by Nicky Singer
Island is a story about a boy, a girl, an ice bear and keeping the arctic frozen. ‘Compelling, moving drama.’ The Independent.
About this project
Hello! Thank you so much for visiting my Kickstarter campaign to publish my new novel – Island
Island began life as a play. My first ever. A special commission for young people by London’s National Theatre, 2012.
This is what the Independent said about the play:
‘The National Theatre’s terrific new play for over-eights is set on what we call Herschel Island in Northern Canada (the Inuit have another, much older name for it). The one-hour play explores the impact of global warming – think Frozen Planet brought to life for children with characters the audience identify with and care about. Island explores the conflict between scientific and metaphysical truth, colonialism, the exploitation of other people’s environment, the role of religion and the power of storytelling. So it isn’t short of issues for children to think about afterwards, but at the same time it avoids any sense of worthiness and stands up well as a piece of compelling, moving drama.’
I totally loved making the play and working with the incredible creative team – director, actors, designers. But after the show in the Cottesloe Theatre and the 40 London schools tour, it was – all over! Chip-paper! I was amazed. My day job is as a novelist. I’m used to leaving a trace. Quite a fat 300 page trace. A real thing that still floats about when I’m not there. But Island was gone.
The play slipping away much as the island might do one day.
About a year passed. And then there was a sudden flurry of newspaper articles about the melting ice-caps. Five people rang me up in the same week.
What happened to Island? They asked.
Well, nothing. It’s gone. Slipped away.
Then write it as a novel, they said. Our young people need that story more than ever. Don’t you understand? They have to have the chance to engage with what’s going on in the arctic. Do it. Do it now!
So I have.
And I’ve loved Cameron and Inuluk and the Ice-bear all over again. I hope you might too.
You’ve written many novels and won awards for them – so why Kickstart this book? Why not conventionally publish?
Good question! Conventional publishing is in a pretty weird state at the moment. If you want to know exactly how weird, check out Ursula Le Guin’s address at the National Book Awards last year, where she talks about the difference between ‘the selling of a commodity and the practice of art’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Et9Nf-rsALk She says it all so much better than I could, but we’re both looking for the same thing: the freedom to continue publish the stories we believe to be important for our time. With your help, that can remain true.
As for Kickstarter – well, what a community! It’s awesome how people fund the passion and ideas of others across the planet. And it’s given me great pleasure to give my few pounds to projects over the years. But I’ll admit to being pretty scared to try it myself. I’m a writer not a producer. I’ve worried about not being able to hack the social media stuff, of admiring the ‘brave new world’ out there, but not being able to engage properly with it. On the other hand – Island is a story about interconnection. As Inuluk says: No one’s an island, Cameron. You, your parents, London, Qikiqtaruk, the whales, the guillemots, the living, the dead. We’re all connected. If one moves we all move. So, what if I could find Island’s community here? A community that cares both about the planet and about literature for young people? That seeks to empower young people to take part in the big discussions with big, powerful stories? A community that also understands the nature of story itself – who values its deep, different way of knowing.
Might one of those people be you? If so – hooray! And thank you. Thank you if you donate. Thank you if you just pass on the message, whether here or on twitter or – heaven forfend – face to face with a real person. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
What age range is the book aimed at?
I’m rather resistant to putting ages on books, because there’s maturity age and reading age and imaginative age. But, if you push me – young teens, good readers 9 and above and any adult who still lives with hope and imagination.
Can we have a sneak preview?
Yes. See below where I’ve loaded the chapter where Inuluk and her Grandmother take Cameron ‘travelling in dreams’ so he can experience first-hand what it’s like to be a creature not himself. In this case – a whale.
Might I have read a previous book of yours?
Possibly! If you have it will probably be Feather Boy which has been published all over the world and was made into a BBC film (starring Hugh Grant’s nephew Robert Sangster) which won a BAFTA for Best Children’s Film.
What’s the money actually for?
To produce the physical copies of the book. This includes copy-editing, proof-reading, cover design, ISBN numbers, printing and delivery.
Do you have any stretch goals?
– Yes. I’d love to have that little bit of extra money (about £500) to be able to do things like ‘spot varnish’ the cover. This improves the quality and ‘pick-upability’ of the book for a generation used to quick moving and flashy screen images.
– Yes. I’d love the extra (anything over £1500 extra) which would allow me a bigger print run so that I have copies to take into schools. I do quite a lot of school events and it would be great to have Island to share.
-Yes. I’d like (anything over £2,500 extra) to be able to pay someone smarter than me to get the book into the right people’s hands.
– Yes. I’d adore to think (anything over £3,500 extra) people understood what it is to get up in the morning as a writer. Yes, how lucky we are to be writers. Yes, how lucky we are to be able to use our creativity. Lots of creative people stall because they actually have to earn a living. I have to earn a living too. And none of the Kickstarter money pre this level will gift me a penny for the 18 months I spent writing the actual book. So yes, anything over this and I will rush out and buy myself a cup of coffee. And – seriously – find it easier to get up and go on. Appreciation is a powerful thing. Trust is a powerful thing. Thank you for ever.
Some more thanks
Due to my total ineptitude on the media side, I asked a students from BHASVIC, a local sixth form college, if there was anyone willing to help me with a video. Kaylene Wale and Sabrina Asfour took up the challenge. Aren’t young people amazing?! They put in hours of work and made a fantastic vid – I thank them hugely. It’s another reason why I believe the arctic needs young people.
Extract from Island
(The story so far: grumpy city teenager Cameron has travelled to the arctic island of Herschel with his research scientist mother. He meets a local girl Inuluk. Unbeknownst to him she (and her grandmother, Atka) are ‘guardians’ of the island which his ‘Western’ way of life is destroying. To prevent the slow death of their homeland they must make him understand that he is not the only creature on the planet that matters… In this extract Inuluk takes Cameron ‘travelling in dreams’ (as the Inuit have for 1000s of years) to learn what it’s like to experience the world through someone else’s eyes. In this case – a whale…)
As she said this Inuluk reached out and touched Cameron on the top of the head.
He jolted up, jumped up, stood swaying on the bed. ‘What?’ he shouted. But his eyes were glazed. He was still asleep.
‘Good,’ said Atka, ‘good.’ She waited for the boy to gain his balance, watched the way his body moved in the air. When she was sure he was composed she said: ‘You’re going to dive now. Take the breath. Take it now!’
Cameron opened his mouth, he sucked in a huge lungful of air.
‘Go with him, Inuluk,’ said Atka urgently.
Inuluk also took a large lungful of air, felt how it flowed into her blood, how it pumped her heart deeper and faster than usual.
‘Now take his hands,’ instructed her grandmother.
Inuluk stepped quickly up onto the bed, her weight shifting Cameron’s balance.
‘Careful!’ cried Atka.
Inuluk reorganised her feet, reached for Cameron’s hands, touched just the tips of his fingers.
‘His whole hand,’ said Atka. ‘It’s his first time. Do not let him go, Inuluk.’
The in-breath was in Inuluk’s muscles now. She grabbed for Cameron’s hands, held them tight.
‘Now dive,’ said Atka. ‘And remember, his breath will last no longer than arviq’s.’
Fifteen minutes, thought Inuluk.
‘Now dive. Dive!’
The water came then, not the wetness of it but the pressure. It bore them both down, down. The pressure of a mountain, of ten mountains, pushing them down into the dark. Eyes useless, blinded. Nothing to see but the dark. But as their eyes dimmed their bones hollowed. They became air cavities, the spaces in their skulls, their teeth, their breathing passages all became ears, as though their travelling bodies were acoustic instruments, perfectly tuned to hear the music of the deep. Just like the bodies of whales.
Cameron was floating, flowing, flying. Dreaming. It was one of those dreams when you’re not quite sure whether you’re actually awake and dreaming of being asleep, or asleep and dreaming of being awake.
He did know he was in the dark, but he was not afraid. In fact he had never before felt so comfortable in his surroundings, so sensitive and so alert to everything around him. If anyone, anywhere in the world, were to tip just one extra tea-spoon of water into the ocean, he thought, I would know it, feel it.
Just as he knew (how could he know?) that the bubbles that were bursting against his skin were caused by a shoal of cod cruising unseen a hundred yards ahead of him. The bubbles flurried, a thousand small kisses against his flank. He experienced each one individually – their tiny pops and explosions. Heard them, not with his ears but with his whole body as if he was a drum and the bubbles miniscule drum-sticks.
It took him another moment to realise that he wasn’t just vibrating with the movement of the cod. He was fluttering – quivering – with a thousand different ocean sounds. The reverberations (which seemed to be trembling his heart as well as his body) could have been overwhelming, but Cameron found he could listen separately, let single sounds wash around and through him, as though the score of this watery symphony was somehow familiar to him. He could distinguish the high tunes and the low: the dark, grumbling turbulence of sediment shifting on the ocean floor, the plaintive whine of fracturing sea-ice. And, closer by, the call of individual sea-creatures. The long, wild tremolo moan of…
‘Urgruk.’ The voice was Inuluk’s. Inuluk was here with him!
‘We call him urgruk, ‘ she repeated, ‘the bearded seal.’
And some part of Cameron wanted to reply, ‘I know. Of course! Urgruk!’ For he had that strange sensation you have when you return from abroad and the incomprehensible babble of foreigners suddenly becomes the perfectly understandable language of your own people. But how could he recognise the language of the bearded seal?
‘And that booming,’ said Inuluk, ‘it’s aiviq.’
Cameron felt the baritone noise echoing in the hollow of his ribs. ‘Walrus,’ he cried. ‘It’s a walrus, isn’t it? And that…’ he paused to concentrate on the dog-like yelps and barks.
‘Natchiq,’ said Inuluk.
‘Ringed seals!’ said Cameron. He wasn’t even sure he could picture a ringed seal, though his mother must have shown him photographs. But it wasn’t that sort of knowing. It was a knowing like a muscle knows – deep, instinctual.
‘And that..’ said Cameron, ‘that electric crackling, snapping. It’s shrimp, isn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ said Inuluk. ‘Arctic shrimp, krill, sea-butterflies. A swarm of them, a million strong. Which is lucky because you eat them.’
‘I do?’ said Cameron.
And there in the water was Inuluk’s laugh again. Bubbling, joyous.
Cameron caught himself thinking: ‘I want this to last forever.’
And that was before the singing started. Every bone and membrane and tooth and hollow of Cameron heard the song. It came from far away, perhaps from half-way around the planet, or perhaps from a tucked-away place deep inside him, a place deeper than memory.
Harmonics, birdlike trills and clicks. ‘Narwhal,’ said Inuluk, ‘with a horn like the unicorn. Mythic creature speaking to its own. ’
‘Belukas,’ said Cameron as he recognised a different, pure calling tone. ‘Beluka whales.’ He didn’t even know he knew the word beluka.
Then a sudden trumpeting.
‘Bowheads!’ they cried together.
‘A tribe,’ said Inuluk. ‘A nation. Our nation. Whales who have circled the planet for forty-five million years. All the stories of forty-five million years!’
Reveries of loss and love and wonder. The thrashing of flukes on the surface of the ocean and the secrets of the dives below. Secrets shared across the Atlantic, the Pacific. The submarine song of a new-born calf, the solo-concert of a male in love, the joyous chorus of a whole pod arriving home to their breeding ground.
Cameron opened his mouth, (and his mouth seemed huge) and emitted a sound that he had never heard before, never known, never imagined that he could contain. It wasn’t a particularly impressive sound. It was more of a pulse, a push, a stutter, a squeak. But it was truthful. It was an attempt to speak.
And from somewhere around the planet, a reply came. He thought it was just an echo but then he realised that the pulse of his own song (for, despite everything, that’s what it was, his stutter, the first few notes of a song) was not just being repeated, it was being re-invented. Half-way round the globe, a whale was improvising, responding, singing back.
Greetings, sang the whale. Welcome.
Risks and challenges
The editing, proof-reading and physical production of the book will be overseen by Charles Boyle who has over thirty-five years’ experience both in mainstream and small-press publishing. I have worked with him before (he runs the award-winning tiny UK independent Cbeditions) and I have every confidence that he will produce a high-quality, well-crafted book. Of course, things can always go wrong in the printing process. I don’t foresee that but, if there were to be any delay or difficulty, I would keep all donors apprised of the situation. There’s the risk of me not meeting the target of £5500 to make the book viable. I will work hard to try and get the message out so that doesn’t happen. However, if I don’t meet the target, there is no risk to backers because the way Kickstarter works is that no money is paid out unless the whole amount is raised. There is also the opposite risk (albeit minute) of so many people wanting copies of the book that I so exceed the target I have to spend all of August wrapping and posting books. You know what? It would be a privilege.