Fiction has always been a fluid concept: the wispy smoke of a doused campfire, the dangerous flaring of a forgotten ember, the promise of a speck of brightness in a gold pan. But these days, how the hell are you meant to imagine the unimaginable when it is surpassed most days in your news feed? I can pretty much put my finger on that square on the calendar when the new abnormal kicked off: November 2016.
I was living in a remote valley in New Zealand. I’d just put the finishing touches on my NZ crime novel Marlborough Man and was beginning to turn my thoughts towards future books in the Nick Chester series. For me, November 2016 turned out to be a vintage month for apocalyptic thoughts. Trump became the US president, ushering in an ultra-Orwellian, post-truth world. Ten kilometres up a dead-end valley at the end of the world felt like the right and best place to be while we all let the news sink in. Then one evening a fortnight or so later, I was woken by the whole house rocking like a tinny in a tsunami. An earthquake 200 km south had just pushed the mountains over the roads around Kaikoura. I’d driven that same road less than 24 hours earlier to drop my wife, Kath, off at Christchurch Airport. Trump. Earthquakes. You can’t take anything for granted, can you? So, where to next for Marlborough Man, Nick Chester? A headline caught my attention as I started the search for inspiration for the ongoing adventures of Nick and Latifa: ‘Why Silicon Valley billionaires are prepping for the apocalypse in New Zealand: How an extreme libertarian tract predicting the collapse of liberal democracies – written by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s father – inspired the likes of Peter Thiel to buy up property across the Pacific’.
More headlines began to drift in or return to mind. Trump. Brexit. Oil. Water. Climate change. Where do you run to when the end of the world seems nigh? Well, the end of the world of course! When you discover that a Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump associate sets up an Armageddon bunker in NZ inspired by the father of arch-Brexiteer Rees-Mogg, you begin to get the idea you could be onto something. All these cashed-up crazies running scared from the very people and ideas they helped gain currency. And where do they want to run to? Godzone. The immigration website in NZ kept crashing after Trump and Brexit, everybody desperate to escape to the land of the long white cloud. Then something else happened, a little closer to home.
Another headline: ‘Canvastown residents don't want a bar of proposed gold mine’ was about the prospect of a mine operating six days a week just metres from neighbouring properties in Canvastown, rural Marlborough, which led to tensions in the valley between Blenheim and Nelson.
Yes. Very close to home. The US company’s interest in the Wakamarina River in turn spurred lots of smaller operators. Suddenly our precious valley was abuzz with enterprise, rumour and intrigue. Some days we found ourselves in the thick of it. Add in farmyard accidents and a real-life old gold rush murder mystery just up the road and Doom Creek, my sequel to Marlborough Man, was born. Nick and Latifa would ride again. Yep, I had a lot of stuff to get off my chest, and where better to do it than in that wispy, dangerous, glittering world of crime fiction? In a post-truth world, maybe fiction is where the truth can be found. As for pandemics and suchlike? Maybe next book, huh?
Alan Carter’s Doom Creek will be available in Australia in December 2020.