'The idea of a flooded city is one that's fascinated me for as long as I can remember'
Published on: 14 October 2019 Author: Tom Huddleston
Author Tom Huddleston talks to us about his new book FloodWorld, making post-apocalypse feel relevant, and how he finds the children and young people protesting for environmental change inspiring.
It's been enormously inspiring to watch the school climate walkouts over the past couple of years - as someone who spent much of their childhood on protest marches, I love to see kids standing up for their futures. But my new adventure story Flood World takes place at a time when these warnings have been ignored, when the oceans have risen and humanity is struggling to turn back the tide.
The story unfolds several centuries from now in a place called the Shanties, a vast, teeming slum built on rafts and walkways and in the top floors of half-submerged tower blocks, all clinging to the outside of a vast concrete wall protecting one of the last bastions of civilisation - the city of London. In this floating favela we meet Kara and Joe, a pair of orphaned street kids scraping a living however they can. But when they come into possession of a mysterious map they go from unwanted to most wanted, hunted through the sunken streets by cops, gangsters and a notorious terrorist tribe known as the Mariners.
An unforgettable image
The idea of a flooded city is one that's fascinated me for as long as I can remember, inspired by photographs of Venice, by reading JG Ballard's The Drowned World and by a trip to the York Odeon to see Kevin Costner in the (pretty dreadful) eco-disaster movie Waterworld when I was a teenager. There's something so haunting and evocative about streets filled with water, about homes and workplaces lost to the waves. Growing up in York - a city that floods regularly - must have made an impression, too.
Back then, climate change was slowly becoming news. But protesters weren't blocking roads because of it, kids weren't walking out of school. And the wild, weird weather we've seen in recent decades had barely begun to register: this was before Hurricane Katrina, before the Beast from the East. As the years went by, this image of the drowned city just felt more and more timely.
A tricky balance
My first attempt to turn that image into the setting for a story was an epic film script, which later became a long and rambling novel entitled The Mariners. After much rewriting I ended up with a shorter, punchier adventure story, ultimately retitled FloodWorld (the name came late in the process but it fit perfectly, bringing things full circle back to Kevin Costner and that key early inspiration). But throughout all the revisions and failed attempts, one thing remained consistent.
I always wanted the tale I was telling to feel relevant, I wanted my future world to be a believable extension of our current climate crisis. But at the same time, I couldn't let the book become a lecture, I didn't want to end up with some downbeat, apocalyptic vision of humanity's grim future. I wanted a story that kids and adults could lose themselves in, a thrilling saga that would transport my readers out of the everyday. I wanted it to feel epic and grand, like a blockbuster movie. I wanted Flood World to be fun.
The key was in the characters. As long as I kept my focus firmly on Kara and Joe - two friends who are closer than family - everything else seemed to slot into place. The result is as much about companionship as it is about climate change, about the importance of friendship especially in dark times. And, of course, it's also packed with twists, narrow escapes and death-defying jet ski chases, because that's where the fun comes in.
The best of both worlds
All along, my ambition has been to combine the best from both approaches - to tell a rip-roaring adventure story while also offering a stark warning about where humanity could end up if we refuse to act. Whether I've succeeded is up to my readers. But for me, stories like this are a good way to explore our possible futures, to face the hard truth about where we might be headed. And if there are a few explosions in there to keep us turning the page, then all the better.