Thursday, November 13, 2014

British YA novel ''Stormteller'' combines fantasy, cli-fi themes

reviewed and profiled by Dan Bloom

David Thorpe has penned a crossover YA fantasy novel titled "Stormteller" and by crossover I mean it's for both young adults and adults. In a recent interview with the author in Wales in Great Britain, where he has lived for more than 20 years, I found a man who writes not only to tell a good yarn but also to offer hope in a world that sometimes seems devoid of it.

Thorpe is an optimist. And with "Stormteller," he has something vital to import to his crossover audience of teens and adults: that you gain hope in the face of global problems like climate change by educating yourself and joining with others, and by doing everything you can to make a difference in your own life.

While the novel is a fantasy YA novel, with a climate theme mixed in for good measure (but not the main theme), the book could be seen in the way that Huffington Post columnist Scott Thill defines cli-fi as a cultural prism rather than a specific genre or marketing term.

"It's about survival," Thorpe says of his book's main lesson. "Survival is psychological as well as material. The way to avoid feeling a victim of events outside your control is to take initiatives, to seize the day. As the Michael Caine character says in the film 'Interstellar', "it's time to stop thinking as individuals, but thinking together as a planet" -- or something like that."

"Stormteller" is set in the area Thorpe lived, in mid-Wales, near the coast. "I now live in south Wales, still a beautiful place," he says. "I grew up in Nottingham, Robin Hood country. In mid-Wales I lived in a village called Taliesin, named after Wales' legendary bard (a word in this case meaning a combination of poet and shaman. Wales is the land of bards)."

Set in a landscape he knows well, having walked over much it himself over the years, Thorpe says Wales means a lot to him. "I always felt when I moved to this edge of the British Isles from London that here, unlike most places, the skin of the present is thin: you can feel the vibrations from the past still reverberating down the centuries like thunder beneath your feet.

"Not far away is the Bearded Lake, and allegedly a footprint left by King Arthur when he passed this way, and north of there the mountain Cader Idris, Welsh for 'Seat of Arthur'.

"But the real stories that come from this area are older than Arthur's: the birth of Taliesin and Cantr'er Gwaelod, which is the tale of how the land that now lies beneath Cardigan Bay was drowned by the sea," he adds. "It's these, and this beautiful, wild and dramatic landscape, that sparked my imagination to write this novel."

Thorpe said that in terms of genre, the book is "a young adult novel with fantasy elements, because it includes these legendary, magical characters who are trying to influence the events in the story by taking over the main characters.

"But they each have conflicting aims for the same characters. Only one of them may be successful in changing the outcome of their original myth, which they wish to escape," he said.

When asked about the time frame of the novel, Thorpe said it's set in 2030, some 15 years into the future. And the climate change theme is real, too.

"I do believe it is still possible for us to escape the worst ravages of climate change, but we must act together and quickly," he said. "In my novel there is a group of people who anticipate these ravages and set up an eco-village. This eco-village is based on the research I did for another, non-fiction, book which is being published at the same time titled 'The One Planet Life', about people who are trying now to live within the means of the planet. But in 'Stormteller' this eco-village does not survive because I think things will get a lot more desperate than we imagine."

Thorpe said that the eco-village scene in "Stormteller" is based upon a real event that happened four or five years ago when the price of fuel went up a lot. Farms in Great Britain were being raided for the pink diesel that they stored, as pink diesel is tax-free there because it is used off-road.

"In one incident, a farmer's wife was shot dead by thieves stealing this fuel," Thorpe said. "It was astonishing and showed me how quickly civilization can break down. This indicates how prepared we must be to defend what we have when resources will get scarce."

When asked if "Stormteller" could be classified perhaps as a YA cli-fi novel, Thorpe said that he had never heard of the cli-fi genre term before this reporter mentioned it to him.

"I like the cli-fi term, but I would not like to get trapped within one genre," he added. "My last YA novel, 'Hybrids', was called science fiction by the publisher, but I perhaps naively did not realize I had written a science fiction book. To me it was a metaphor. Are 'Brave New World' or '1984' science fiction books? What about 'Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka?"

When asked about climate change issues and how the denialist camp often muddies the discussions going on worldwide, Thorpe said he is a firm believer in global warming.

"Of course global warming is made by human activities," he said. "No one in their right mind could imagine we could pump so many millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and not make a difference to the climate. I do not believe that the majority of the British public is in denial, and that most people here and fortunately the government are convinced of the reality of AGW. However the fossil fuel companies have financed a huge propaganda campaign to protect their interests and stoked up political division, particularly in the United States."

But with the United States and China having recently made an agreement to cut emissions, which Thorpe sees as "a great step forward," the innovations needed to do this will make the world a better place, create jobs and make everyone healthier.

"It is a great opportunity, not a burden," Thorpe said of the U.S.-China accord.

Has there been any interest in turning "Stormteller" into a movie or a TV series in Britain?

"I think that "Stormteller" would be good as a film or as a three-part television series and I would love to write it, and it would be easy to adapt," he said, adding: "It would not be expensive to make. I have suggested it to Ed Thomas and his production company in Wales which is the group behind the successful series 'Hinterland' here and to the commissioning editor at Welsh Channel 4."

When asked what the title of his novel means, Thorpe answered directly: "You should ask my wife, she came up with the title. I think it's great. You can make of it what you will."

Thorpe noted that he did not have a literary agent. "I would like one, but it has to be someone I would really get on with who understands my work. This book received many rejections in earlier drafts. I met the publisher at a literary festival and told him of this and he immediately offered to publish it, for which I was very grateful. It is not a conventional publishing deal. Publishing is changing fast and different publishers offer different services. In essence it is a risk-sharing deal. In this case, the publisher does most of the work and takes most of the risk, but I take a little too. In return I get a much greater share of the received price for the book."

The novel also got some funding help from an arts group in Wales.

"As for the writing and editing process, in the first instance I received a grant to write the novel from a local arts agency interested in regional regeneration. They thought a novel set in the area would help create tourism and jobs. I also paid for professionals to do a critique of earlier drafts, which was a really good investment. I recommend it. In all the novel went through about 13 drafts."

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