Landscape, and a sense of place, has always been important in my writing and my new science fiction dystopian novel The Waste is no exception. The novel moves through London, Gippeswic (an alternate version of Ipswich in Suffolk) to the Waste, which is a massive open-air prison covering a large swathe of south-western England. In this blog post, I will cover some of the real-world locations that helped inspire my novel.
Parts of the novel take place in (a much changed) City of London, with buildings such as the Shard, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Saint Mary Woolnoth church and Liverpool Street Station appearing in thinly veiled forms. This is an area of London steeped in history, which I always find fascinating and enjoy walking around (especially when quieter at the weekends) and it formed an interesting backdrop to parts of the story. Within the novel, these flashes of history also contrast with the society the Seraphim are encouraging humans to build: a society focused only on the present, only on personal gain and pleasure. The inclusion of Saint Mary Woolnoth church is also a nod to The Wasteland by TS Eliot, which inspired some of the imagery in the novel.
Avebury World Heritage site
The area around Avebury in Wiltshire contains an extraordinary cluster of monuments dating to the Neolithic and Bronze Age, including the famous Avebury Stone circle, Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow.
Having been fortunate enough to visit this area on a few occasions, it is difficult to put into words the atmosphere this landscape exudes. As you walk around the henge and stone circle at Avebury, or face the imposing mass of Silbury Hill, or walk up to the mysterious West Kennet Long Barrow, there is a sense of deep time, of landscape shaped by countless layers of human history. From the earliest stages of writing The Waste, Avebury and the surrounding area always formed a key location in the story. In the book, the henge and stone circle at Avebury appears as Havock, the chief settlement of the dreaded Mohock clan, while Silbury Hill emerges in grisly fashion as their chosen place for executions. West Kennet Long Barrow also has a fleeting but important appearance.
One of the reasons Avebury interested me in the first place was the work of artist Paul Nash, who has long been one of my favourite artists. Nash had a profound sense of landscape, with a powerful emotional attachment to certain places such as Avebury and Dymchurch, places which possessed a quality he referred to as the genius loci. Although the Waste is a prison, and a dangerous and savage place, it is also less touched and polluted by the modern world – as well as being at times horrifying, I wanted the Waste to be a dreamlike landscape, rich with a sense of history and symbolism. I believe this quote from Paul Nash encapsulates the sense of what I was reaching for:
"The divisions we may hold between night and day - waking world and that of dream, reality and the other thing, do not hold. They are penetrable, they are porous, translucent, transparent; in a word they are not there."
'Dreams', undated typescript, Tate Archive
The settings in The Waste are key elements in the novel, both challenging and revealing the characters, and although this is science fiction, they help achieve a sense of reality and history.
The Waste is out now, available in eBook and paperback, and free to read through Kindle Unlimited.
Image of St Paul's Cathedral by Raygee78 from Pixabay