Author Anna Orridge writes cli-fi as well as eco and nature-influenced stories, novels and poems. I asked Anna about the psychological impact of writing about these difficult but important subjects and her own personal creative methods.
Leslie: What are the various ways you write about climate change?
Anna: The short stories I write which have a climate focus are usually set in the near future. ‘Vane’, for example, which appeared in Mslexia, is set in an anonymous British coastal village about fifty years from now. The cli fi novel I’m currently writing takes place in York in 2054. I try to show how people go about their everyday lives in spite of the inevitable upheavals that climate change brings. I also focus on setting to a great extent, as it helps the reader to ground themselves in what will be a drastically altered everyday reality. For my eco-poetry, which I usually post on Twitter, I often focus on the emotional fall-out of the losses we are experiencing: the grief and the anxiety. I suppose it’s a form of therapy for me, a way of working through my own sense of helplessness. Ecology and nature also seep their way into the stories I write which don’t have a climate focus. We are, of course, living with climate change now, although some feel its effects to a far greater extent than others. It’s impossible to escape.
Leslie: How do you manage to turn dry facts into imaginative experience?
Anna: Climate change is so huge and overwhelming a phenomenon, I think that focusing on how it affects one particular place, or one aspect of life, helps the reader to digest it. ‘Vane’, for example, zeroes in on how rapid resource depletion and the destabilization of weather systems could affect the progressive values that have been painfully fought for and won in the last hundred years, especially those for LGBTQIA people. And ‘Succinction’, a piece of flash fiction published in Wild Voices: An Anthology of Wildlife Issues this year, focuses on the future effects of climate change on a small bird sanctuary and the ornithologist tasked with caring for it.
Leslie: What are the kind of incidents or anecdotes that typically inspire you to write?
Anna: It’s often very mundane occurrences that provide the trigger. I was in a soft play centre with my toddler daughter when inspiration for my short story ‘Mirror Image’ hit me. (The story appears in the Retreat West anthology Nothing Is As It Was.) I was thinking about how so much of what we regard as the typical experience of childhood now focuses around activities that are extremely carbon-intensive. It also led me to reflect on the sheer inter-generational injustice of climate change. The story is, in fact, set in an old soft-play centre. The first half of the story supposes a societal trajectory of massive emission cuts and climate action, and imagines the centre as a repurposed greenhouse and community centre. The second half imagines the centre abandoned as civilisation breaks down completely, riven by lawlessness and starvation. Unfortunately, I think we are, at present, leaning more towards the second scenario than the first. But I believe it is the duty of cli-fi writers to bring the entire range of possibilities to life. I think there is still plenty to fight for.
Leslie: What helps and hinders you from writing? What are your compositional methods?
Anna: I’m not terribly keen on complete silence. I like to be in a mildly buzzing environment, like a cafe or bus. Coffee helps. And my crazy writers’ support group, TWP, helps even more, both with boosting sagging morale and offering critiques. With short stories, I just take the kernel of an idea or an image and see where it takes me, usually with just a notepad and a pen. With novels, however, I find I need to do a fairly extensive plan after a couple of chapters. I like to have a couple of beta readers, but no more than that.
Leslie: To what extent is your dystopian writing a product of the times we live in? Or is it more of an extension of your own temperament?
Anna: It’s definitely not an extension of my temperament. I am, in fact, naturally cheerful and optimistic. So, yes, I think it’s certainly a product of the times we live in, both the deeply worrying political currents and the apathy and nihilism that seems to cloud the lives of so many people.
Leslie: Who are your favourite contemporary writers? Why them?
Anna: I really, really want to say Ursula K. LeGuin, although I suppose I shouldn’t, because she very sadly died last year. More than any other writer, she showed me the sheer emotional scope that sci-fi can encompass, and made me think deeply about the complexities of gender and politics. I wrote a little poem in her honour just after her death:
The compassion of your work first drew me in. I don’t mean that guilt-tinged concern that often passes for compassion. But a thirst to make us truly feel – for people, yes, but for dragons too. And the fires within us that those dragons represent.
There are many contemporary writers I admire, but I would like to particularly mention Barbara Kingsolver, Gregory Norminton and David Mitchell, for their sensitive handling of the ecological emergency and the uncertainty of our collective future, as well as the lessons we may be able to glean from the past.
Leslie: Why do you write?
Anna: I enjoy all forms of art. I suppose novels, short stories and poetry, though, have always drawn the most profound emotional and intellectual response from me. And I want to be able to emulate that. You know that famous Venn diagram of ‘Your Purpose in Life’? The one with four circles: That Which You’re Good At, That Which The World Needs, That Which The World Needs and That Which You Can Be Paid for? Well, I suppose writing is that little sweet spot where all those circles converge for me. (Although I need to work on the ‘Paid for’ bit…)
You can read Anna’s story ‘Backdrop’ that appeared in The Mechanics’ Institute here
Next week I interview artist Carla Winterbottom, whose visionary work has a deep connection with climate change and extinction.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. You can read more about/buy Purple here.
- Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. You can read more about/buy Blue here.
- Violet is about late-life love. It begins in 2003 with Beth Jarvis and James Lavender on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister… Signed copies of Violet can be bought here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.