“I find it fascinating that the things we hope will endure – the cathedrals, monuments, art, literature and film – are those made of the most degradable material,”
says Dr Ben Smith, author and Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Plymouth.
“But plastics and the supposedly disposable things of the world are not. The rubbish we throw away will last far longer than we ever imagined.”
Themes of permanence and decay, of deep geological timeframes and our own human-centric sense of time have fascinated Ben for many years and they permeate his forthcoming debut novel Doggerland. So too do the author’s interests in predictive scientific research, in climate change, and the influence that environment and landscapes exert upon story-telling.
“My main interest has always been environmental literature,”
says Ben, who joined the University six years ago, at a time when he had just started to write the book.
“But I’m also inspired by landscape, and the South West is a great place for that. I lived on Dartmoor for a number of years, and now we’re on the coast of Cornwall. I’ve always been interested in the way that landscape influences story and what kinds of story come out of particular landscapes.”
The story that emerges from the harsh, salt-encrusted surroundings of Doggerlandis, above all, a “human one” according to Ben. It centres upon The Old Man and The Boy, who’ve been sent by ‘The Company’ to crew the titular off-shore windfarm in the middle of the North Sea.
In the face of intense isolation and loneliness, and the monotony of their routine, the pair choose very different methods of keeping the boredom at bay. The Old Man passes his time trawling the sea bed, fishing up relics from Doggerland, the ancient, near-mythical landmass that connected Britain to continental Europe in the Mesolithic era before it was subsumed by rising sea levels. The Boy, meanwhile, focuses upon getting on with his work, and endeavouring to keep the various systems functioning in the face of the unflinching, unrelenting elements.