Helen Simpson

Margaret Atwood is with the bears

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Margaret Atwood and Helen Simpson discuss I’m With The Bears, a new collection of short stories about climate change, with Mariella Frostrup on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book.

Helen Simpson says one problem of writing about climate change is the moralizing:

“That’s about as popular as telling someone they need to lose weight. It’s the nagging and being preached at element that is very hard to avoid around this subject”.

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ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.

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How literature is getting to grips with climate change

Robert Butler of the Ashden Directory notes William Sidelsky’s review of the Oxfam-produced short-story collection Ox-tales: Air, Water, Fire and Earth in yesterday’s Observer. The review recognises that climate change is becoming a something recurring theme for modern writers:

A masterclass in this respect is offered by Helen Simpson’s “The …
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How literature tackles climate change

A few months ago I reported on Ian McEwan, currently writing a book inspired by his Cape Farewell
journey to the Arctic, who was saying how hard it was to was to tackle such a “virtuous” topic in a novel.

The trajectory of a short story is very different from a novel, but Helen Simpson manages it deftly in her story “In-flight Entertainment” which appeared in Granta 100. In it, two men who meet in the first class cabin of a transatlantic flight discuss global warming, while, next to them, another passenger dies of a heart attack.

“Four hours’ delay,” volunteered Alan, “thanks to those jokers at Heathrow. Alan Barr, by the way.”

“And I’m Jeremy Lees. Yes, those anti-flying protesters. A waste of time.”

“Complete time-wasters.”

“I suppose so,” said Jeremy. “What I meant, though, was it was a waste of their time. They’re not going to change anything.”

It’s nonsense, isn’t it, this global warming stuff. Trying to turn the
wheel back. Half the scientists don’t agree with it anyway.”

I think you’ll find they do. Ah, red please,’ said Jeremy as the air
stewardess offered him wine. ‘What have you got? Merlot or Zinfandel?
I’ll try the Zinfandel. Thank you. No, they do agree now, they’ve
reached a consensus. I ought to know, I was one of them. No, it’s not
nonsense, I’m afraid. The world really is warming up.”

“Merlot,” said Alan, rather annoyed.

It was published well before the Heathrow decision, but manages to include the line: “Heathrow will get its third runway any time now.”

Nominations for other pieces of contemporary lit which tackle this sort of stuff?

Picture: Still from The Coming Race by Ben Rivers 2006. “An indistinct, slow-moving sea of humanity clambers valiantly up a rocky mountain.” Showing as part of Figuring Landscapes at the Tate Modern, February 6 – 8. Details here.

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