I’m delighted to welcome D.A. Baden with a guest post as part of the blog tour for her novel, Habitat Man, courtesy of Rachel’s Random Resources.
Habitat Man…Fiction as therapy for both the reader and the writer.
It’s hard to escape the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis. Everywhere we go we seem to be confronted by dreadful images of whales swimming in plastic, forests on fire, barren ground cleared by deforestation. It’s particularly bad for me in my job as a sustainability academic. To keep myself positive and sane, I focus my attention on some of the solutions out there. I try to keep up with the latest sustainable innovations, but it is the numerous wonderful projects and people who are working locally in their patch to turn things around that really fascinate me.
One such project appeared in my email inbox two years ago almost to the day – it was from the local Transition Group offering a free green garden consultancy to help people make their gardens more wildlife friendly. I signed up straightaway, little knowing I was about to meet the inspiration for my book Habitat Man! He was a local ecologist who had retired early in order to address the biodiversity crisis by focussing in on people’s back gardens. His tips for how to create a wildlife friendly garden were so great I wanted to share them with a wider audience.
At the time I’d just had an academic article rejected (only 5% get published typically) and the ones that had been published had such a limited readership that it occurred to me that fiction might be an alternative and really fun way to spread the word. Academics write articles about sustainability, but how many people read them? We commonly look to science to address the climate change crisis, but it is the arts and stories that fire imaginations and reach a wider audience that may never choose to watch a climate change documentary.
The idea of a man chucking in a job he hates to transform himself into some kind of eco-friendly twenty-first century superhero struck me as a great idea for a story. Visiting back gardens and the nature-based theme allowed me numerous ways to smuggle in green solutions. Also when my protagonist falls in love with a client and then digs up a body, there is plenty of plot and romance to keep readers engaged, especially when his own secrets come to light.
I see Habitat Man as a kind of ‘state of the nation’ novel, except here, decisions are played out on the micro scale, at the level of the intensely personal and intensely local – the place where we all live. International relations are played out in back gardens; love is played out on the spider’s web and round the kitchen table. Fresh voices are heard, from the Guerrilla Knitters, to vengeful magpies; from the Wizard of Woolston to the humble worm.
Writing Habitat Man was pure therapy. In a world so uncertain and hard to control, it was comforting to write the kind of community I’d love to see. I enjoyed tapping away at my keyboard like some God-like controller laughing to myself over what my characters were up to. I skipped the alarming statistics and at every turn chose to focus on solutions rather than problems so readers are soothed and encouraged as green alternatives are peppered among the human and animal stories encountered. During lockdown it kept me from loneliness as my characters were a composite mish-mash of funniest and most interesting bits of my favourite people. I wrote the book with a smile on my face, apart from the odd moment where I made myself cry and the loveliest thing I heard from a reader was that was exactly how they had read it too!
Worms have more purpose than Tim, and a better love life. They break waste down into rich fertile soil; Tim just makes the rich richer. Worms copulate for three hours at a time whereas the closest thing Tim has to love is his lesbian friend Jo. Salvation comes from Jo’s flaky niece Charlotte who asks him three profound questions. Inspired, he sheds his old life to become Habitat Man, giving advice on how to turn gardens into habitats for wildlife. His first client is the lovely Lori. Tim is smitten, but first he has to win round Ethan her teenage son. Tim loves his new life until he digs up more than he bargained for, something that threatens to bring out all the skeletons in his cupboard.
“Habitat Man is both great fun (with such an engaging cast of characters) and a delightful reflection on the ways we live – and the ways we die! – at a time when more and more people are grappling with today’s environmental challenges.” Jonathon Porritt (Forum for the Future).
“Truly lyrical and a joy to read” Mark Laggatt, author.
“A natural storyteller” Writing.co.uk
“Superbly written romance with a lovely touch of humour” Helen Baggott, author.
“A charming romp that makes you think! Mid-life crisis meets environmental awareness in this rom-com for the 21st Century.” Michael Jecks, author.
“A tale of lust, gardening, love and compost: a hilarious page turner”
Dave Goulson, author of ‘The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet’ and the newly released ‘Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse.’
Purchase Link – https://books2read.com/u/mVa19A
Denise Baden is Professor of Sustainability at the University of Southampton and has published numerous book chapters and articles in the academic realm. She wrote the script for a musical that was performed in Southampton and London in 2016, and has written three other screenplays. This is her first novel. Habitat Man was inspired by a real-life green garden consultant who helped make her garden more wildlife friendly. Denise set up the series of free Green Stories writing competitions in 2018 to inspire writers to integrate green solutions into their writing (www.greenstories.org.uk). Habitat Man began as an effort to showcase what a solution-based approach might look like, and then took on a life of its own. In between teaching and research, she is now working on the sequel.
Social Media Links – @DABadenauthor, www.dabaden.com