Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March Madness: White Night by Ellie Marney

Today I've got a book that I think was published a *little* earlier than intended, but I'm still counting it. Because fuck it, I'm so excited to have Ellie Marney on the blog, author of one of the best series EVERRRR. But before we get into her fun post on the research she did for White Night, here's a bit more information on the book. :)

*****

Title: White Night
Author: Ellie Marney
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: March 1st, 2018!

From Goodreads...
In Bo Mitchell's country town, a 'White Night' light-show event has the potential to raise vital funds to save the skate park. And out of town, a girl from a secretive off-the-grid community called Garden of Eden has the potential to change the way Bo sees the world. But are there too many secrets in Eden? 

As Bo is drawn away from his friends and towards Rory, he gradually comes to believe that Eden may not be utopia after all, and that their group leader's goal to go off the grid may be more permanent - and more dangerous - than anyone could have predicted.

A wonderfully compelling novel from the acclaimed author of the Every series.

*****

White Night's Themes
People do occasionally ask me about the themes and threads running through my books, and the kinds of research I do to create an authentic world for the characters. In the case of White Night, I had to do a lot of digging to create the worlds – and worldviews – of Rory and Ray Carl and the community of Garden of Eden.

Ninety-nine percent of the research I do for my books doesn’t make it onto the page: I’m not trying to bore readers with a long treatise on environmentalism, honest! But one thing I learned early in my writing career is that even if the reader doesn’t see all the details of a character’s personal philosophy on the page, I have to know what that philosophy is, so I have a complete understanding of how that character will think and behave.

So here’s a glimpse (and it really is only a glimpse! I have a lot of bookmarked articles on my laptop) into the kinds of things I studied during the writing of White Night to make Eden come alive for readers.


Environmentalism
Eden’s particular brand of environmentalism was primarily informed by two books: David Suzuki and David R. Boyd’s Green Guide, and The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.
Both books come at the topic from very different perspectives. Suzuki and Boyd provided a lot of the information and stats I needed to bulk up Ray Carl’s arguments about healthy eating, pesticide and antibiotic use in modern farming, and the dominance of ‘food corporations’ in contemporary food production.

Weisman’s book is altogether different: it’s a thought experiment, where Weisman (an American journalist) poses the initial question, ‘What would happen to the natural and built environments if all the humans disappeared overnight?’ and then talks to experts and studies landscapes to find out what the result would be. This book is the origin of Rory’s abhorrence of plastic, and her anxiety about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Weisman’s book is really astonishing. It also provided the basis for Ray Carl’s utopian imaginings of a world without people, and fed into his philosophy about how much nicer the world might be if all the people just died out…

Cults and Communes –
One of the reasons I built a storyline around a girl who lives in an isolated, closed-off radical community is because I was once a member of one. Like Rory, it was something I was dragged into by my parents – although my experience centred around a religious community, and Rory’s commune is focused on radical environmental politics.

To get some additional perspective on communes, cults and demagogues, I spent a lot of time reading about Jonestown. The circumstances around the terrible loss of life in Jonestown, when nearly a thousand of Jim Jones’s followers killed themselves in an act of ‘revolutionary suicide’, has served as a cautionary tale on the frightening power of ‘groupthink’ and fanaticism since 1978. Books like Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowski and Jonestown Survivor by Laura Johnston Kohl were – I have to admit – grim reading. I also pored through a lot of articles about cult leaders and the kinds of techniques they use to reel people in (although, having been exposed to it personally, I already had a pretty good idea of that kind of psychological manipulation).And if you want a primer on cults and demagogues, I can’t recommend a better place to start than with Lili Wilkinson’s vlog series, Let’s Talk About Sects.

Pottery –
Every character needs to have a personal passion – and with Rory, that passion is pottery and sculpture. I did some work with clay and pottery a long time ago, so for research I went back to the book that first informed me: Step-by-Step Guide to Pottery by Gwilym Thomas. It’s old (published in 1973!), but it covered all the basics about clay bodies, hand forming and using a wheel, as well as other more complicated things like slip casting. For other details, like how to find and dig your own natural clays, I went to the web. There are literally hundreds of articles about pottery and raku online. I also have a friend whose husband is a professional potter: he has his own kiln in a backyard shed, so I was able to gain some insights by looking at his workshop. Would I take pottery back up as a hobby now? Maybe – although the book-writing thing is keeping me kinda busy…

Food Politics –
Our ideas about food and mealtime have changed pretty significantly since the Industrial Revolution. Apart from maybe counting calories and checking for unwanted additives, most of us don’t really put too much thought into what we’re putting in our mouths – but maybe we should. I’m not talking about the new focus on things like gluten/dairy/sugar-free, but about agribusiness and industrial food production. Reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan is scary. Food production is a heavily concentrated industry, and you don’t want to know what goes on behind the scenes in processing factories…or maybe you do? Pollan’s journey, following a beef steer he bought at market through the feedlot process to the ultimate end, in his article Power Steer is disturbing but essential reading, and went a long way towards informing the Eden community’s position on sustainably-grown, community-based food. The documentary Pollan made with Robert Kenner, Food Inc, is also highly recommended.


And that’s it! I mean, that’s not it – this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as book-research goes. But I hope I’ve managed to incorporate into White Night some of the ideas and themes that developed while I was doing this research (without beating you over the head with them). Thanks so much for reading the book! I hope you enjoy it, and maybe we’ll run into each other someday over a plate of sustainably-grown food!
XxEllie

*****

Find White Night on:

Find Ellie On:

*****

And be sure to enter the event-wide giveaway if you haven't already! :)