Let me tell you a bit about writer Annabel Smith. I first ‘met’ her on twitter, and then I met her for real earlier this year when I went to Perth for the writers festival. I think I went galloping down to her in one of the tiered venues, after she was on a panel, and we said a quick hello. And then again at the Martin Amis event, at some Big Place in the City I was walking down the aisle to my seat and saw her once more, so stopped to say hi.
Last year, her book Whisky Charlie Foxtrot was short-listed at the annual Most Underrated Book Awards, and I was there on the night to see her video (she couldn’t make the presentation) and while she didn’t win, I was pleased she was on the list (even though some people think it a bit of a backhanded compliment, I tend to think this game is so freaking hard, and there are so many miles of heartache and disappointment in between any little milestone achievements, they ALL need to be celebrated).
But most of our interactions have been on twitter and I quickly was attracted to her humour, her honesty and and her willingness to interact. I like reading Annabel’s blog (linky below) especially when she writes about her reading, which books she’s liked, which ones she hasn’t liked, and which ones she hasn’t finished reading. Refreshingly honest.
When Richard Flanagan won the Booker recently, the first person I thought of was Annabel; we have shared our responses to this book. And when I heard that Annabel was putting together an interactive book that was something in the speculative and dystopian realm, I thought: wow, good on her, how interesting. And if you look below at the links, and check out the launch for The Ark, it was a really impressive event; absolutely a la mode with people in Ark-roles, in an industrial setting, very atmospheric and dark.
I wanted to ask Annabel a few questions about the writing of The Ark. I’ve also bought a hard copy and my tech-husband has purchased the interactive version for the iPad too, so once I’ve read, I intend to do a blog post on my response.
- The Ark sounds both original and ambitious. How did you come up with the idea and what led you to tackle an interactive e-book?
The idea for The Ark came from two very different things I read: one was a tiny segment in Green Lifestyle magazine about the Svalbard Global Seed Bank aka The Doomsday Vault. The other was a long and terrifying essay by Adrian Atkinson called ‘Cities After Oil’. Both these ideas captured my imagination and there seemed to be a strong connection between the inevitable societal breakdown which will occur during/following an oil crisis, and the need to protect seeds.
I started to tell the story as a series of digital documents, which seemed to lend themselves to some sort of interactive element. I was interested to explore the new technologies which allow books to be more than books, and to see for myself if they really add anything.
- Tell us a little about the people we’ll meet in The Ark.
The novel’s beating heart is Aidan Fox, Project Manager of The Arboreal Protection Project, and protector of the Ark. Aidan is smart, charming, charismatic and utterly committed to his duty to protect the Ark’s seeds. His single-mindedness sometimes blinds him to the bigger picture and leads him to some questionable behaviours. One of my favourite characters is Ava, wife of the facility’s hydroelectric engineer. She is intelligent, emotional and a little neurotic, and the first to challenge the way things are done inside the Ark. I’m also very fond of fifteen year-old Roscoe, son of the Ark’s futurologist, who shows readers what it’s like to be young and to feel the world ending.
- Your first two novels are more traditional narratives, and this one is an exploration of non-traditional storytelling. Did you tend to read a lot of speculative fiction before writing The Ark? Where should someone like me (an uninitiated spec-fic reader) begin, if you can recommend say three titles? In addition to The Ark of course!
I’ve always loved speculative fiction. I remember the first spec-fic novel I ever read – Nicolas Fiske’s A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair, which had a similar storyline to Bladerunner – it blew my tiny mind and I’ve been hooked ever since. Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars would be a great starting point for anyone who thinks they might not like speculative fiction. It is an exquisitely written exploration of grief and loneliness, which just happens to have a post-apocalyptic backdrop. Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a wry and perceptive satire of human ‘development’ and folly. Lastly, though it is somewhat epic, Frank Herbert’s Dune is a masterpiece. Though it is set on a distant planet, the setting hardly matters for the themes it explores are timeless and universal: love, fate, destiny and the lust for power – amazing.
- What about The Ark makes you particularly proud?
I think it looks beautiful. I spent a lot of time thinking about the different formats for each type of digital document and working with a talented team of designers to realise this and I’m very proud of the finished product. I’m proud too of how much I learnt. Telling a story as a series of documents posed challenges, in terms of narrative voice, and also in terms how to convey thought, character, action. But I think I made it work. I hope so.
- ‘Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson,’ said Sherlock Holmes. Yes or no or both?
I imagine that depends on both the type of work and the depth of the sorrow. I have been fortunate not to have experienced too much sorrow. But while suffering from post-natal depression, the few hours a week I had for writing were incredibly restorative and healing for me. In general, time at my desk calms me. I become agitated when taken away from it for too long.
- ‘Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’ – The Fox (The Little Prince.) I love books that have both heart and mind in them. What do you think about the place of emotion and intellect in your reading and writing?
I love this quote! It is one of my favourites. The best books undoubtedly engage both the heart and the mind. When reading, I want to be both stimulated – to think, to see things in new ways – and to be moved. It is not something I have ever consciously thought about in terms of my writing. I think the emotion element comes naturally to me – the stories that move are really the only stories I want to tell. When it comes to the mind, I think The Ark engages readers intellectually more than my first two books; it is a book, I hope – I intend – to provoke thought about the problems facing our planet and how we might prepare for them.
Thank you Annabel for appearing on my blog, and below are some links if you would like to read more about her and her amazingly inventive book. What an idea, love it.
Article in The West Australian
Review by Lisa Hill at ANZ Lit Lovers
Review & write-up of the launch by Louise Allan
Interview with Sara Foster
Link to buy the book
Order a signed paperback with free postage from firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Annabel on twitter https://twitter.com/AnnabelSmithAUS