Monday, 28 February 2011

World Building: Living in Isolation

If you have read my  post at the beginning of Feb - World Building: Drawing Board? what Drawing Board - you will know I had scattered land mines around my new world. Of course I made life difficult for myself in the use of landmines.  However I did think that, based on our past history, we would be making use of them to defend ourselves from . . . well anything really. We have been using them indiscriminately for years now and although the clearance goes on apace across the globe, I believe if any nation felt threatened, even we who have signed up against their use, would make use of them. But, I didn’t truly think through the consequence of keeping settlements confined, like I did, for fifty years.  Ellen was, after all, supposed to be a short story!

Thinking of lifestyles we take for granted, what would we lose?  It wouldn’t be just depriving the survivors of fossil fuels but depriving them of food and water, if for some reason they had little expertise or knowledge.  Also trade and looking further afield for supplies was a route of survival I had cut off.  In 50 years objects deteriorate from use and external conditions.  Each settlement would have to have the wherewithal not just to produce its own food but its own cloth, tools and amenities.  No buying in from the next community, no money in fact for what use would it be.  I had crashed my survivors backwards in time, the only difference between them and the original inhabitants of a pre-industrial world being that they had modern knowledge.

I thought it could be done but I had to research hard to find the ‘yes’ to it all.  Cloth I already knew about, from my own experiments in the past.  Linen we all know but nettles, that hated weed of every garden, makes splendid cloth.  If sheep are around then of course fleece not only provides wool but felt, so warm and waterproof.

Food when there is no backup would be difficult. Could it be preserved when there was no refrigeration, would they be able to learn the old skills?  Most towns and bigger villages would have had libraries of some kind and, although recent events (closing libraries or making them electronic) would foil my plans, I did think that knowledge in books would help them survive. Drying and smoking is the easiest way to preserve food without any chemicals to help. Vinegar can easily be made and, if you could harness them, bees will give honey.  All ways of keeping harvests through the winter.

Could they make leather without chemicals?  This last took a lot of tracking down because I didn’t have the correct words to feed into the search engines.   I knew there had to be a method; after all, I reasoned, those early trappers in the opening up of the wilderness would not have lugged massive quantities of salt with them, on canoes, into the wilderness.  It would make no sense at all; apart from the weight, water would be bound to get in.  Yet skins must be cured or they become rank and spoiled.  Yes I know, you over the Atlantic know the trick, you still have a wilderness.  Maybe others with their own wilderness know the trick also.

Brain tanning.  The day I found it was a great day.  Not only because I had found it but because I found the whole process fascinating.  It seemed beautifully neat and natural that each creature has the right size brain to cure its skin.  Not only is nature wonderful but so too the early peoples of our world who discovered all these skills.

So they could clothe themselves, tan skins, preserve food.  In this blighted world could my survivors produce the food they preserved?  What kind of farming would they be able to do?  I visited our local organic farm and Andrew very kindly took me around explaining and listening to my plans.  I left a little discouraged because the size of the fields and my inability to see how my small bands of survivors could possibly plough and seed such vast areas, and this was a good farm with hedges and wildlife and reasonably-sized fields.  I had to have a think and do more research!


  1. Fascinating. Your immersion in this subject is going to enrich your book. Have you started writing yet, or are you doing all the research first.

  2. I love doing research for my stories. You learn so many strange things.

  3. No am on the third now - as the story expands I have to research more - trouble is the original Ellen's Tale started life as a short story - have blogged on it last year on this site - and so most of my world building has had to be done as catchup - not to be recomended!!

  4. There is a blogger who teaches about creating a self-sustaining community or just learning to be self-sustaining. He really goes into detail and gives some good resources. You'd want to go back into his archives to catch up but his blog is Maybe it can help you with your research.

    Anyway, just trying to catch up with some of the people in my group! I've fallen a bit behind!

  5. In my first book I had to research into all that. It was amazing. I went back to prehistoric days in the end.

    Anyway I'm a crusader making my rounds. Pop over to my blog. I'm trying to start a "review" club, where we review one another books. Got a pretty good response so far!

  6. It's amazing how our perspective widens and what we learn in the process of researching for fiction. Loved reading about your journey with this project. Best of luck with it!

  7. Hearing you speak of "brain tanning" reminded me of how repugnant a process the "curing leather" thing really is. I try to avoid leather as much as possible because I think the process (especially industrialized) produces nothing but yucky chemical waste.

  8. The trouble is the alternatives are not much better really - if one wants waterproof and long lasting - felting will give waterproof and warmth and can last on softer landscapes - my survivors needed something I'm afraid, some can felt - they have enough water - some of the others use remains of car tyres - if they were lucky to be marooned in a town with a shoe shop - sorted! -