I'm pleased to welcome Alberta Ross to my blog today to talk about her series, the Sefuty Chronicles. I'm fascinated by the theme of her books. This series is definitely on my TBR (to be read) list!
Please tell me a little about the setting of your books. Climate? Overcrowding? Food shortages?
Alberta Ross (AR): The world of my books is Earth after extreme climate change has changed life as we know it today. 2160 is the culmination of many frequent wars over natural resources such as water, fertile land and fossil fuels. The result of the climate changes is that whole populations try and find homes further north. The peoples of the north try to keep them out. The last Great War more than decimated the world’s population. The survivors split, most flee to ready-made cities and the others either live rough or allow the army to surround their towns with land mines to keep them safe until hostilities die down.
This is one of the two points where the story starts; the world is now the complete opposite of overcrowding, human populations are in free fall. The climate is still adversely affecting the world and outside the cities food is a major preoccupation because without any recourse to modern farming methods or aids the people are at the mercy of the weather, insects and disease. The spectre of famine haunts and a bad season can mean the difference between surviving the winter or not.
In the cities food has, over the decades, become tailor-made pastilles, designed to deliver the correct dose of all the nutrients required.
What kind of research did you do before writing this story? Did you already know about predictions of global environmental change?
AR: I had been following the climate change debate since the 1980s in the science journals and in books such as The Greenhouse Effect by Stewart Boyle & John Ardeill, so I held my own opinion on this issue. However then I had to do some serious thinking about what all the knock on effects would be if, for instance, fossil fuel was taken out of the equation, or if land became infertile due to the rising sea levels.
I researched many different farming methods to find out how my population could have survived; I also had to look at traditional handicrafts and food preservation. Remember foodstuffs such as sugar might suddenly vanish if you did not know how to process beet, vinegar can be made but some individual in each community would need to have the knowhow, so although many of us have the skills to preserve food we might not have ready ingredients to do so.
There were many other instances, far too many to list here, they will crop up I’m sure in other posts but suffice to say I had a wonderful time researching them all. I love wandering down all those trails.
I read that your novel delves into genetic manipulation. My YA novel touches on the topic as well, so you can see I’m also very interested. Are there any recent events that triggered your interest in genetic manipulation?
AR: I have been interested in genetic manipulation ever since I first heard the term. (I am quite old they didn’t have it when I was at school, although of course farmers and animal breeders have been manipulating gene stock since forever!) I followed the ramifications of the Genome Project and listened to all the ethical debates. Mankind has learnt how to carry the manipulations of the genetic code of crops and animal life forms to an amazing level; ethics keep the debates going and brakes on progress in this field but the fact remains the knowledge of how to manipulate genes is now in our society. A matter of time maybe before those that can, do.
GM crops have divided the world already but they continue to advance around the world. Fears over genetically enhanced babies are voiced but those with money are queuing up to be among the first to benefit when laws are relaxed. A small scale therapy used on patients with extreme immune deficiency was largely successful however it had to be stopped as two out of ten developed leukaemia. This kind of gene therapy is, of course, only changing an individual’s DNA so the ethical considerations are less urgent. However, gene therapy to enable sterile women, with genetic defects in their mitochondria, to have children has resulted in a programme where the offspring effectively have two mothers’ genes in their DNA with the potential to be passed on down through the generations. The human DNA as we know it has begun to change.
How difficult was the world building for a novel that takes place in the future?
AR: It was an interesting exercise trying to project myself forward. I considered the kind of changes I had seen in my lifetime and I was born immediately after WW2. The changes have been immense not just political and material things but social norms and language as well has been evolving in those decades. Then it was a matter of trying to imagine great changes forward, based on the past and the now.
How much would social life change when extreme survival for everyone is everyday? Do we hang on to the niceties or is civilisation only skin deep? Do we have to rethink who lives or dies? Will it be a society of individuals or would we need to go back to very tight small communities and blow the brotherhood of man?
AR: There has to a logic behind any world building to be believable. I think I was lucky in that the history, lore and language of my world are set. Some world builders have to begin at the very basics of their world and build up inventing geography as well as history.
As a reader what will be the biggest surprise in what you have created in this futuristic world?
AR: My editor feels it is the extent of the genetic manipulation, I imagine. I tell her I have invented nothing; the knowledge and expertise to eventually do everything I have written about is here with us already. Other readers have commented on the total crash of resources.
We do not, I think, realise just how much of our life now is dependent of fossil fuel. Forget transport and think about everything to do with food, manufacturing, communications and medicine. If your readers have the inclination they could try listing what we would have to live without if, as some predict, we run out of fuel!
I’d like to hear about the main characters in your novel and if you indentify with anyone in particular?
AR: I have four main characters over the series; in the first book Ellen’s Tale the two main characters are Ellen Welfitt and Bix Sefune. She is very beautiful, innocent and a model citizen, from the City and he is very charming and experienced, a feral soldier – genetically altered as a child. They meet, fall in love and then have to work out a way to be together. Standard romance! A secondary character is Bix’s friend Jack.
In the second book, The Storyteller’s Tale,Jack meets Keria Baha in one of land-mined villages and this is the story of how she, the mad, bad girl condemned to die, comes to join the small group. She is an uncomfortable companion but Jack manages to help her. Of course they fall in love.
The third, out this month, Jack’s Tale,speaks for itself.
Ellen is too good for me; she is very forgiving, understanding and kind. Never angry and always willing to take the blame. I confess I get along better with Keria with her bad-tempered sulks and storms!
What's in the future for the Sefuty Chronicles and for your other projects?
AR: At the moment there are two more books planned for the series; after that, who knows? I have entered the NaNoWrMo challenge this year and am going to attempt a modern day novel, and I also want to work on a second collection of short stories.
I spent the first part of my adult life travelling the world, the middle years studying and now have settled down to write. From the first part I have endless photographs, memories and friends. From the second I have a BSc Hons, an MA and friends. Now in this part everything comes together.
Over the years my interests have expanded, as has my book and music collection. A short list would include reading (almost anything) science, opera, folk, gardening, philosophy, crazy patchwork, freeform crochet, ethics, social history, cooking (and eating of course) gardening, anthropology, climate change and sustainability.
My parents gave me, apart from a love of reading and music, an interest and curiosity in everything which in itself has become a total inability to be bored and for this I am always grateful.