Another fabulous post by Bren MacDibble, for the Sources and Transformations series, which looks at taking historical data, personal history, myths, fables, art and music and turning them into fiction with the author's personal twist.
My children's novel, How to Bee, came from two sources. The first was my childhood of living on farms in the central North Island of New Zealand. I'd always wanted to write a story about a farm kid, but I like to write futuristic, so I was waiting for a special story.
That story arrived suddenly in the form of a 2016 article in the Huffington Post about bee loss, featuring stunning photos of people who spend their days climbing around in pear trees hand-pollinating flowers. I was captured by these people standing in the branches, the sun on their faces, the lines and dirt on their hands, the way they had to climb and twist and reach, stretching out to touch each flower with their wands, each and every flower, no fruit if they miss any, jars of pollen around their necks, nothing but hundreds of blossoms between them and the sky.
You have to go and look at these photos yourself: Huffington Post - These Photos Capture the Startling Effect of Shrinking Bee Populations:
I knew these people were poor. I knew they'd work for a dozen hours a day all spring and part of summer. I knew it was big agriculture who'd promoted the use of sprays that killed the bees and the orchard owners were probably in debt to them, but it's poor people who wind up in the trees doing this arduous painstaking work that bees can do so easily. It's always the poor who suffer most when climate change issues hit.
It talks about the Sichuan Province but we can easily imagine it happening anywhere. I imagined it happening here in the future. I imagined that it would be poor children sent up into the trees to work for their keep. Suddenly I knew what my farm kid did and the story came alive.
I set it 30 years in the future, post bee-loss famine, after the world had resettled and this was just something that children did. This wasn't about society breaking down. It was about society making do and rebuilding.
My next book, The Dog Runner, also drew on fact and articles. I'd known about the problems with wheat fungi, in particular Ug99 (the name of an evolutionary leap in wheat fungi that took scientists by surprise), and then more recently, strange circles of dead pasture in Queensland were attributed to a fungus. I'd also been experimenting with removing all grains and grasses from my diet, which clued me into how much we rely on grass. Wheat, barley, rye, obviously, but corn, rice, sugar, meat and dairy, all from some kind of grass. If a wheat fungus were to get wildly out of control, and take out all grasses, we'd be left eating fruit, vegetables, mushrooms and fish. The famine would be devastating.
I teamed it with an idea I'd been holding onto for a while, kids taking a dog cart across Australia. Dryland Dog-sledding looks like such a fun sport and the dogs double as security for young protagonists. So it became a journey, an escape from a famine-ravaged city story.
The breakdown of society can be scary for younger readers, but I've handled it as carefully as I could without hiding it, and now that young people the world over are taking a stand on climate change, and food-security is our biggest threat in this area, I feel this book fills a need young readers may have, wanting to see children coping with a ravaged future.
The Dog Runner– (for ages 10-14) Ella and her brother Emery are alone in a city that's starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, upcountry, to find Emery's mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren, and dangerous landscape? Well, when you've got five big doggos and a dry-land dogsled, the answer is you go mushing. But when Emery is injured, Ella must find a way to navigate them through rough terrain, and even rougher encounters with desperate people.
Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. After 20 years in Melbourne, Bren recently sold everything, and now lives and works in a bus travelling around Australia. In 2018, How to Bee - her first novel for younger readers – won three major awards downunder and arrived in the UK. The Dog Runner,her second children's novel, hits the shelves on 2nd May.
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