Q&A with Lauren James

Green Rising is Lauren James latest book and it has climate change at its core. We asked Lauren a few questions about this book and about what we can begin doing now to make a positive impact on our planet.

Reading the prologue puts you in the middle of the action and introduces you to Gabrielle and her power. Vital to the story, where did the idea come from for this power?

I’ve always wanted to write about climate change – but I could never find a “way in”. It’s such a huge, complex topic that I didn’t know how to tackle it in a way which felt uplifting. My writing is primarily character and story focused. It’s funny and romantic. That tone felt impossible to capture in a book about climate change, a topic which is discomforting at best and soul-destroying/terrifying at worst.

And while it’s a huge issue that should be treated seriously, the best stories are those which are enjoyable to experience. Those books reach the widest audience, having a better chance of spreading awareness of the climate crisis.

In Green Rising, the characters are teenagers who can grow plants from their skin. They use their powers to rewild the planet, and stand up to the profit-hungry corporations who want climate change to continue (because the end of the world is going to be very profitable for certain people). It shows the positive changes we can make to the environment that will help store carbon in huge quantities, often through plants: kelp forests, peatlands, reforestation.

Did you have a favourite character while writing?

Definitely Edgar Warren, a tech billionaire who made his fortune young through bitcoin and is now using it to start a colony on Mars. He’s awful – which is always so fun to write!

What type of research for this book did you do?

My research involved a lot of books (my favourites: The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein).

I’m not great at reading scientific publications – it feels too much like homework. But I am good at wasting time on social media. So I tricked myself into researching climate change through online resources like the Heated newsletter, Lights On newsletter, Inkcap Journal and Green Light by the Guardian newsletter, as well as the How to Save a Planet podcast, Drilled podcast and Hot Take podcast.

My research clarified what I wanted to do with my writing. I was surprised by how many aspects of the climate crisis I didn’t know about. Often, the science behind the issue has been obscured by politics or fossil fuel smear campaigns and ads. I decided to focus the story on some of those factors. I trust my readers to know the basics of climate change, but they might not necessarily know about the other discussions in progress.

I expected the writing process to be depressing and mentally exhausting. But, in fact, immersing myself in the climate debate helped me to stop feeling anxious and helpless about our future. I could see all the things that needed to be done to fix the future.

You have created a book where optimism and hope are very much alive, not fear and worry over the planet was this hard to do?

I really wanted to write about characters who are actively working to slow climate change, rather than writing a story showing the terrors to come. I’m not interested in dark dystopias about a climate-ravaged planet. We know the dangers already. I want to read inspiring, optimistic stories that show a future where we’ve done things right.

The climate debate needs to move beyond fear at rising sea levels and pollution, towards a more solutions-based view on climate change. I feel strongly that we should not be telling a generation of children that their future is unavoidably broken. Change is possible. The climate crisis is an urgent, yet utterly solvable, issue. Our fiction should reflect that.

Named Greenfingers, this movement of youth with magic plant powers has pros and cons. Would you like to have this power?

Definitely – since researching rewilding for the book, I’ve become so aware of wasted land spaces, particularly in cities. I wish I could seed-bomb them all with wildflowers! It would be great to do that magically.

Environmental issues are extremely relevant for our youth today- what can they do to protect the planet?

I’m really inspired by young activists working to raise awareness of important issues, like Amika George and Greta Thunberg. It’s hugely brave to make a stand like that at a young age – I definitely would have been too self-conscious to try! – and I admire them a lot.

The carbon emissions responsible for climate change are largely caused by industry, and can only be reduced through government action. However, if you’d like to make lifestyle changes to help limit your individual emissions, here are the most effective changes you can make. Some of these will take many decades to achieve, but long-term societal changes are the only way we can tackle this problem.

Vote in all political elections you are able to, and make sure your representatives are aware that your vote is based on their climate policy views

Replace garden lawns with wildflower meadows

Switch to LED lightbulbs

Don’t fly – and pay for carbon offsetting for any flights you are required to take

Make sure your savings and pensions schemes are not invested in companies contributing to climate change. Ask your company to divest from their harmful default options

Avoid eating beef, and transition to dairy alternatives

Buy in-season food, grown locally (avoiding hot-house produce grown out of season)

Change to a renewable energy utility supplier

Buy electric cars – but only once your current car is absolutely unable to be fixed. Keep current cars on the road for as long as possible, to keep manufacturing emissions low

Install solar panels or solar roof tiles

Air dry clothing instead of tumble drying

Avoid disposable, cheap fashion and invest in long-term, quality pieces that can be worn for many years

And, of course, plant trees wherever you can.

Writing Green Rising really inspired me to get more involved in climate activism. I founded the Climate Fiction Writers League (http://climate-fiction.org/ ), an organisation of over a hundred climate writers. I run a biweekly newsletter of essays about climate writing, in order to encourage readers to take action. I think it’s made me feel a lot less scared about the future too, because I’m doing something positive to help.

The cover illustration is perfect for this story did you get to suggest ideas? What were your thoughts on seeing the final cover?

I love it so much! It was hard to do because we’d used green for the cover of my last book, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, so we had to find a different direction to go in despite the green title. I really love how eye-catching the hand-tree is, even from a distance. It’s so stunning with the bronze foil! Walker Books always do amazing covers – I feel very lucky.

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many young adult novels, including The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and The Quiet at the End of the World. She is also a Creative Writing lecturer, freelance editor, screenwriter and the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League. Her upcoming release is Green Rising, a climate change thriller.

Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide, been translated into six languages and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include the Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke, and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise.

She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.

Her writing has been described as “gripping romantic sci-fi” by the Wall Street Journal and “a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water” by Entertainment Weekly. The Last Beginning was named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent.

Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor and Writing West Midlands.

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