Working on Swarm last winter

On Friday, one of my colleagues at Georgian College asked me what was going on with my book. Since I started working there, after completing my MFA in Creative Writing, I’ve been talking about the progress: rewriting, getting an agent, more rewriting, interest!, rejection, more rewriting…. It’s been so long that the elusive Book I speak of has started to seem a bit like Snuffleupagus, that large furry beast who always leaves the room as soon as someone enters.

So it was a pleasure to receive an invitation from the lovely and talented Aga Maksimowska, author of Giant, to be part of The Next Big Thing, a blog tour where writers are talk about what we’re/they’re working on now.

So, here we go…

What is the working title of your book?


Where did the idea for the book come from?

During class in the first semester of my M.F.A., I had an image of a child’s footprints in the earth of a garden and a woman looking through a dirty window, wondering where the girl had gone. That brain picture somehow coalesced with my interest in peak oil and what it would (will?) be like to live under circumstances that are more like pioneer days than a system based on cheap energy and the thing was off…

What genre does your book fall under?

Firmly literary fiction, with dystopian leanings.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sandy, early 20s (in the city), uncertain and insecure: Julia Stiles
Marvin, self-centred, angry anarchist: Christian Bale or James Franco
Thomson, sickly Czech former revolutionary: Elias Koteas
Phoenix, Thomson’s Mexican step-daughter who runs the soup kitchen: Michelle Rodriguez

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Swarm is a novel about growing up in a future of shrinking options and coming to terms with the regrettable choices that make us who we are.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My agent is the incredible Samantha Haywood.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

There are two story-lines in Swarm. I started the city storyline under the wise mentor-ship of Susan Swan and that first draft took about six months. Then, the Island story came more quickly. So the first whole thing, with story-lines linked together, took perhaps nine months. But there have been additional drafts since then as well as adding scenes to flush out character and plot and details to fill in the setting… I am an extremely messy writer, going back and filling in and rewriting all the time, so defining timelines is pretty hard for me…

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is one, because, like mine, it’s a confessional novel, also set in a subtly dystopian future.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The images that I mentioned above struck the spark, but I think the telling of the story was also inspired by a desire to think about the mistakes we make when we’re young and how those mistakes and regrets remain with us. The future Sandy is stuck, both in her life circumstances and in her regret over the past. My thinking was/is that in these days of modern capitalist culture (well, I started the novel in the early days of 2009, so a lot’s changed since then…) we think we can have whatever we want, but what if we can’t? Sandy certainly can’t and yet she tries to with results that are both incredibly tragic and that propel her towards change.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I spent a lot of time thinking about the direction the world is headed, and those details are integral to setting and plot – a squat in a neighbourhood taken over by the city for a now-bankrupt solar farm, urban water-fountains shut down because too many people are bathing in them, cell towers dismantled in the minimally populated north (so the company can save money), a mention of the former E.U. (written long before those first cracks appeared), and a soup kitchen where the organizers breed and cook grasshoppers as a cheap source of protein.

To keep it going, click to discover what these terrific writers are working on:

Deepam Wadds

(More to come).