Tuesday, 1 February 2011

World Building: Drawing board? what drawing board

When I started the Sefuty Chronicles I had no very clear idea of the world I was writing about.  However, before I was half way through Ellen’s Tale I realised I would have to find out and fairly quickly.  I had an impression, of my own making, of the downsides of climate change; I needed to find out how realistic these were.

Apart from checking climate change scenarios the most important idea was how my survivors outside the city walls would fare.  I grew up here in the UK after the 2nd world war with a romantic mental picture of farming.  Story book farms with cows, milked by hand! sheep, an odd pig complete with little pink piglets  eating scraps from the table. Dozens of chickens in the yard, ducks on the pond, and jolly fat farmers and their families.  It was a place of endless sunny days and the whole family would bring in the hay on the back of a hay wagon pulled by a shire horse, settle down to cream teas and merrymaking.  It never seemed to rain, harvests never flattened by the wind, never frozen into the ground by ice and snow.

Of course I became aware through my growing that life is different from the books.  However when I started writing I still had the mixed farm in mind.  All I had to do post climate change was eliminate the tractors and land rovers and bring back that Shire horse wasn’t it? Simple? Well no.  There may not have been fossil fuel any more, but neither would there have been many Shire horses, they are almost gone now.  I went back to medieval times to see if there were clues on survival for my country folk to be found there.  It seemed easy.  Take away the feudal lord of the manner and the tithes due to him and the church.  Calculate how much of everything they grew and survived on. 

As I researched it was with growing dismay I remembered I had put rings of landmines around every settlement.  In the ‘olden’ days they shared the heavy draught animals, as today expensive tractors may be shared, between villages and farms.  They exchanged foodstuffs they had with that they didn’t at markets.  They would share the bull, the ram. Between communities.  I had taken that mobility a way with never a second thought.

I searched self sufficiency books of the now, the articles and books about the past.  I travelled back as far as the Stone Age.  But everywhere the greatest difference was the mobility the other ages had.  I had myself, that year, in my garden, a plague of snails which demolished an entire harvest of cabbages before even the Cabbage White could get to them, and I realised that, all through the ages, harvests fail for so many reasons. While I continued buying cabbages from the village shop my survivors would not be able. 

While you can live without cabbage until the next season my research had been throwing up disasters a plenty with universal starvation from a ‘poor’ season.  It is of course always going on, we do though in this country think of famine and plagues of insects as happening somewhere else.  I had to try and think the impossible.  How would they survive without the ability to seek further afield, how would they survive if the weather wasn’t kind for a whole growing season.  What would then change in the ordering of societies as they faced this constant challenge to live? 

In my anthropology studies I had been fascinated at how environment and climate dictated so much of the social differences we find puzzling in our dealings with ‘others’  now I would have to work out if our social conventions could remain intact within the maelstrom of such a catastrophe.  It seemed the more I thought of one thing, i.e. how to farm, I saw the dominoes of consequence tipping, falling and sometimes landing lying askew.

It always came back to food.  Everything about the survivor’s way of life would begin with the security of their food.  As with the City I had placed Ellen in, food security was to be all.  However the world Ellen inhabited had the science and the wherewithal to secure the feeding of the survivors, had a certain mobility to travel further afield.  Not depending only on themselves they had an army to defend them.  My wilderness survivors had no science, and land mines not an army.  It was not a case of back to the drawing board as it was evident in writing my ‘short story’ of Ellen I had not visited a drawing board at all!

Read a review on Ellen's Tale on Goodreads at

see more about the Sefuty Chronicles at

and about reading and books at

I also blog about all manner of things at

you can follow me

No comments:

Post a Comment