Today I am interviewing James Bradley, author of Clade.
◊ ◊ ◊
DJ: Hey James! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
James Bradley: That one’s easy! I’m the author of four novels for adults, Wrack, The Deep Field, The Resurrectionist and Clade, as well as a book of poetry and a lot of shorter things. A few years back I edited The Penguin Book of the Ocean, and more recently I’ve been working on a series of young adult science fiction novels, the first of which, The Silent Invasion, was published in Australia earlier this year. I’m based in Sydney, where I love with my partner, the novelist Mardi McConnochie, and our two daughters.
DJ: What is Clade about?
James: It’s the story of three generations of a family set against the backdrop of ongoing climate change, and exploring the ways that process shapes their lives and occasionally intersects with them. But although it assumes the world is going to be profoundly altered, it’s deliberately not apocalyptic. Instead it tries to think about what happens if the world doesn’t end, and if we have to live with the mess we’ve made. So it’s about family and love and kids and all the messy business of life, but it’s also about the line between the virtual and the real and time and deep time and a series of other questions about loss and grief and extinction. And perhaps most importantly it’s a book that emphasizes possibility, both personal and planetary.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Clade?
James: One of the problems with writing about climate change is that its scale and complexity make it really difficult to get a handle on. In the real world that means people tend to feel overwhelmed, and to either give way to despair or just shut down or ignore the problem. Something similar is true if you’re trying to write about it: the scale of the problem, the non-human scale of the time frames, even the nature of the novel, and its need to set up spatial and temporal boundaries to tell a manageable story make it tough to talk about. I suspect that’s one of the reasons there are so many apocalyptic narratives around at the moment: it’s just too hard to imagine a future as complex as the one we’re heading into.
They were all things that were on my mind when I started the book. It seemed to me I needed to write a book about everything and everyone if I was going to talk about climate change. But then one day I realized I could come at it from a different direction, and write quite a confined story and use that to look outward, and think through what the experience might be like. Once I decided that the structure came quite quickly, but I also found myself looking for tools that would let me talk about the sorts of questions about deep time and extinction that underpin the book conceptually. I suppose those came from a series of places – I read a lot of nature writing, which informs the book’s interest in the natural world, but I also drew upon science fiction, and the sorts of tools it has to talk about technology and time and transformative change. And there are nods to other things in there, like John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, and some of the writing about the Antarctic by explorers like Shackleton.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
James: The book begins with a couple called Adam and Ellie. Adam’s a scientist and she’s an artist, and they have one of those relationships that just seems blessed – they’re happy and everything’s easy, at least until they decide to have a child, and discover they can’t, and find themselves caught in an endless, wrenching cycle of failed IVF treatments. They eventually have a daughter, who has problems of her own, and she has a son, Noah, who’s on the spectrum but grows up to be an astronomer involved in the search for alien life. Around them are several other characters who are incorporated into the family structure, and have their own stories, but with all of them I wanted them to be people who felt real, so they all draw pretty closely (although not directly) upon my own experiences and the experiences of people I know.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Clade like?
A: The book is deliberately set in our world, and begins in the present day, then leaps forward several years at a time, meaning readers get to see the world shift and change. A lot of that change is incremental at first – the thinning of nature as the birds begin to die, the beaches beginning to erode, economic disruption – but as the book goes on it begins to hasten, and there are floods and fires and eventually a pandemic, so that by the time the book ends 70 years from now, although many aspects of the characters’ lives are still recognizable the world is very different. One of the things that was most frightening about writing the book though was the way things I extrapolated or just plain invented started happening while I was writing it, and in the couple of years since it was first published in Australia a great many of the things that were supposed to be in the future have already happened.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Clade?
James: I think authors have different relationships with different books, and sometimes they’re positive and sometimes they’re … less so. But I love Clade, and I’m very proud of a lot of things in it. That’s partly because despite the subject matter I genuinely enjoyed writing it, partly because I felt I was working on something that really mattered, but it’s also because it gave me a way of thinking about a whole series of questions about the world and where it’s going and what that’s going to mean for me and in particular my kids.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
James: The one thing readers consistently say is that they found it quite a confronting book emotionally, because it made a whole lot of things we all try not to think about real to them. From my point of view that’s great, because it means the book connected with them at an emotional level, and has given them a way of thinking about climate change and what’s going on that wasn’t all about two degrees of this or 400ppm of that. But it’s also a book that’s about trying to create a space in which people can see that the future isn’t set, and we’re not powerless to affect it, so I hope people take something of that away as well.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Clade that you can share with us?
James: “One day in his office he reviewed a new study about the release of methane from the ocean floor, and saw, more starkly than ever before, the conundrum the world faced. It wasn’t simply that they needed to consume less, to bring humanity’s impact on the biosphere under control, it was that there were just too many people, and even allowing for technological change and economic restructuring the planet was on a collision course with disaster. In the United States and India, floods covered millions of square kilometres, in Africa and Europe the heat was growing ever more intense, in Indonesia and Brazil and Malaysia the forests were burning, yet he and Ellie were trying to have a baby. What sort of world would that child inherit? Were they really doing the right thing bringing another life into it?”
”Outside the desert moves by. The first time he came here the sheer emptiness of the landscape frightened him, but as the years have passed he has learned to appreciate the echoes of other ages contained within it, to love the frozen archaeology of the broken rock, the lifted plains, the dust. Now when he looks out he sees what he sees in the sky, the great depth of time, and silence.”
DJ: Now that Clade is released, what is next for you?
James: I’m currently editing the second of my young adult books, which will be released in Australia early next year, and working on a new adult novel that picks up thematically where Clade leaves off, as well as a non-fiction book about the ocean and a collection of short stories. They’re all projects that are very dear to my heart, so I feel very fortunate to be able to give time to them.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Clade that we haven’t talked about yet?
James: That although it’s made up of ten discrete sections each is designed to refract off the others, so motifs and ideas get repeated and recur, a bit like a poem or a piece of music.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
◊ ◊ ◊
*** Clade is published by Titan Books and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
◊ ◊ ◊
Adam is in Antartica, marking the passage of the solstice. Across the globe, his wife Ellie is waiting for the results of her IVF treatment. So begins the story of one family in a changing world, where the apocalyptic mingles with the everyday; a father battles a biblical storm; an immigrant is mysteriously drawn to the art of beekeeping; a young girl’s diary chronicles a pandemic; and a young man finds solace in building virtual recreations of the dead…
About the Author:
I’m James Bradley, novelist and critic. My books include the novels Wrack, The Deep Field, The Resurrectionist and Clade, a book of poetry, Paper Nautilus and The Penguin Book of the Ocean. I’ve recently finished a trilogy of young adult science fiction novels, the first of which, The Silent Invasion, will be published in April 2017 by Pan Macmillan Australia, and I’m working on a new adult novel which will be published in 2018 by Hamish Hamilton.
As well as writing fiction I write and review for numerous Australian and international publications. Publications in which my work has appeared include The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Australian Literary Review, Australian Book Review, The Monthly, Locus, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Heat, The Weekend Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. In 2012 I was awarded the Pascall Prize for Criticism. Links to a selection of my reviews and articles are available on the Writing page of this site.
I live in Sydney, Australia, with my partner, the novelist Mardi McConnochie, and our daughters, Annabelle and Lila. If you’d like to know more this interview in the Sydney Review of Books isn’t a bad place to begin.