Congratulations on the publication of Pica! For those who haven’t read it, could you describe it in ten words?
Teenager discovers ancient powers and secrets of the natural world.
What inspired you to write it?
I’ve always loved nature – animals, birds, forests, lakes, mountains – and assumed everyone else did too, until it became obvious that some people couldn’t care less. We pollute our planet, use up its resources, throw litter on the floor and fill our oceans with plastic. Some people never visit the countryside, or have never appreciated being out in the wilderness. I thought every child went camping and on long rambles until I moved to West London and had friends at school who teased me for enjoying walking holidays in the Lake District, or for knowing the names of different birds and plants.
Pica and its two sequels remind readers that many years ago we were close to nature, depending on its rhythms and seasons for all things. We sometimes forget that we are one species of animal living alongside others. Nature is not our enemy or something to fight against. We cannot controlr it either – but we can appreciate our place within the natural world and take care of this wonderful planet that gives us life. By doing this we would reap some rich rewards.
The book has a heavy focus on nature, and the mystery behind what Guy can do. Where did you get the idea to write about this from?
I was a secondary school teacher, and it made me feel despondent to hear some students express a lack of empathy for nature or environmental issues. Some had never even watched a David Attenborough documentary! Planet Earth is our greatest resource, and the wildlife and landscapes within it are awe-inspiring. Pica attempts to bring back that sense of wonder that some of us seem to have lost. Guy is more than human, and through him and his mysterious behaviour, Luke discovers powers he never could have dreamed about. It’s the beginning of the rest of his life.
Luke as a character originally hates nature, but his views towards the end of the book shift. Do you think there’s a need for a greater understanding of nature today?
We’ve become a little bit numb to the messages thrown at us about global-warming and pollution. We all recycle (I hope) and possibly buy environmental–friendly products, which is all great; we must continue doing this important stuff. Sometimes I feel a little bit helpless. I’m just one bloke doing a few things. Will it actually make any difference? I think we need to understand how important nature is to our lives and very existence. Nature isn’t just a pretty photo or a funny animal in a zoo. Our rainforests are the things that keep us alive providing us with oxygen, and yet we continue to chop them down to plant non-essential things like palm oil. When Leonardo DiCaprio collected his Oscar he warned “Let us not take this planet for granted”. I read somewhere the other day that if bees and insects died out it would affect all species and life on this planet. However, if humans died out then all species would flourish. We are not nature’s masters – but her guardian.
Do you draw upon any of your own life experiences in Pica?
It’s a mix of my imagination and settings or incidents that are familiar to me. The school scenes are realistic because I have experience as a pupil and as a teacher, so I like to think the classroom scenes are lifelike, although not autobiographical. One setting – an overgrown roundabout where Luke and Guy meet in secret is based on a similar location near me.
Luke begins playing violent computer games before his world is tipped upside down. I enjoy computer games, but have baulked at some such as Grand Theft Auto, which is amusing for a while, but when I actually thought about what I was doing it sat uncomfortably within me. Having a games console is fine, but when it becomes an obsession and the player starts to forget to live in the real world then that’s a problem. You only get one chance at life so make the most of each day.
How do you write your books? Do you have a specific process?
Each novel I’ve written (Pica is my fourth) has been slightly different. I like to plan in three sections, putting some detail into the beginning especially but leaving the final one open-ended to a degree, to adapt and evolve. Things always change or occur to me as I write so I need that flexibility. I tend to write the first draft which is a rough draft and distant relative of the final product. Then I edit it carefully considering the structure first – moving scenes around to create the best impact and tension. During this editing stage I will also delete sections that serve no real purpose or do nothing to drive the story onwards, then add extra detail to the sections lacking the necessary detail. For the final edit I focus on language and proofreading.
What tips would you give to any aspiring writers who may be reading this interview?
Write as often as you can and be disciplined about it. This might mean less time watching TV or going on the internet – but I think that’s a good thing. Don’t forget to relax and have a social life too. Being a writer is about finding a balance. It’s a lonely business and it can drive you slightly nuts at times, but never give up. Even when you feel like giving up. Don’t.
Pica is the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy of transformation and ancient magic, which Michael Moorcock described as “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!” For information on Jeff, visit his website at http://www.jeffgardiner.com. Jeff blogs at jeffgardiner.wordpress.com.