You can’t beat a good flood. Ever since Noah got fed up with the rotten weather it has provided inspiration for countless end of the world stories. From Pat Hutchins’ The House That Sailed Away to J.G Ballard’s Drowned World, the end of the world as maritime adventure narrative has been a compelling one.
The latest author to imagine life after the flood is Alex Campbell. She spoke to tygertale about world building, playing evil overlord and how to survive on Land.
Where did the idea for Land initially come from?
It walked casually into my head one week in June 2012. My son was coming home from school traumatised by lessons on climate change. While his mates raced out thinking of life aka a Hollywood disaster movie, he left class with a fat sandwich box of what ifs for me to answer. His most terrifying: what will happen if the sea rises?
That same week, I happened to watch a documentary on the Moonies’ mass weddings. It really captivated me – this ritual of theirs with hundreds of strangers in one large room together, white bulbous dresses, clammy hands; meeting their ‘forever after’ for the first time, collectively.
The two ideas collided somehow and in came LAND.
I love a ‘last of the humans’ future shock tale. Have you got any favourites?
When I was about fourteen I read ‘Brother in the Land’ by Robert Swindells. It’s a fantastic teenage book about the aftermath of nuclear war – and it had an enormous effect on me.
I spent my teen years in Sheffield and at the time nuclear war was all we talked about – mainly due to the fact a BBC drama (‘Threads’), about the impact of a nuclear bomb, was based there. I think both the book and that drama influenced ‘Land’ more than I realise…
Did you get any perverse pleasure out of creating your very own totalitarian state, and inflicting its rules on your characters?
What are you implying! Ha, I dearly want to say a straight no to this, but I fear there is a part of me that very much enjoyed creating a cruel society – and watching what effect it had on my characters. It is fascinating to watch how they act under extreme situations, what choices they make, if they crumble. You often feel quite helpless – and almost forget you are the puppet-master!
What I did really enjoy was creating a back story to various older characters and following their trajectory through ‘Land’ as it developed as a state. Most especially the seemingly ‘bad’ characters who in fact started out not so bad in the beginning. It’s all the detail you never end up including in the book, and so somehow feels more special because they’re the parts that still belong to you alone.
How do you go about designing a world like this, is it organic or did you carefully map Land and build around that?
The setting for ‘Land’ arrived in my head half-formed already and then I just walked around it, looking at all the different roads and areas and checking out all its detail. It wasn’t until I had the place ‘Land’ clearly drawn out in my head, that I started to map it out on paper with words.
Land is great high concept stuff, did you work at a number of different scenarios for the story? Where else could you have taken us?
The story itself came almost hand-in-hand with the setting. But the idea behind it could have emerged within various guises, from contemporary to historical. There’s always been this question I’ve tortured myself over – what would I do if I lived in a place and time of persecution – would I risk my own life to help others, or simply keep my head down and survive? I’ve played around with answering this question within a number of settings and genres over the years. But ‘Land’ as a story just charged into my head rather than as a carefully plotted conduit for answering the question – it just presented itself and demanded: write.
Can you tell us anything about your next release?
I can! It’s called ‘Cloud 9’. Another YA novel, but contemporary this time. Though with a twist: the nation’s addicted to a harmless drug which cuts off bad emotion and helps people live positive, happy lives. It’s a conspiracy thriller, told from the POVs of both a girl and a boy, and, I hope, has many plot twists and turns to shake a stick at.
You can read a taster of Land here.