Environmental passion drives Smith’s new novel
The next generation’s passion and knowledge about the environment has directly inspired Mark Smith’s next novel, in bookstores now.
The Anglesea YA author, noted for his dystopian Winter trilogy, has moved into realism with If Not Us – a novel about a teenage boy living in a small town on the Victorian coast, a town whose major source of employment and income is the local coal mine and power station.
If Not Us grapples with teenagers attempting to create change for a safer environmental future, when other people in the community are reluctant to accept the harsh truths.
It is Smith’s fourth novel in five years.
“It’s pumping them out!” he quipped. “I think it’s part of writing in the genre that I do, in YA, especially with a trilogy – they (the publisher) wanted them to follow up fairly quickly because you establish an audience and you want to keep that audience before they grow too old to appreciate it.
“The process for this one was really good, because I was really passionate about what I was writing about. Not that I wasn’t for the trilogy, but it was good to move on and be able to do something else.”
Smith attended one of the 2019 School Strike 4 Climate rallies and said the event was “really where the book began, because I saw the passion of these young kids out on the street”.
“This is the generation that is going to suffer most for the world that we’re leaving them. What impressed me the most was how on top of the issues they were, and the speakers knew their stuff.
“In the past couple of weeks, the Coalition has said ‘we should be sending more chaplains into schools to deal with kids who are afraid of climate change’. I don’t think kids are afraid, I think they’re angry – they’re angry at not being listened to, they’re angry at the world that’s going to be left to them, and I honestly think the leadership on climate change is going to come from that generation.”
The novel’s title is a deliberate reference to the quote “If not us, then who?” by US civil rights activist John Lewis.
“There’s an actual quote in the book where one of the characters says ‘Don’t you see? We’re the last generation. If we don’t act, who’s going to?’,” Smith said.
“I’m not preaching to anybody; it’s a coming of age story as much as anything. It’s about kids who get involved in a campaign in a small town, and it’s told very much from the kids’ perspective. I’m not there ramming anything down anyone’s throat – as soon as you do that in a fiction novel, they turn around and throw it away, as they should. So while climate change is certainly one of the themes in it, there’s themes of adolescent mental health, there’s a good amount of surfing in it, of course, and just that whole idea of what it takes to stand up and take a position in a small town.”
The story is very loosely based on the events surrounding Alcoa’s closure of its Anglesea coal mine and power station in 2015, but Smith says the company in his novel is not Alcoa.
“As much as anything else, because I was here during that campaign, it was about the inside workings of those people in the campaign, which was really interesting to me, and just the way in which environmental protest has changed enormously in the past 20 years.
“There’s still room for protests on the street, that’s fantastic; but the really heavy lifting now is done by getting to banks, by getting to shareholders and creating pressure that way on companies to change.”
If Not Us, published by Text Publishing, was released on Tuesday this week.