MCFly talks to local writer Gregory Norminton about a new collection of short stories which is being launched on Thursday 7th March at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, in Manchester. Please see disclaimer!
What is Beacons?
Six years in the making, Beacons – stories for our not so distant future is a collection of original ﬁction by such established names as A.L. Kennedy, Alasdair Gray, Lawrence Norfolk, Janice Galloway, Liz Jensen and Toby Litt, as well as rising talents like James Miller, Adam Marek and Rodge Glass. Each of the stories responds to a brief: put simply, how does literature engage with the enormity if our ecological crisis? How do we root what we are failing to imagine in psychological narrative? How do we make a story out of a predicament?
The book is above all a literary project, but also a campaigning one, with all author royalties going to the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.
Where did the idea come from?
It began at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, where early in 2007 I attended a public lecture about the impacts of man-made climate change on Scotland’s wildlife. After a
display of alarming graphs and hair-raising statistics, my head was in my hands. It takes a strong mental constitution to look into the abyss, and I found myself wondering how on
earth, as a novelist, I could hope to approach a topic so enormous, so daunting and inescapable.
Thankfully Mike Robinson, then chairman of Stop Climate Chaos-Scotland, stood up to speak my mind. Mike is a lean, wry and tenacious man, a straight-talker who isn’t embarrassed to show his passion. The science is clear, he said, the stories that accompany it less so. When a society faces upheaval, it looks for fresh narratives to help makes sense of events. Statistics cannot motivate us as stories can, yet where are the George Orwells, the Aldous Huxleys and William Morrises of the ecological crisis?
I stopped Mike after the event and introduced myself. How about a book of specially commissioned short stories – a charity project to raise funds for, and awareness of, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition? It would be, I said, a metaphorical gauntlet thrown down to challenge authors to imagine our worst and best possible futures.
Why does the world need another book on climate change? (What impact do you hope it has?)
I often ask myself that question, and have no convincing defence. I am a writer of stories. I am also a citizen, and as a citizen I am, to be blunt, scared shitless by global warming and our collective refusal to act on it. Being a writer, what else can I do – be it ever so futile – if not write?
Perhaps I can do better than the last paragraph. Every value system has its narratives. Communism offered us hell now for heaven later; hyper-capitalism threatens to reverse the formula. We come unstuck when we live by narratives which, under a semblance of serving us, require our servitude – stories which conceal their identity as stories in order to impose themselves as dogma. The notion that we can live beyond our ecological means is one such dogma. The politics of limitless growth is another. So unpalatable is this truth that any politician who utters it (any politician who aspires to influence) will at once be denounced as an ideologue or fantasist. It is a crippling predicament for a civilisation
which, however wearily, looks to its politicians to save it.
Lord Stern has called climate change “the greatest market failure the world has seen”. It is also a failure of the imagination. Because we do not want to look at what we’re doing, we retreat into various forms of denial, we cling to hopes of a technofix or minimise the dangers of exceeding our planetary limits. These are zombie stories: undead narratives
that have failed us. Our only hope, a thin one, lies in countering them with living stories: fictions that empower us to look our predicament in the face.
In Beacons – stories for our not so distant future, some of Britain’s finest authors have attempted to do just that.
Are there any laughs?
Plenty. What is more demotivating, or less alert to the wonder of life, than a book without a laugh in it? Several of the stories (from A.L. Kennedy to Rodge Glass) offer laughter in the dark but at least one, Adam Marek’s ‘The Great Consumer’, is positively playful. I can say this, being the editor and not its author: Beacons is not a depressing book! The inventiveness, eloquence and sheer talent of its contributors make it a real celebration of the creative spirit. And that’s something we’re going to need plenty of in the years to come.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Please buy lots of copies.
Copyright © Gregory Norminton 2013
Disclaimer: MCFly is running a short story contest (it will be launched at the Beacons event). This has only turned from yet another idea scrawled on a bit of paper and stuffed in a document wallet into a real thing thanks to the hard work, intelligence and professionalism of Gregory Norminton, who is a top bloke.