Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Future: Carbon Diaries

23rd October

“I was walking through the park when I got the idea,” says Saci Lloyd, author of The Carbon Diaries. “There was a newspaper left on a park bench; the headline was telling us the world was heating up and we're all going to have to live at the Poles. The next day, another paper was telling us that the world is cooling down, and that we're all going to have to move to the equator. I thought, well, which one is it? That's when I thought of the book.”

Today Saci is at the Garret Suite in the Museum of Science and Industry promoting her two teen novels, Carbon Diaries 2015 and Carbon Diaries 2017, the eye-catching book covers projected onto the screen at the front of the room. The event nicely ties together day 10 of the Manchester Literature Festival and day 1 of the Manchester Science Festival, which is appropriate considering her writing genre – Science Fiction set in the uncomfortably near-future. Her novels, which critics describe as “A cross between Adrian Mole and JG Ballard”, tie together teen romance and hard science.

Fed up with the notion of global warming “being dull”, Saci chose to tell the funny story of Laura Brown, who is “not a do-gooder”, braving the elements when an immense storm hits Europe.

Saci has thought the future through. Life in 2015 has had to change in The Carbon Diaries due to ecological pressures. Transport systems, waste management and people's lives have all been affected. Characters use various tools to limit their pollution, such as “carbon cards”– like eco-credit cards based on World War II rationing – to keep carbon emissions low. The card's graphic display – a series of vertical blocks – slips from green to red at the bottom as the owner uses up the credits.

“Rationing today would allow kids to go a bit feral,” Saci says, “which would give them a bit of responsibility.”

During her research Saci also studied the recent floods in Cornwall, and looked into the country's rivers. The Thames barrier, she assures us, needs rebuilding after being raised 37 times in 2009. This is all due to global warming.

Despite this critics have questioned the realism of the novel. Global warming? Causing a flood? In England? Ho ho. “People are so dystopian,” she says. “I'm like, 'Read the news!'”

One of her research tools is the fascinating website Breathingearth; it cleverly shows us the amount of CO2 that each country pumps out.

Levels of carbon emissions, it seems, increase as a country becomes more sophisticated. “Every developing country wants their revolution,” says Saci, “which is why it's so hard to bring down.”

Saci never lets the mood get too dark: if you're discussing climate change you don't want raw facts. A reader in the audience tells us that Saci balanced the hard facts with a fun story. “It's hard to stay positive,” Saci responds, “but I have a lot of faith in the public.”

“I want to show you this little hamster,” she says, and plays us this poignant YouTube video

Rationing would sure help that little (?) fella.

Saci is not only a great writer, she's also a capable presenter – comfortable in front of the group and quick to get us all involved in the event by asking us questions and getting our opinions. Her enthusiasm, and genuine concern for the environment, are catchy. She reads well too – the exciting flood scene near the book's climax is perfect for the teen audience as well as everyone else who was swept along with them.

Stay tuned for the next Saci Lloyd novel, which will focus on the other giant time-bomb: Oil. It will be the only thriller she will write, as she says it's hard! In it she proposes a future London where Rio-style Favela slums have the replaced today's swanky pre-fab apartment blocks.

A fantastic competition will be launched soon: My World 2030 is looking for a fresh take on tackling climate change. Imagine you live in 2030. How will the altered climate have changed your life? What will you be doing to help the environment? What will the rest of your day-to-day life be like? My World 2030 wants a glimpse of this. You'll be able to submit your project as graphics, writing or on video (drama or animation). The winner will receive a swanky pair of headphones. Keep your eyes peeled – this is so exclusive there isn't even any official info online yet!

For those of you who would rather see a story on the screen than in print, you'll be pleased to hear that there is a Carbon Diaries film in the pipeline (no pun). Saci says she turned down Johnny Depp – at least, his proposal to make a movie of her novel.

“I wanted to make a really British thing,” Saci says. “I didn't want a glossy version like 2012, which was the worst film I've seen in ages.”

Aptly, she got in touch with Company Pictures, who brought you Skins and Shameless on Channel 4. The UK studio has secured the rights to film Saci's book.

by Matt Tuckey

Matt is a writer from Oldham. He's had fiction and poetry published in numerous e-magazines and has written for Oldham Evening Chronicle and Manchester Evening News. He works in Marketing and trains in Mixed Martial Arts. You can read more of his work here.


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