I am currently writer in residence for Frontiers in Retreat on Suomenlinna island, off Helsinki, in Finland, where I am working on a novel, set 200 years in the future, called The Water Age. My working process is embodied and sited: writing on this snow and ice bound island contrasts in interesting ways with earlier writing for the novel I worked on last summer on the Carmarthen Bay triple river estuary at Llansteffan and Caldey Island in south west Wales. Here on this Nordic winter island, water is viscous, blooming ice, turning to solidity, more thinglike.
Researching the novel, I am working with a diversity of sources: predictions for future climate, sea levels and future society; the characteristics and properties of water; inspirations from aquatic flora and fauna. My writing process includes action research with a young people’s art group and their teacher Elsa Hessle at Annantalo in Helsinki.
I am looking at science fiction by Ballard, Le Guin, Lessing, Robinson and others, contemplating questions of utopia and dystopia. In focussing on rising water levels and writing about drowned settlements and infrastructures, I want to approach, as Gerry Canavan puts it in Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction, ‘the shocking inadequacy of our response to global warming thus far’, however I am also a hydrophiliac, committed to swimming and gongoozling (a word meaning staring at life as it passes by on water). If I see water I
want to get in it. I’m with John Cheever’s character in the short story, ‘The Swimmer’: ‘That he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence … To be embraced and sustained by the light green water was less a pleasure, it seemed, than the resumption of a natural condition.’ Water, itself, will be a kind of character in my novel. I’ve been reading the ‘water magicians’, Victor Schauberger and Theodore Schwenk. I’m interested in
aqua-hybrids – mermaids and Vikings, and in the liminal space of the coast – between solid ground and water. I’m trying to write with a perspective turned inside out: a blue infrastructure instead of a grey tarmacked one; looking up from underneath the surface of the water, as well as across its surface and into its depths. I’m trying to imagine a different future relationship with the hydrosphere that is not dystopic.
We are a story addicted species. Our fictions are our life maps. We tell ourselves stories about the past and about the future as models or anti-models for our present lives. I will be unfolding these ideas further over the next few days in a series of daily blogposts from Suomenlinna.