Finding an emotional hook is the first place I start when crafting a story. Now, as I’m getting knee-deep into my next book, I’m grappling with how to do that when writing about two big, abstract topics: climate change and regeneration.
In May, I caught up with my literary agent. She was clear: ‘You need people to care about the climate in an emotional way. Read this.’
She thrust a hardback book into my hands. Once upon a Raven’s Nest by Catrina Davies. It’s beautiful and sits (unopened) on my desk like a talisman. Meanwhile, I pace around, drinking too many cups of earl grey as I try to find this illusive ‘hook’.
Meeting author Catrina Davies
Last Saturday I saw Catrina Davies speak at an author event. It was pouring outside the marquee and the venue was noisy. She sat, quietly, wavy blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, and picked up a guitar at her feet. In a raspy voice, a voice that suited the wild weather of this temperamental English summer, she sang one of her own songs. My husband Aden nudged me. ‘You’ll have to expand your repertoire.’
Then, Catrina read from the start of her third book based on the recollections of Hedley Ralph Collard. She told us that when staying in Wales in 2014, she met him on a walk. He was in a wheelchair. They struck up a conversation, and over time, developed a remarkable friendship.
In her book, she writes as if she is him: in the first person. ‘The book wasn’t working when I was writing about him. I had to inhabit his voice,’ she said. With his permission that’s what she does. (No mean feat.)
Regenerative storytelling: a bridge between us and the planet
What she’s done is really interesting — and smart. Catrina has interwoven the life of one man (who’s name has been changed to Thomas Hedley) and pitched it against the much larger backdrop of life on Earth, starting 4.5 Billion Years Ago.
By interspersing his human story — which began in the mid-1950s, at the time that we as a species began directly, unalterably impacting the planet — we care about the individual AND the whole.
As the rain lashed down, Catrina explained how she’d been trying to capture the fragility of his life. ‘It expressed something universal and urgent about all of our lives at this moment in history.’
Thomas, she said, is both an everyman and an extraordinary individual. He grew up on Exmoor in southwest Britain and knew the names of all the trees. He had a tough, rural upbringing, accident after accident, until one left him paralysed from the neck down.
Stories work best when they are universal AND particular. It’s a Hollywood cliche but it’s true. When we can see ourselves reflected in the life of a protagonist on screen, we leave the cinema with that rush of having experienced a great movie. We feel validated, our lives that bit richer.
At the end of the talk, I bought another copy of Catrina’s book as a present. I introduced myself and she asked my name. Her forehead puckered. ‘I know that name. What did you write?’
I think I stammered. ‘’My first book was Last Seen in Lhasa—’
‘Aagh,’ she exclaimed. ‘I read that. Came out about twenty years ago? I’ve still got a copy.’ She handed me hers. ‘It was a great book.’
I think I blushed because it’s been a while since I’ve had anything published. It was a sweet moment: my own validation. An unexpected endorsement that I am on the right track with this new work about climate change.
I still haven’t opened her book. The time isn’t right. But I look at it differently now when I’m procrastinating. It gives me hope.
Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.