Looking backwards: ‘Inversion Centre’ and Looking Landwards.
I cannot recall where I found out about Looking Landwards, but straight away I wanted to write something for it, just because the brief struck me as interesting and unusual — looking at the future of agriculture. I am not the most productive author, and in recent times I have found the truth in the well-known idea that constraints are very helpful. They mean the page is not blank. And they focus the mind. They automatically give me somewhere to start.
I had toyed with a setting in the past — a kind of superfarm, part of a project I imagined to reclaim desert, grow food, fight climate change. That idea grew out of driving through the outer suburbs of Melbourne and even Canberra. As humans multiply and move to the cities, we keep building houses on our best farm land, because our cities were founded partly because the land there is good. I recall thinking that ‘if this goes on, we’ll have the suburbs abutting the desert and nowhere to grow food’. Where grow food then? Why, by greening the desert. How? Well, anything can be done with energy, so if we have cheap renewable energy we can run a desalination plant and get all the fresh water we need from the ocean. So I imagined an installation somewhere on the coast of South Australia (SA), where the desert meets the sea and the sun shines for much of the year.
Of course, a location does not make a story. Stories need conflict and characters, and events that happen and more or less make some kind of sense.
I brainstormed in an old exercise book. I decided that the tone would be light, humorous (well, I hope it is) and conversation-driven, and that I would have two kinds of conflict, since that often works best for generating a plot. First, the project is losing funding and secondly things are going wrong technically.
The plot came from working these things through, forcing them to fit into the same story, and allowing the less than serious nature of the story to open up a wider range of possible endings. I managed to bring some crystallography/symmetry terms into it, which was satisfying, too.
It was a useful experience in ‘working out’ a story in a highly methodical way, and then trying very hard to make the whole thing flow rather than plod. I often find that stories that are worked out like this can seem a bit flat and mechanical, I worked hard to avoid that; the humour helps with avoiding that, and so did a hard cut that took 15% off the length and made the action more insistent.
As a bonus, my better half wrote her own story for the book and that got in too, so for me the volume is a unique memento. The editor even went to the trouble of having the authors post signature sheets round the world for the special hardback edition. So there are copies signed by all the authors — at great profit to various postal services!