Dear earth protectors, I wrote you a book

It’s about a year since I published my second novel, To See The Light Return. I wrote it as a love letter to climate activists. I thought it might entertain, encourage and amuse at a time when caring about having a biosphere viable for future generations felt like swimming against a tsunami of individualistic materialism. Boy, what a difference a year makes! Now, with cleaner skies, and dolphins frolicking in Venetian canals, more and more people are realising how human activity directly correlates to pollution. Calls for action on the climate and biodiversity emergencies to be taken with as great a dispatch as we have seen for COVID-19 (or greater, in the case of the UK and the US) are coming from all quarters. We know that action is possible when the threat is recognised.

So, from an individual, materialist author’s point of view, that’s more readers then, surely. Unsurprisingly, not so much.

I knew climate activists would be a niche market. It turns out to be even nicher because, understandably, no one who is busy working to keep our planet liveable for humans and other species has much downtime. Or, it turns out, much appetite for reading anything that isn’t full of information about how to accomplish that laudable end. As I didn’t have time to write the book for many years, for exactly those reasons, I am not surprised. But I am disappointed. Why can’t you make an exception in this case, I think, a little forlorn.

It’s been a discouraging year, from this narrow perspective.

I have had some amazing reviews. One reader told me she burst into tears as she read the end of the book, because it held out the vision of something hopeful, something other than the individualist, materialist world of 2019. I was touched and delighted. This was exactly the response I had been hoping for. It tipped the scales, balancing out the year of slog, the slow sales and rebuffs from independent bookshops that only buy from wholesalers. The silence from prospective reviewers, too busy being serious to take a moment for a bit of fiction. A bit of fluff from an unknown noveller.

But here’s the thing. Fiction is a serious business. What we read informs our view of the world and our expectations. The principal impetus to write TSTLR was being unable to find much to read that represented the world as I see it or, more importantly, that represented it as I and other earth protectors would like it to be. That looked at all that materialist individualism and found it lacking; not ‘normal’ but alienating, frustrating, arid. I wanted to be an alternative voice offering an alternative vision.

And more important, reading fiction can increase the reader’s capacity for empathy. In my own work I write from many different characters’ points of view. I find myself experiencing empathy, even for my villains and – according to my reviews – my readers feel it too. In a time when our society is becoming increasingly polarised and divided, our ability to put ourselves in the minds of those with whom we do not agree, to see why they might feel the way they do, needs to be exercised, toned, not left to atrophy. Reading data-driven nonfiction might give us the tools to win an argument, but will it help us reach agreement or understanding?

So please, earth protector, consider putting a bit of downtime my way. To avoid the industrial behemoth that is Amazon – reasons why it’s available there, here – email me direct: sophiegb@me.com

ps, if you’re wondering, earth protectors, eh? check out the life work of the much missed Polly Higgins and the Ecocide team.

 

 

 

Short story: Day 0 – the bride

She slammed the lid of her laptop down in a fury, cutting off the Churchillesque mugging of the PM as he exorted the country to pull together. Right, like he’d be fucking pulling anything except his own fucking todge. And presumably he had someone on staff to do that sort of thing.
Shit. Fuck. Fuckity fuck.
She opened the calendar on her phone and counted 12 weeks from the date of the weekend.
Yep, Saturday June 13th. The earliest day they might expect the recommended restrictions to be lifted.
What should be her wedding day.
It had to go ahead. It just had to.

She didn’t make a fuss when her fiance came home. Likely he hadn’t noticed the significance of the 12 weeks. And she knew if she drew it to his attention, he’d tell her not to fuss, that everything would be OK and the worst that could happen would be that they would have to delay the wedding for a few months. Maybe a year. But she couldn’t be that sanguine. It had taken years for him to commit to a date. She had booked caterers, florists, the photographer, a stylist, and a ridiculously expensive venue overlooking the sea, accommodation included. A dress was being hand-sewn. The list they had published at Harrods was already half ticked-off.

The expense of cancelling would be huge. Even postponing was bound to cost. The thought made her neck contract with tension.
Eventually he noticed her preoccupation, her whimper as he turned on the 10 o’clock news and the press conference was replayed in all its godawful glibness.
“What’s up? Worried about the wedding?” He tousled her hair, pulling strands of hair out of her carefully controlled coiffure and making her wince. She pulled away.
“Of course I’m fucking worried,” she snapped, forgetting her earlier resolve. “This could ruin everything!”
“If the worst comes to the worst, we’ll just postpone. It’s only money. Calm down, love.” He pulled her against his chest, and she forced herself to relax.

“It’s only money.” The words chased themselves around her head as she lay sleepless beside him, listening to his gentle snores. It was easy enough for him to say, he’d been born with loads of it. She had not. This wedding was her way of announcing to the world that life had changed for her, that she was no longer the penniless data inputter from his office, but about to become his equal, his wife.
Half an hour later she decided it was no good, she wasn’t going to sleep. She got up and pulled on a dressing gown. Her laptop was on the kitchen table and she flipped open the cover and made herself a cup of camomile tea while it woke up.
Her Facebook feed was full of friends lamenting cancelled holidays, home-working memes involving pyjamas and a general air of stoicism. She scrolled through with mounting irritation. The ad in the sidebar almost missed her attention altogether. TOO BUSY FOR A SHUTDOWN? CAN’T MISS A THING? THIS GROUP CAN HELP. Intrigued, she clicked.

The man who had promised he could help her did not look like a saviour. For one, he looked ill. But that was good. That was the point.
He stood hunched over and coughed into his fist, against all the medical advice she had read. She approached warily.
The shop windows that overlooked them were blank, the streets empty. They were alone except for some pigeons, unaware of the human crisis and happily courting in the fitful sunshine. Evenso she still felt exposed and wondered if she could be seen on CCTV, if anyone was watching. So what, it wasn’t as if she was doing anything illegal.
He didn’t notice her until she was almost upon him. She cleared her throat and he looked up. Close to, he looked even worse, face shiny with sweat.
“You Nadine?” he rasped.
She nodded.
“Got what I asked for?”
An envelope full of £20 notes passed between hands.
“Right, how do you want your dose?” He laughed. It turned into a terrible, wet cough that bent him double.
She was startled. She hadn’t thought this bit through.
“You’re not bad looking. I’d be happy to give you a snog,” he offered, after the fit of coughing had subsided.
She recoiled and he laughed again. She wanted to step away, it was instinctive, but she forced herself to stay within the infection zone. The quicker this worked, the better. This time he coughed hard into a handkerchief, and when he had done he offered it to her. Repulsed, she stared at it.
“Go, on, take it, your’re not going to get a better opportunity than this,’ he wheezed. She took it and he turned and shuffled away.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“How else a publican going to make a buck in these times?” he wheezed, before slipping down an alleyway.
“You’re sure you’ve got the right bug?” she shouted after him. There was no reply.

On the drive home, on almost deserted roads, she wore the handkerchief wrapped around her mouth and chin, like a mask. If any other drivers thought she was odd wearing it inside the car, as they sat beside her at the lights, she didn’t care.
When she got home she found her fiance working in his home office and gave him a long and impassioned kiss.
“Glad you’re feeling happier!” he said.

She had a week or two, she thought, before the symptoms kicked in. Another week of being ill. Then, surely, they would be allowed out of the house and life could return to normal. Before she got sick, and after, all she had to worry about was getting close to her guests and wedding staff, in time to be sure they’d be fit for her big day. Humming under her breath, she started a new table in her wedding spreadsheet.

[Disclosure: at time of writing the author is hoping to get married on June 20th.]

Kaboom – navigating the moral minefield of selling a book on Amazon

 

My friends, I am fairly confident, love me. But many of them refuse to buy my book on Amazon.

I understand fully that the socially and environmentally conscious steer clear of Amazon. Zero-hours contracts, and tax avoision, who can blame them? But what is an independent author to do? All online retail is morally tainted to some degree, depriving high streets of custom and clogging residential streets with CO2 emitting delivery trucks, but in order to find readers one has to use the available channels. And to reach a readership outside of one’s social circle, without the resources of publishing companies (most of which are now owned by multinational conglomerates with their own dubious ethical quagmires to pick one’s way across), I am obliged to go where the readers are.

I thought long and hard before choosing a publishing platform that boasted access to 70,000 outlets via Amazon’s print-on-demand service. Turns out a lot of that was bull, but back then it was persuasive enough that I am now committed until April 2020 at least. If I can only crack this marketing malarkey, in theory I could recoup at least some of the money I’ve spent on self-publishing. Perhaps even turn a profit, some of which will be tithed to the charity I used to work for and still support, Transition Town Totnes.

Because the biggest local independent bookshop on my high street refuses to stock it. Their reasoning? It is not available from wholesalers (exept Amazon, whom they abhor for killing off independent bookshops, forgetting Waterstones had already done that). And so it is too much paperwork. They do have independent local authors on their shelves but won’t take on any more until one of them dies. Hmmm. Knowing if that happens will be difficult unless I make a habit of popping by frequently to ask, “Anyone dead yet?” which seems rather distasteful.

So, my book is available from Castle St Community Bookshop and Arcturus in Totnes – from the dreaded A****n and iTunes (Apple books), and direct from me, via emailing sophiegb@me.com, or contacting me through this blog site.