“How we write about The Defining Issue of our Day, we are in a Climate emergency, we are in the crisis right now, it’s not happening in the future, it’s right now” is how chair Rosie Goldsmith described the subject of the discussion between authors Jonathon Porritt and Jessie Greeengrass as they came together at the Town Hall on Saturday afternoon (2 October) to deliver a vital message to us all: We need to act now, not just for ourselves but for the young, the next generation and beyond.
Marlborough.news is very pleased to have sponsored this event.
Jessie Greengrass recently published her third novel, a ‘CliFi’ highlighting the dangers of the heating Earth. Through the characters of ‘The High House‘ – (to borrow the words of the LitFest description) young siblings Pauly and Caro and villagers Sally and her “Grandy”, all four thrown together in a seaside home that Pauly and Caro’s mother, a climate scientist, had built as a shelter – an ark – from the coming storm – the storm that will change their world for ever.
Jonathon Porritt is a long-standing, influential and highly respected commentator, activist and author on Climate Change issues for the past five decades or so, advising politicians, businesses, as well as being one of the directors of ‘Friend of The Earth’, and holding vital and directional roles in many other key organisations and groups ever since. His latest book ‘Hope in Hell: A Decade to Confront the Climate Emergency‘ still offers hope. ‘It’s not too late’. But impresses that we need to work, and work properly now whilst also embracing and communicating with youth as soon, it will be their world.
We have ten years…… Thanks Jonathon. His book ‘Hope in Hell’ still gives us all a bit of time to actually do something. “Ten years” he estimated.
This is where the Greengrass novel and the Porritt non fiction book coincide. Albeit in their different ways, via fiction and via fact, their common key is to communicate. To talk, to involve, and particularly to and with the younger members of our community.
Chaired by journalist Rosie Goldsmith, former senior presenter, reporter and critic for the BBC, the confluence of both Jessie Greengrass’ and Jonathon Porritt’s Fiction / Fact approaches created a strong and clear message to the audience that not only was time running out (not quite run out yet) but the talking/discussion amongst politicians, business and those in authority had to change, and change into something a bit harder with action attached.
But, both were keen to emphasise that the talking must not stop, but to transition from discussive prevarication into up and down communication with the younger members of society, onto whose shoulders this will come to rest, in a way that we can prepare and assist them in dealing with what for them may evolve into an almost existential landscape.
‘The High House’ is about how a young family faces the approaching storm, one that threatens to engulf their world and very existence.
A novel primarily about three characters and their voices and they take turns to narrate the novel. Caro and her half-brother Pauly, and Sally and her grandfather. Francesca, Caro’s stepmother and Pauly’s mother is a Climate Scientist and she believes very fervently that the end of the world that they’ve grown up in is imminent and she spends a lot of time away from the children doing what she can to fight against what’s about to happen.
Jessie explains: “And as the novel unfolds the crisis slowly builds and breaks over these young people. And it was very important that they were young when I started to write because it felt important that they are morally not culpable for what happens as they are innocent in it but they are left to deal with the consequences.”
A novel ‘for our time’, of what can (will?) happen, that it will be for the youth to deal with the change that is about happen. Beautifully written and woven into a very touchable narrative that catches with the reader yet moves the whole Climate Change issue into a new area of focus, emphasising youth and the burden that will be placed upon them.
Whilst fiction can examine this whole area from an outside perspective, fact hits is head on and while both can convey a similar and vitally important message, the existence and combination of both conveys this far more effectively.
Jonathon on reading environmental fiction: “Fiction is not new to me. I’ve been reading fiction about the environment for a long time, one notable early book was in the eighties called ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang’ by Edward Abbey, which is all about a bunch of disaffected environmentalists who decided to start blowing things up instead of politely protesting on the steps of Parliament or anything like that. From then on I’ve ready a lot of environmental fiction, some of it’s great, some of it’s not great,….. Some people find it easy to deal with, some find it creates such powerful ideas, just as Jessie’s book does.”
“I don’t know whether I could write another non-fiction book, this one ws extremely painful to write and once you dive deep into the real horror story that is going to unfold unless we get on top of it it it’s emotionally really, really difficult and this book was intensely difficult to write and for me very emotional, personally, it demands that you think through some of the implications of what is happening in the world today and what it means to people.”
Jessie: “At the point I started writing The high House it really felt that there was not a huge amount of it about but it has spiralled since then but I try and avoid reading too much that’s related to what I’m writing about because of the danger that you end up writing somebody else’s book.”
For Jonathon “It’s all about Delay now, we used to have ‘Climate Deny’, now we have ‘Climate Delay’. It’s this ‘Delay’ story that preoccupies me the most, it’s the real issue.”
Regarding The High House: “There is both Hope and Hell in Jessie’s novel….. “In the survival of the principal characters obviously there is hope….. But the hinterland of this is pretty bleak in terms of the number that won’t survive but its made clear to you the reader that there is massive trauma going on in our country and the High House is the place is where some of the finer instincts of humankind are still there and still powerfully represented.”
Throughout this discussion, Jonathan’s factual piece – concerning but still leaving hope, and Jessie’s engaging and catching story of human adaptation and dealing with crisis have one common theme running through each – communication.
It is communication – talking, particularly with the young, the next generation and not just in one (downward) direction. We in our generation need to listen to them as well as we will be handing the world on to them. Along with every negative, damaged, compromised and challenged aspect of the environment that we (and our forebears) have created. When we go it won’t our problem, it will be theirs, and they will also – in turn – will have to view their next generation similarly.