Did you miss our book launch celebration for Octavia Cade’s The Impossible Resurrection of Grief? The video is now up on YouTube. We had a fantastic hour of poetry, music, and a lively discussion about fairy tales, extinction, and how we grieve in a time of such large-scale losses.
Thank you to all who attended, to our two fabulous opening artists, Tiff Morris and Shannon Roszell, to Divination Hollow Reviews for their tireless pre-celebration and book boosts. And, of course, thank you to Octavia Cade for writing such an incredible story, for so graciously answering our questions, and welcoming us into her world for a short while.
The launch video contains captions, or read on for a full transcript.
Selena Middleton: Before we begin, I’d like to do an acknowledgement for the land we’re on as publisher and author. If we’re to make steps toward a reform of Western culture’s relationship to the environment this in part demands that settlers acknowledge that they are uninvited guests on the land who must shape their behaviour with that knowledge. But first we must acknowledge those who have been in relationship with the lands for thousands of years.
Octavia Cade is a settler living on Waikato Tainui territory. Like many indigenous nations across the world, the Waikato Tainui Maori have endured generations of war and land theft due to European colonization. Efforts to restore the land to the Maori are inextricably linked to ecological preservation and flourishing. In 2008 the Waikato Tainui signed a Deed of Settlement with the Crown for the Waikato River. The ‘2010 Act’ supports work to restore and protect the health and wellbeing of the River for future generations.
Waikato-Tainui still has outstanding claims over the West Coast Harbours, and Wairoa and Maioro land blocks. Climate justice means restoring right relationship with the land’s original inhabitants as well as the land itself.
I am also a settler and I live and run Stelliform Press on the traditional territory shared between the Haudenosaunee confederacyi and the Anishinabe nations, which was acknowledged in the Dish with One Spoon Wampum belt agreement. The wampum uses the symbols of a dish to represent the territory, and one spoon to represent that the people are to share the resources of the land and only take what they need. This image represents an ethic we need now and in the future.
The novella we’re celebrating today is one that demands we consider our relationship to the environmnet and what actions we can take in response to exploitation. It’s a question artists are increasingly engaging with and we’re lucky to have some of them here to help us launch THE IMPOSSIBLE RESURRECTION OF GRIEF. I will introduce them as we go through the program.
First we have Tiff Morris who will start us off with some poetry. Tiffany Morris is a Mi’kmaw editor and writer of speculative poetry and fiction. She is the author of the chapbook Havoc in Silence (Molten Molecular Minutiae, 2019). Her work has been featured in Room Magazine, Prairie Fire, Eye to the Telescope, and Uncanny and is forthcoming from Nightmare Magazine. A member of the Indigenous Editors Association, she writes, edits, reads tarot and hunts UFOs in K’jipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia.
And Tiff I will pass the digital stage over to you.
Tiff Morris: Wela’lin, Selena. Wela’liok, everyone for being here. I’m going to share my screen so you can read along with my poems. Perfect. The first one is “Rewilding Under Those Conditions”.
[Poetry displayed onscreen]
SM: Thank you, Tiff. That was just magnificent. The poems that you shared today and also a lot of your other work uses horror to express what I’m perceiving to be a deep love of the land. I was wondering if you could say a few words about how you see that connection working. What connection do you see between fear or horror and ecological relationship?
TM: Thank you, that’s a great question. I’ve been kind of dealing a lot, in a lot of my poems, with both this love-based ecology and also this kind of apocalyptic thinking, just given with what we’re contending with as a species these days and what other species are contending with. And I think that, you know, there are different ways to have a fear and reverence for nature and there is something called Indigenous Reverential Eco-Fear that doesn’t romanticize nature but is very real about the awe-inspiring aspects of nature and being a part of that and not apart from it. I think that really interrogating our relationships with the land that we live on and all the creatures that live within it – it can be difficult and it can be a source of terror because we’re so used to sanitizing those relationships and really thinking of land and nature as utilitarian and not something that is just adjacent to us. A web that we’re a part of. It’s interesting, I think, it interrogate those ideas and that can be pretty fearful on an existential level.
SM: Thank you so much. I really hope that I get to have further conversation with you about that in the future. So next we have Shannon Roszell. She is here to perform her recent single, “Gonna Love You.” Shannon is a powerhouse performer rom the Kawartha Lakes, northeast of Toronto, Canada. Her sound is best characterized as symphonic indie rock, fusing orchestral voicings with searing electric guitar and vocals. An outspoken environmentalist, Roszell has created performance art pieces in protest of the tar sands pipelines. Roszell’s first single, “Gonna Love You” (which came out in March 2021), is a post-apocalyptic love song to our damaged earth. Her debut album, Within the Shimmering Darkness (coming out Spring, 2022) is rich with sonic landscapes as expansive as the view out her farmhouse window.
Alright, we have prepared a video for Shannon’s performance because of tech issues. We are trying to prevent them. So what I’m going to do is I will share my screen and share the video with everyone and then we’ll have a little chat with Shannon.
Shannon Roszell: My name is Shannon Roszell. I’m a singer songwriter from Kawartha Lakes here in Ontario, Canada. I’m happy to be here with you guys to celebrate the launch of The Impossible Resurrection of Grief. I’m sharing with you one of my most recent singles, “Gonna Love You”. It’s a post-apocalyptic love song to the damaged earth. I’m trying to talk about how we balance loving people despite all these environmental difficulties we’re facing and the environmental anxiety that I think is looming above us all. I hope you enjoy the song and I hope you have a great rest of the launch.
SM: Thank you for that performance, Shannon. So while we’re all coming down from that intensity, I’d like to ask you about the inspiration for the song. So in Octavia’s book Grief is a mental health disorder which is triggered by specific environmental losses. I’m wondering if there were any particular environmental losses that inspired the apocalyptic vision of your song?
SR: Yeah, I mean, there’s a number that are sort of mentioned in there. Fukushima was obviously in there. The fracturing – I lived in the Yukon for a time and there’s something called the Peel Watershed up there and they were starting to do fracking – or they were proposing to do fracking up there. But the biggest thing for me of course has been and remains the Tar Sands in northern Alberta, Canada. I was lucky enough to get to go on a healing walk in 2013, led by elders. It’s a 14km walk around what they call the Syncrude Loop and Syncrude is one of the two major producers of oil from the oil sands in Canada. What was really remarkable and disturbing about that was so many things. But the one thing that really stuck with me was there was not a bird to be seen. There was no nature anywhere. And yet I look and we were walking around this tailings pond and there was a boat on this pond and every so often there’s a person in this boat and every so often explosives are going off and so I talked to somebody and asked them what’s going on with that. And apparently it’s actually somebody’s job to go and set off explosives every now and then to prevent birds from landing on the water because if they land on this toxic pond they simply sink through and die. They just perish in the water. Unbelievable. And that really stuck with me. Myself, I had to return to our camp which was about a 45 minute drive south of the Tar Sands because my asthma was unbearable. So I had to go and get my puffers and have them with me. I was very ill after just walking for the day there. Truly powerful. It was wonderful to get to, truly an honor to walk with the Fort McMurray First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, of course, the Little Buffalo First Nation that organized that. So for me it was one of those things that doesn’t really go away. And to see it, and feel it, and breathe it was really something that sticks with me. And in that sort of sense it was interesting, we’ve already spoken about that apocalyptic feeling and I feel like that was really something that I felt then and now I only feel it more for different equally traumatizing reasons. But thank you for that question.
SM: Thanks so much for sharing that experience with us.
Ok, so now we’ve come to our main event. With everyone still dwelling in that contradiction and necessity of love in a time of profound loss it is my pleasure to introduce Octavia Cade. Octavia Cade is a New Zealand writer with a PhD in science communication. She attended Clarion West 2016, has won three Sir Julius Vogel awards for speculative fiction, and is a Bram Stoker nominee. She was the 2020 writer in residence at Massey University, where she wrote The Impossible Resurrection of Grief.
So tonight we’re here to celebrate a novella which tells the story of a marine biologist, Ruby, and The Grief, an unstoppable melancholia that is linked to the collapse of ecosystems and the extinction of species. When Ruby’s friend, mourning the loss of the Great Barrier Reef, succumbs to the Grief, the letters she leaves behind reveal the hidden world of the resurrected dead. The Tasmanian tiger, brought back from extinction in an isolated facility, is only the first… but rebirth is not always biological, and it comes with a price. As a scientist, Ruby resists the Grief by focusing her research on resilient jellyfish, but she can’t avoid choosing which side she’s on. Struggling with the loss of her friend and her impending divorce, can she fight against the dead and the forces behind them when doing so risks her home, her life, and the entire biosphere?
So Octavia I will pass the digital stage to you now for a reading.
Octavia Cade: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming everyone. I’d like to say a special thank you to Tiffany and Shannon for their gorgeous performances that we just had then. That was really lovely. Thank you. This, my wee book, with that gorgeous cover by Rachel Lobbenberg, I’m going to be reading a extract wherein Ruby, who is as Selena said the main character, has gone down to Tasmania to meet the woman who has resurrected the thylacines. She’s calling this woman Granny because there’s a fairy tale theme going through here. And Ruby is inextricably linked to this woman to a different kind of fairy tale.
The thylacines had once been known as Tasmanian tigers. “They’re not tigers,” Granny said. “Don’t look at the stripes. Look at how they behave.”
They joeys squirmed on Granny’s lap, trying to get free. One tumbled to the floor and shook itself, before hopping on its two back legs to her ankles. The joey buried its teeth in the already ragged hem of Granny’s trousers, easily shredding the material. The other crawled to the edge of her lap and stared down at its littermate, intent on the shredding and entirely indifferent to the pats that Granny bestowed upon it.
“Marsupial wolves,” said Granny. “That was their other name: the Tasmanian wolf. Of course they’re not really wolves either.” Her face was as watchful as a hunter, the face of a woman who reveled in the bite. Her upper lip twitched, exposing glimpses of yellowed teeth. I couldn’t tell if she were doing it deliberately, trying to unsettle me, or if it was an unconscious gesture, born out of intimidation and threat. I might have been invited, albeit implicitly, but my presence was still an intrusion, and the Grief that so unbalanced her was not trusting of outsiders.
“It was us that killed them,” she said. “Changing climate made them vulnerable, and we did the rest. Hunting and hunting and hunting … Their extinction was deliberate. We weren’t so damn indifferent to them that we let the world take them. I suppose that’s something to be grateful for, that we at least cared enough to do it ourselves. We liked doing it.”
She blinked at me, slowly. “Do you like it? Hunting?”
“I’ve never tried.”
“I think you’d be good at it. You can care for something and watch it die and let it die. I know all about you,” she said, and what the Sea Witch hadn’t told her she must have inferred somehow.
The truth was I did let the Sea Witch die. Or at the very least I didn’t try hard enough to save her, and it wasn’t a good death. Truth is even if I could have saved her, I don’t know if I would have. She would only have tried again. And again, and again. The next time might even have been worse, more painful. That’s what Grief is, I think: an unshrinking look at the inevitable.
Granny invited me to stay the night. I would have rather declined her offer, but I had yet to understand what she wanted of me, and I wasn’t sure she would have let me go when that understanding was absent. She was old, of course, and most likely frailer than she appeared. I could have pushed past her if I wanted to. I could go to all the newspapers in the land if I wanted to. It would be the story of the century. But Granny was here, and those delicate creatures were here. They were sleeping in the bed with Grief, and all that talk of letting loved ones die made me worry for their safety.
I wished I could trust her as a caretaker, but I didn’t, not entirely. I wished I could talk to George, but he wasn’t answering his phone and such conversation as I could have made would only have disturbed him.
I decided to stay, and not to sleep. I sat up in a cold night in a cold bed, reading of tigers and wolves and marsupial beasts, their skeletons and observed behaviour. Granny had left a stack of journal articles by the bed, dissections of what their authors believed was a dead species. I wondered if the articles were a deliberate reminder of shredded paper and plastic bells, the fishing trail of a tentacle dragged through water, but how could she have known so much of what the Sea Witch had done? Perhaps their letters shared more than I knew; I had no way of knowing if I’d read them all.
Granny didn’t sleep either. I could hear her up and down the hall all night, the quick pattering footsteps of the old when they are trying to be light and cunning creatures.
In the middle of that cold night, I ventured out into the hallway to search for another blanket, and realized what those footsteps really were. Patter patter patter, and it was only because the floors were hardwood that I could hear them. On another surface, nocturnal hunters would be so very silent … Catching the dark outlines of shapes in the hall, my back slammed against a wall before my brain understood why. Fragments of my earlier reading surfaced between ragged breaths: a paper on thylacine physiology, and what their skeleton implied about their hunting techniques. All I could think of was the morphology of their limbs, the construction of elbow joints that suggested that thylacines were ambush predators, tigers rather than wolves. The two I’d held in my lap were too small for predation, but moonlight shining through windows reflected eyes a lot further from the ground than a tiny joey could account for. I could hear breathing over the footsteps, an almost silent panting, and I couldn’t tell which breaths were mine and which were theirs, but there was a faint stench of feeding, as if meat had been left out for pets and the scent of it had stained their teeth and tongues.
The whole house was shifting with them, stripes and small sounds and that warm, meat-scented breath: the convergence of the dead and the living, and I didn’t know if they hunted in a pack like wolves, or if together they were enough to bring down an animal so much bigger than they were. They were living in a house, but that didn’t mean domestication — they weren’t dogs, and if resurrection and care had changed their nature, I had no indication of it. They may have started out sleeping in Granny’s bed, but the scars on her arms … They were too big and too deep to have come from the joeys. Those marks had come from creatures that hunted. Creatures raised by a woman who had teased me with the prospect of hunting, and who I suspected enjoyed hunting herself. Both the stalking and the bloody death.
Can you watch something die and let it die? she’d asked, and whether she was speaking to me or of me I was no longer sure.
Thank you.Octavia Cade reading from The Impossible Resurrection of Grief
SM: Thank you so much, Octavia. Ok, so we’re going to move into the Q&A section of the launch and if our audience has any questions please post them in the chat. I’m going to start off with some questions but we’ll quickly move to audience questions if they appear. I would love to start our conversation by talking a little bit about New Zealand. A lot of us in North America have had very envious eyes on New Zealand since the beginning of the pandemic. From an outsiders perspective you seem to have a government that is ready to make hard choices in order to protect people. So we’ve heard a lot about New Zealand’s pandemic response and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about New Zealand’s climate change response. Is New Zealand making the kind of care-oriented or community centred choices with regards to climate change as it seems to be with the pandemic?
OC: Not too much. We kind of suck in that regard. Of the 43 industrialized nations, only 12 have had emissions increases from 1990-2018 and New Zealand is one of them. We have very low carbon emissions as a country because we are so small. But our per capita emissions are enormous. They are right up there with the Western world. And we have an interesting emissions profile in that most of the emissions here come from agriculture – the methane from cows and secondarily from transport. That makes us different from a lot of places whose emissions profile may tend more toward say energy. A lot of New Zealand’s power is renewable. It comes from hydro and geothermal and wind power. But methane and our agricultural emissions are what lets us down and no government seems to be willing to tackle that because farming is a powerful lobby in this country and, you know, if you’re a farmer it’s your livelihood. And in the one sense you cannot blame people for not knowing what to do if it’s their industry that’s causing the problems if it’s their family farm they’ve had it for generations. How do you fix this? And farmers are trying, a lot of them, on their own to come up with solutions, to do more repair in planting on the streams in their farm, to reduce their methane emissions. But there is very little leadership coming through from the government on any of that.
SM: I think we’re in a similar situation in Canada where industry is driving our emissions. Again, we’re also a small country with huge emissions. How do you ask people to make a living. It’s really just a matter of system change, right?
OC: Yeah, I mean, there are some system changes that the government has been doing. Last year Jacinta Ardern’s government I think declared a climate emergency and they are aiming to be, for this country to be carbon neutral by 2025. But again there’s the problem of the methane and the agricultural emissions. Are they including that or are they not? This year what they did actually not very long ago I think it was only a few weeks ago we’re the first country in the world to bring in a law forcing financial institutions to report on the effects of climate change. It’s now mandatory for them to disclose the environmental impact of their investments. So that’s a systems-level change that hopefully can be seen in other countries but it’s not addressing a lot of the problems that we have here.
SM: So The Impossible Resurrection of Grief not set in New Zealand primarily. It’s set in Australia and I was wondering why you made the choice to set it in Australia?
OC: It’s sort of 50/50 Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand is an interesting case study because as an archipelago we are affected by rising sea levels and so on but we’re also insulated in a way from a lot of the worst effects from things like temperature rise because the ocean acts as an insulator. And so while we are seeing effects of climate change on our shores and a particularly distressing one, last year in Wellington 35% of the little blue penguin chicks on the Wellington colonies died from starvation because the warming water in the harbour is effecting the fish supply. So while there are distressing things like that, a lot of the effects that we are seeing at scale are occurring across the ditch. Which is, you know, the Tasman Sea for those of you who aren’t from this part of the world. The massive bush fires, for instance, they have been so apocalyptic in scale that the smoke has actually reached this country, across thousands of kilometers of ocean. There were times last year when you’d look out the window and it was yellow. In this country, from so far away. And then of course there’s things like the Great Barrier Reef which is this iconic ecosystem, which Australia has that the rest of us don’t and there’s a very visual impact of what is happening there. So I think that is something not so much appealing as approachable. An approachable way of getting people to think about climate change. If you’re not looking at, say, the small increase in temperature in New Zealand it hits you less in the fact than smoke arriving from Australia from the bush fires.
SM: The Great Barrier Reef as you said is iconic and it is really the key ecosystem that you discuss in the book. It is the thing that drives the plot, right?
OC: I don’t know why I’m so attached to it. I’ve never been there. The only way I can get there would be to fly which would be to increase my carbon emissions which would push it closer to the brink and you know there’s my thinking. How selfish am I? What bargains can I make with myself to see this thing before it dies, before I do? And is this worth it? How selfish can I be but it’s the only ecosystem you can see from space. And it’s bleaching over and over again. There are Crown of Thorns starfish marching down from warmer waters because they can now, just eating everything in its path. I mean the entire ecosystem there is just slowly dying and its appalling. And yet fascinating at the same time.
SM: I think what you’re saying about that struggle that I think a lot of us have – you know, we want to live a certain kind of life and we’re very aware of the ways that that kind of life is contributing to the destruction of ecosystems and I think in that way a lot of us can relate to Ruby and the way that she thinks and behaves in the novella. But going back to some of the ideas that we opened the launch with – I wanted to touch on Ruby and her husband George. George is Maori from New Zealand and at the beginning of the novella he lives with Ruby in Australia. And I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about their relationship being representative of any wider relationship between the two countries? Or perhaps between the settler approach to climate vs that of the indigenous Maori?
OC: First of all, I would just like to not that everyone who’s read this so far who’s commented on it to me, you know, the reviewers or the beta readers, or even the editors, everyone has said “don’t you dare kill George – don’t you dare do anything to him”! Everyone. I think he’s the favourite part for people reading this. There are a large proportion of Maori who immigrate to Australia. Obviously I cannot tell you from my own perspective why. But Maori in this country are significantly less well off economically than pākehā, which is what we call New Zealand Europeans. And Australia is richer than we are. They have less of a housing crisis. There the pay is better. I mean a lot of their wealth comes from mining, which is this really odd tension when you look at it through climate change. You know, if you want a better life for yourself and your family, go and work in the Australian mines. But, you know, what will these mines be doing? George isn’t a miner, but there’s that tension underlying this idea of migration between countries and what is there for you at home? What has been left for you? What can you take elsewhere? What can you do to improve your own life? If you’ve been alienated from your own home and your own land, what is there to stop you moving? I mean, why shouldn’t you move to another country? If that connection has been cut.
SM: Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely something that a lot of people are struggling with in these times. I see that there’s a question in the chat from Willi. So the question is the word Grief is capitalized like it’s a proper noun. Could you explain that? What was the intention behind that choice?
OC: I wanted to separate it in a way from the idea of small g grief. Small g grief makes it sound more inconsequential, which of course it isn’t. I mean, if you’ve had a friend or loved one, someone like that, die then you know the power of sorrow and of mourning I think but giving a big G allowed an easy visual way to differentiate in the text between grief for the people who you love who leave you and this Grief that is sort of going on around you. I’ve been reading a lot of the academic work, because I’m an academic too, on ecological grief that’s been coming out just in the past couple of years and there was one paper I read by I think – I’ve just got the little notes here – Cunsolo and Ellis from 2018. They’re talking about ecological grief as being disenfranchised grief, as grief that isn’t often publicly acknowledged. So by giving it this capital letter, by forefronting that capitalization in the text, I wanted to signal how it was acknowledged in this future world. How it had become so powerful and so entrenched within society that it had a specific meaning and acknowledgement. It was no longer disenfranchised, it was there, it was common.
SM: Almost like what we were just talking about: the systemic vs. the individual, right? So the capital g Grief is systemic. Yes.
So I wanted to touch on fairy tales. Because a lot of the reviewers who are talking about the book are noting that the novella is really a bit of a mashup between a science fiction thriller and a kind of surreal fairy tale. Fairy tales come up a lot in the book. Ruby recalls that the tales of Hans Christian Andersen were her childhood favourites and she hopes to receive an Andersen collection from the Sea Witch after her passing. So they come up multiple times in the story. A few different Andersen fairy tales are mentioned specifically in the novella. The Sea Witch and her boat are named from “The Little Mermaid” and Ruby mentions “The Nightingale.” Could you take us through how you are using fairy tales and why you chose to use them?
OC: Ok, there were a couple of reasons really. The first is I just love fairy tales. I mean, I have done quite a bit with them before. I had a novella out a few years ago, The Convergence of Fairy Tales, which mashed up I think five fairy tale princesses into this sort of feminist horror novella. I just love the way that fairy tales use metaphor, how they are previously understood almost shorthand and that you can hang a lot off them. You can say multiple things at once. So that was the first reason. I think the second reason is that I didn’t want this to be a single genre book. I wanted it to be sort of dislocating and destabilizing and shifting around under you so that you’re never quite sure where you’re standing. Or what genre you’re on. And I think that shift between fairy tale and this surrealism and into science and back again and into fairy tale horror. It shifts around so much that I think that contributes to the sense of destabilization. That is honestly a fundamental part of the Grief anyway. This idea that you can no longer rely on something to be there, to be stable, to be solid around you.
SM: And I think you did, in your reading today, you really have highlighted that idea of instability, just in that one scene and nevermind the whole novella. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the structure of the novella and whether you see any links between fairy tales and the structure, how you’ve told this story?
OC: Yes and no. There’s four or five chapters I think and I could easily have called them Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, instead of chapters. Because they are quite discrete. That is part of the destabilization effect that I was going for, where you sort of bounce from one to the other. And I think that linking up those separate sections to different kinds of fairy tales – The Little Mermaid in the first section where the Sea Witch succumbs to grief – The Little Red Riding Hood, which is not Andersen as I think you pointed out when we were editing, but it’s still a fairy tale and it’s the second. I think the Nightingale in the third, and then the idea of the magic mirror in the last one. I think being able to match up these different chapters to different fairy tales helps in that sense of isolation, of keeping each chapter its own discrete self which in turn adds to the sort of destabilizing effect of the whole.
SM: The fairy tales add a kind of foundation to the whole thing that pulls throughout the whole story.
OC: Yeah, there’s a sort of linkage along aren’t they?
SM: Yeah, and while you do feel destabilized you also do get something from those connections that help you to move from one part to another, I think.
OC: Yeah, I hope so. I don’t want to spoil too much for the people who haven’t read it but there are parts of The Little Mermaid that are quite fundamental to how science is portrayed in this novel and how Sea Witch and Ruby both understand and practice science. And so I think that function of fairy tale as metaphor is extraordinarily useful.
SM: I want to talk a little bit about mental health in the novella. The Impossible Resurrection of Grief focuses on the capital g Grief, which is an epidemic of melancholy linked to specifically the loss of species or whole ecosystems. So, during your reading – and by that I mean the video reading that we posted earlier – you did mention that you’ve been seeing academic papers and you did mention them tonight as well that bring up this idea of an emotional toll to climate change and you’re seeing those ideas more often. So I was wondering if you could give us a few examples and talk a little bit about how those academic readings inspired your approach to the novella?
OC: Ok, yes there’s a paper out just last year by Timothy Clarke called “Ecological Grief and Anthropocene Horror” and he’s pointing out in it how ecological grief is very specific in its effects. He says it’s loss or threatened destruction of a specific landscape, a specific species, a specific place. It’s not nebulous, it’s not amorphous. It’s linked to something that is happening in the world around you in a place or a species that you love. Everyone has something like that. For me it’s the Great Barrier Reef and red tussocks and mountains. That would be my New Zealand touchstone. When I’m outside the country and I’m thinking of home – I don’t actually live in red tussocks and mountains but that is the image of home that sticks with me. And if anything happened to those tussocks, to the tussock lands in New Zealand, I would be gutted. I really would be. Clarke notes, as a lot of the other people do, looking at how people are responding to climate change, this idea of the mental health response, the emotional response, he talks about the increase in anxiety disorders. Grose in 2019, talking about how the climate crisis can lead to a mental health crisis. She refers to it as PTSD in advance, which is a great way of looking at it. I was at a conference, Haunted Shores, on the ecological and oceanic gothic about a month or so back and researchers there were talking about “solastalgia” which is a word I’d never come across before.
SM: It’s a great word.
OC: Yeah, solastalgia: “homesickness while still at home.” I think that is something we see in the world changing around us. And as the effects of climate change become more apparent, I think the effects of that are going to ramp up because they will become more observable. You know, more experienced. I think that one of the things that perhaps a lot of the papers on ecological grief aren’t looking at so much is the idea of responisibility and blame. I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the 20th century conservationist Aldo Leopold from North America. He used to say that one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. We have to start looking at who is causing these wounds. It’s one thing to get attached to your cat and suddenly your cat is eaten by a predator or something like that but it’s also a lot of the things that result from ecological grief and result from climate change is things that we are contributing to ourselves. And so there is that aspect of blame which I think is a likely very profound and probably at the moment under-explored influence on ecological grief. So that was what this book was about really, looking at blame and how it interacts with mourning, this idea of what’s gone. Because if the Great Barrier Reef dies, it’s our fault. I mean, it is. We’ve had plenty of warning. We know it’s happening. It’s hard not to feel responsible.
SM: Mm hmm. There’s a question in the chat from Beverly: do you think environmental grief is related to how helpless so many of us feel about being able to make the changes necessary? It sometimes feels like individuals can’t do enough. Do you think that is addressed in the novella?
OC: I think so in a way because Ruby and the Sea Witch, who was her friend Marjorie, they were scientists working together at the university. Marjorie’s talking about all the work they did, all the publishing, all the research, trying to help avert this future and it was never enough. I think I have to wonder too about ecological grief and I think we have to take a look, a close look, at the people who don’t get it and who won’t get it. I think if yo are a politician for instance signing off on mining in the Great Barrier Reef I don’t think you’re the type of person if you can go ahead and do that who is likely to feel sorrow if it, when it all blows up in your face. I think we have to start looking at people who are just incapable perhaps of feeling this grief and, you know, does it say something about our status as ecological creatures that we can so cut ourselves off from the rest of nature that we simply don’t care if it dies. It’s one thing to care and not be able to stop it, but to have the ability to make profound change and just choose not to because it’s not in your interest? I think we have to start looking at the type of personality that can do that.
SM: Yeah, and I think we’ll find that there’s a lot of overlap between those types of personalities and those who are running everything essentially. So I want to talk about the ending of the novella but without spoilers. I’m going to try really hard not to spoil anything. I want to talk specifically about Ruby at the end of the novella. I thought that she was a pretty self-absorbed person. I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way—it’s certainly complicated with her—and there is a sense that apart from her somewhat selfish perspective, she’s also trying to protect herself from the desolation around her. So I’m wondering are Ruby’s instincts toward self-preservation something she learns from what she goes through in the novella or is it an innate quality or maybe a cultural quality that she inherits? What roles do you think self-preservation might have in our coming struggle with climate change and ecological loss?
OC: I think it’s fundamental. I think she is accused of being monstrously self-involved. And that’s accurate. I mean it also tends to be a feature I have to say of most of the female protagonists that I write. I don’t know what that says about me. It interests me, the capacity that we have for preservation, the capacity we have to, you know, make bargains with ourselves and possibly delude ourselves. Talking about the Great Barrier Reef and the carbon emissions it would take to fly me there – I don’t have children. That is a massive saving in carbon. Does that mean that I can take a flight to you know
Queensland and see the reef? Is that a bargain I can honestly make with myself? On the one hand yes on the other hand no. I’ve never been able to decide how much of my own principles I am willing to overlook in order to get what I want and the thing is I’m quite certain that if I did go to the reef I would be able to excuse it to myself. I’d know deep down that it wasn’t, you know, that i was doing possibly the wrong thing but that knowledge, while lasting, the guilt probably would not.
I have to say there is a strong sense of of self-preservation I think in the way that we look at the bargains we make to survive in the world, to get what we want and I think very few people are innocent of that. So what I like to do with Ruby is to strip her down basically, and it does make her somewhat unpleasant in places, which is why some of the reactions I’ve had with George are thank god he’s getting away from her. But she’s a mirror, I think to to a lot of people who who will be reading this and I think there is something valuable in that. And it’s not necessarily a terrible thing. I mean no one wants a miserable life. We we all have aspirations and in this case, in this world, no one wants the grief. No one wants to to die and be miserable. No one wants to to have loss upset their mental balance so much that they are no longer competent of functioning in the world. So this idea of preservation is I think a valuable one to an extent. And I think to an extent is as far as we can go with Ruby because it’s the bargains that that she makes with herself and the bargains that we make with ourselves. They’re entirely personal.
SM: We’re actually at nine o’clock in in North America right now, but I did want to pass along this question from Michael Deluca who says do you think Ruby is redeemed by the ending? Is she going to do what the Sea Witch is asking of her? and he also wants to know if it’s cheating for him to ask.
OC: I don’t know is I guess the point. I said to Selena when we were editing that maybe it wasn’t Ruby who was going to be sucked into this horrible thing, maybe it’s George going home who has never built up this this idea of this self-centered immunity. But I don’t know. I’ve tossed up whether or not I should write a sequel to this. I suppose it depends on the reception of this one. But I didn’t – I wanted to leave it open-ended. I didn’t want an ending that said look this is what’s going to happen because in a sense Ruby is all of us, as unpleasant and as insular as she often is her decision is the decisions that we have to make for ourselves. I think it’s it’s far more effective to have here as a mirror to the reader rather than as an example.
SM: Just before we wrap up I wanted to ask you one one last question about any connections that you see between this novella and your novel which is also climate fiction. The Stone Weta, I believe that’s how you say it. So do you do you make any connections between those? They’re both scientist characters, both related to climate change.
OC: They are but they’re very different in their approach. The Stone Weta came out out of news stories I was seeing about scientists being limited in their work, being censored by governments and by industries and so it’s a very political response to communication of climate change in a climate change environment. Grief is what happens when that communication has absolutely failed, when it hasn’t made a difference. It’s the emotional response rather than the political one. They’re very, very separate. I’m not sure they could inhabit the same universe, but they’re still quite interesting I think to look at two different ways of exploring climate change through fiction certainly.
SM: Yeah I like that idea of one being a kind of example of what what might what like if the first novel failed. Yeah that’s really interesting. Okay, so we don’t have any more time for questions. I would love to keep talking. It’s so fun.
OC: I’m on Twitter if anyone wants to leave questions there or anything.
SM: So what we’re gonna do right now is give away some prizes. I have a few prizes. I have these really lovely little thylacine pins made by a local Hamilton artist – actually surprising I found someone local who was making thylacine things. And then I also have this book that Octavia Cade chose for all of you and it is by an Indigenous Australian author. Octavia did you want to say just a few words about it?
OC: Yes it’s the most fascinating book and I will go to my grave holding a grudge that it did not win the Booker. You know Alexis Wright, who is this Indigenous Australian author, has written this fantastic sort of Australian future of politics and magical realism and swans and science and climate change as it comes up into the cities and the look especially at race relations in Australia and how climate change impacts upon it is fascinating. The prose is gorgeous and if you don’t win it you should go to your local library and find a copy because it’s outstanding.
SM: I’m a bit miffed that I have to give this one away but i’m going to get one for myself as well. So I’m gonna share my screen. We have a nifty little wheel with everybody’s name on it. I think we’re only going to give out prizes to people who are here. So if we end up picking someone who is not here then we’ll spin again. Oh, and unfortunately I can’t give anything away to family members and friends. All right so here we go. So the first prize is a little thylacine pin and a Stelliform T-shirt with the beautiful thylacine art on it so we’ll spin for that one first.
I’ve got to turn that down. That’s really loud. Okay so Ren, I’ll put the Stelliform email in the chat and you can email me and we’ll figure out how to get that to you. All right, we’re spinning again and this one is for a little thylacine pin and The Swan Book.
All right so Laura Mckay, you are the second winner of the thylacine pin and The Swan Book and again email me and we’ll figure out how to get that to you. Okay, so congratulations to the prize winners and we’ll make an arrangement to get those prizes to you. It has been my absolute pleasure to kick off Stelliform Press’s second season and host this launch for the Impossible Resurrection of Grief. Congratulations Octavia, I am thrilled that you chose Stelliform to publish your novella. It’s a difficult book, it’s an uncomfortable book, but it forces us to look hard at our own responses to the world as it changes before our eyes. It also asks us to look for those things in the world that we love, those things like like a Great Barrier Reef, the thing that we have to protect is if we’re protecting ourselves because that ecosystem is part of us. But then the book asks us to acknowledge that feeling, that imperative and expand it.
Oh, I see in the chat that maybe Laura McKay isn’t here so we have to do another spin. Okay we’re going to do another spin. So I believe that we’re going to give the The Swan Book to someone else.
Is Marissa here? Oh no is Marissa not here? Oh that’s too bad, okay let’s spin again then. Every time we spin it gets more and more likely that you’ll win.
Lee Williams. Do we have Lee Williams here? Wow are we going to get through the whole wheel.
Octavia, how about you just pick a number between 1 and 20 and as long as it’s not a family member. 13? okay yeah. Okay let me just count. Rem Wigmore. Yay! okay yay all right good I hope you don’t have that book already.
OC: All right I think Rem has heard me talk about that book before so they may be glad to get it.
SM: Oh excellent, excellent. All right so as I was saying, I think that the book is asking us to to look for those things to which we feel the most connection and and then you know take that feeling and do something with it. It’s not just about feeling sad, it’s it’s about doing something with that feeling. Yeah, Octavia, you were talking about the Great Barrier Reef and how that makes you feel. I have similar feelings to the Monarch Butterfly in North America and it is also a beleaguered creature in a beleaguered ecosystem and I don’t know what I’m going to do if something happens to it. So I think that your book is doing something similar to that and it’s asking us to acknowledge that we’re a part of the world around us and we have a responsibility to it not just to feel sad or anxious, but to do something. And for those of us in the affluent West, maybe what we’re called to do is to make ourselves uncomfortable so that others can live. So your book is complex and beautiful and if you don’t already have a copy you can click the link in the chat and get a signed copy printed on recycled paper from the Stelliform website, but the book is also now available to order anywhere where you usually get your books. So as we wrap up, I want to say another thank you as well to Tiff Morris and Shannon Roszell for helping us celebrate and thank you to Erin Julian and Kristen Shaw for helping out tonight and for the other work that you’ve done for Stelliform. Thanks again to Divination Hollow for helping us get the word out about the book launch. And finally thank you everyone who joined us here to help us bring this book into the world. We’d love to keep in touch with you, so if you want to sign up for Stelliform’s newsletter, those links are going up in the chat. We also have a Twitter, an Instagram and a Facebook that you can follow along. We have another title coming out in 2021 and that is After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang. It’s a very different book but it is lovely, sweet, and sad and and wonderful. And of course we’ll be announcing more giveaways and another launch event, so if you liked this one don’t miss that one. Octavia, I would like the final word of the event to be yours, so do you have any final thoughts for those here this evening and also maybe for those who are watching later?
OC: Okay a couple of very short things. I like your idea of looking for the things that we love and looking to maybe try and preserve them while they’re here instead of feeling sad for their loss in advance. Sometimes the idea of climate change and biodiversity loss is so enormous that it’s hard to encompass. If you can do something for the particular – for the monarch butterfly for instance – then it may be somewhat easier to handle and you may be able to you know downplay the the results of guilt and the ecosystem grief that could be coming your way. So there’s that and there’s also the one person who hasn’t been thanked today, which is Selena for putting together this lovely launch. She was the most excellent editor. She made the book much better than the terrible first draft that was sent her way so if you are looking to share climate fiction of your own, I would encourage you to look at Stelliform in the future. Thank you.
SM: Thank you so much, Octavia. And thank you everybody for coming and enjoy the rest of your evening.