Warming”. He deliberately sets out to shock – and he succeeded. Though short, it’s an intense read. By the time I got to the end I was in a panic.

And on that sobering note I think it’s time I brought this chain to an end. We started on one small island but ended up thinking about the future of the whole planet. I’ll try to be more up beat in next month’s Six Degrees chain.

Welsh author confronts climate protests

Alison Layland

Alison Layland  is a woman with many talents. 

She’s been a quantity surveyor and a taxi driver.  She’s now a writer, translator and member of the  highly esteemed Gorsedd of the Bards. 

Her second novel ‘Riverflow ‘  confronts the controversial issue of fracking and its impact on a rural community.  

Q.  Describe your new novel Riverflow in one sentence.

It’s a novel of family secrets, community tensions and environmental protest against a background of fracking and floods on the river Severn.

Q.  Why did you decide to tackle environmental issues in this novel ?

“I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues and try to live as “green” a life as possible. I specifically wanted to focus on these issues when I wrote Riverflow, with the intention of writing an engaging, character-driven novel, but through the characters’ own lives and passions raising readers’ awareness of these issues and the climate crisis, and hopefully giving some food for thought.

Fracking protest

Between starting to write it and publication, I’m pleased that these issues have gained a certain amount of prominence through movements such as Extinction Rebellion. We also have the work of Greta Thunberg and the school climate strikers, David Attenborough, Chris Packham and many others. However, there’s still a long way to go in terms of government and corporate action.

The process of writing has also inspired me to get personally involved, and I’m now an active campaigner with Extinction Rebellion

Q. How difficult is it when you are translating fiction, to maintain the voice/style of your writer? Does the author in you ever want to change some part of the text? 

“Getting to know, and conveying, the author’s voice is an essential and enjoyable aspect of translating fiction.

It does take a few chapters for me to fully immerse myself in it, and in my subsequent redrafts and revisions, it’s the early chapters that need the most work.

I think being an author in my own right possibly makes it easier for me not to “interfere” unduly, as I have my own voice and way of writing and can keep that separate from my translation work.

Issues often arise in translating for a different culture. For example, German cultural references might need to be subtly explained to English-speaking readers. Or differences in style may be required in order to appeal to a different readership. Both I and my editors may make changes, in consultation with the author.”

Q. What made you decide to add ‘author’ to your career portfolio

I’ve always told myself stories and been an avid reader. I’ve always enjoyed working with words and always wanted to do something creative. So, although it wasn’t something I seriously considered when I was younger, I guess it was likely if not inevitable that I would become a writer – eventually!

I started writing fiction when we moved to Wales in 1997. I immediately set out to learn the language and our tutor happened to be a poet and creative writing tutor. After our language course came to an end, the group had achieved a lovely momentum and we carried on with creative writing classes.

I found, strangely, that writing in a second language removed my self-consciousness barriers. Soon I was writing short stories and flash fiction in Welsh. My first (unpublished) novel was also written in Welsh. By translating that for friends and family to read, I finally gained the confidence to begin writing in my native language, English.

Q. As a non-native Welsh person, how has your experience as an ‘outsider’ shaped your perspective on the country?

I lived in rural mid-Wales from 1997 until about three years ago, when we moved to a house right on the border, and learning the language has given me a unique insight into the literature and culture of Wales.

Living in the kind of rural and village communities that characterise a lot of this area of Wales is also fascinating, and feeds into my writing, although the village on the banks of the Severn that forms the setting for Riverflow is fictional. 

The border town of Oswestry and the surrounding area, although just in Shropshire, is a fluid one with a very Welsh feel and a Welsh-speaking community. I’ve sometimes felt that these places are just as, if not more, “Welsh” in character than certain places within Wales. Especially here, but also in the close-knit communities of rural Wales where there are a substantial number of English incomers, there’s a lot of – usually friendly – cultural banter.

As a Welsh speaker and “Cymraes fabwysiedig” (adoptive Welsh woman) I sometimes feel I have a foot in both camps, which is great for a writer and people-watcher!

Q. Do you enjoy participating in literary events?  

Despite being really nervous beforehand, I really enjoy public events.

I particularly enjoy interview and panel formats, like the one at Crime & Coffee, ( a festival organised by Cardiff library service) which was a panel discussion with fellow Honno authors Jan Newton and Gaby Koppel.

Another activity I enjoy is being asked to visit reading groups; it’s lovely to meet readers, talk about their reactions to my and others’ books, and answer questions about writing.

I particularly enjoy questions or comments from people who are touched by the subject-matter – when talking about Someone Else’s Conflict, that is people who have first-hand experience of the 1990s conflicts in the Balkans, and with Riverflow – although I’ve only talked about it at a couple of events so far – it’s people who are involved in environmentalism or protest.

Q. What book is on your bedside table right now? 

“I’m about to start This is Not a Drill, the recently published Extinction Rebellion handbook. It’s probably not ideal bedtime reading as thinking about the future of the planet is a decidedly scary prospect right now, but I’m sure that many of the essays and articles will be essential reading. It’s also a book I intend to pass on to people after I’ve finished reading it.


Spotlight on Alison Layland 

  • Alison Layland is the latest author from Wales to feature in Cwtch Corner.
  • She studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University, and after a brief spell as a taxi driver worked for several years as a chartered surveyor before returning to her first love – language. She translates from German, French and Welsh into English. Her published translations include a number of award-winning and best-selling novels.
  • Alison started writing when she moved to Wales in 1997. A Welsh language course led the way to creative writing classes. She was Welsh Learner of the Year in 1999. In 2002 she won first place at the National Eisteddfod with a short story written in Welsh. 
  • She is currently teaching herself Croatian as a by-product of her research for her first novel Someone Else’s Conflict.
  • Her latest novel Riverflow was published by Honno in June 2019.
  • You can learn more about Alison’s books at www.alayland.uk She is also on Twitter via @AlisonLayland

Cwtch-Corner

Cwtch Corner: where authors from Wales get to talk about their work, what inspires their writing and their favourite authors and books.

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