Interview with Sue Hampton about her latest book Rebelling for Life, endorsed by Emma Thompson, who said: “If you want to read words from the heart of a true activist, understand the real connection between depression and climate crisis and connect with the natural human instinct to rebel, read this beautiful and moving book.”
Leslie: As a reader, what am I going to carry away with me from your new book, Rebelling for Life?
Sue: I hope my poems and prose place you on the road, at the vigil, in a lock-on tube, a police cell and a courtroom, but I aim to share insights as well as experience. I hope readers will carry away the truth that the climate and ecological crisis is so huge and pressing that we can’t leave it to others to fix. That mass civil disobedience is powerful when it’s rooted in love as well as necessity, and that rebels aren’t all stringy long-haired youths with Ph.Ds in Philosophy, living off-grid and riding bikes. That a grandma previously seen as respectable, who lacks confidence and is allergic to conflict and disapproval, now feels compelled among other life changes to break the law – which might give pause for thought, prompt research and even inspire action.
Leslie: What persona are you writing from? Does the author voice vary, and if it does, why?
Sue: Anything I wrote from the heart of an action, or relived directly afterwards, is in my own voice, which has to be honest and may be raw. It’s passionate because activism is a passionate response to truth. Sometimes it’s urgent, sometimes despairing and sometimes quietly reflective with an acute awareness of sensual, living detail around me. The fiction is a way of broadening the cast of characters active here and in the climate and peace movement. In one short story, I take on the perspective of the District Judge and prosecution lawyer as well as the rebel defendant and both her parents, so I’m looking beyond my own role in court to empathise with others, without judgement. We all have to get better at that.
Leslie: Can you trace the roots of your protest writing?
Sue: My father’s deep convictions made him a young conscientious objector but also an (unsung) poet and a playwright. He was at Aldermaston and wrote frequently to politicians. He used words because they matter, aesthetically, emotionally and philosophically, but because love, peace and justice matter most. Some of my earliest poetry as a teenager was about apartheid and the Biafra War, and I was a fervent, if introverted, young Christian who cried at the world’s cruelties.
Leslie: Is there any point in writing when we need to ‘act now’ on climate, biodiversity and inequality?
Sue: In the last year or so my answer to that has often been no. I can achieve more by pushing the UK government to ‘act now’ – which means radical change, not spending more on new roads and defence than climate policy – than through words on paper. I’m not a celebrity with a massive audience. But although I didn’t become an author until 2007, writing was always my personal form of creative expression and lifelong core identity. And I believe that both shared insights from activism, and real experience adapted for fiction, can move and motivate. I aim at the very least to address some misconceptions and illuminate pages people don’t always like to turn. So both. I have to do, and be, both rebel and writer. I’m donating my earnings from this book to XR, and I hope that Emma Thompson’s heartening review will boost the funds it raises.
You can buy a signed copy of Rebelling for Life here.