Interview: Jeff Murray talks about Melt
‘This vividly written adventure is a gut-gripping reminder that New Zealand’s region of influence, from Antarctica to low lying atolls of the South Pacific, is in the heart of the world’s greatest ever catastrophe – climate change. Read this brilliant debut novel by Jeff Murray … then go buy an EV.’ Sir Rob Fenwick.
Jeff Murray talks to NZ Booklovers about MELT.
Tell us a little about your novel MELT
The world is in the midst of climate crisis as one Pacific woman seeks a place for her tiny nation in a world that’s not sure it needs the poor. Antarctica is melting and a great reshuffle of people and nature is occurring. In a fight for survival what lengths will Vai Shuster go to in securing her people’s future? Melt focuses on climate justice and considers how this might play out in New Zealand as powerful nations access Antarctica from our shores and weak nations seek refuge in our relative privilege.
What inspired you to write this book?
When I was studying in the UK in 2010 I heard a presentation by a climate scientist who struggled to communicate the seriousness of temperature movements on one or two degrees. Mortgages move around by larger numbers and people cope – a mortgage rate of 3% would be great. The climate numbers didn’t resonate but narrating a near-future human story resonates. I was seeking a means to engage on climate justice.
What research was involved?
To be plausible the story needed a level of accuracy around the melting of Antarctica and impacts on low lying nations. But ultimately, I’ve focused on the human elements. In terms of forced migration and refugee settlement the numbers vary widely. I reference 100 million migrants moving outside their country of birth because it’s a large number and easy to narrate. There could be many more. My research showed how important the narrative is: those in favour of embracing refugees have a flat, utilitarian and managerial narrative while those in opposition have an emotional, high impact narrative and they’re winning. There is a need to win the narrative war and this requires emotion and that relies on human scale stories.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I haven’t written fiction before and I learnt by doing. I started out with what I knew, which is report writing. I wrote a report to myself on climate change as it is affecting people, the Pacific and Antarctic regions and the potential geo-political impacts. Then I ‘clipped’ a bunch of characters to this and tried to knead it into a narrative. This didn’t work, the characters kept falling out of the story, and I had to start again. I took a short fiction writing course then I went at it again, recycling the raw material, building a story led by Vai Shuster. Vai carries the whole thing on her back. I also had some mentoring which helped a lot, frank and constructive criticism. In terms of my writing approach I am lucky to have access to a family beach property and could isolate myself there, with no internet access and just write. At times I would write up to 5,000 words a day. Then I would go home and let it ferment in my mind. Then I would delete most of it and have another go. It was strange working in a beautiful location writing about the destruction my grandchildren are likely to live through. I kept the political narrative clear, perhaps it’s too obvious, but I didn’t want to play hide and seek with the narrative.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include
Nick Cave, Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
DeWanda Jackson as Vai Shuster. Sam Neill as Adam Walker. Rena Owen as Miriama Hunter.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
I came to really care about Vai Shuster. Vai really steps out of the book and that is the most satisfying result for me.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Nothing yet, I’m flat out at work. We’ll do something later.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. She brings all her characters to life in every sentence.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
No writing commitments. My wife supported me throughout and next it’s her turn.
MELT by Mary Egan Publishing, available now