Today on the blog, Rebecca L. Fearnley, author of The Last Beekeeper, explains why she writes hopeful stories. I find her concept fascinating and frightening. A world without bees adorning my lavender in a pollinated stupor? I hope not, but there's no denying insects are quickly disappearing.
I absolutely adore bees and have had a soft spot for pollinators of every kind since reading Super Fly. It's another book well worth reading and might make you open your heart to insects.
After Rebecca's article, you'll find the blurb for The Last Beekeeper.
Why I Want to Write Hopeful Stories
The news was on and I couldn’t look away. I must’ve been about sixteen and experiencing that typical, appalling sense of horror. We’ve all been there haven’t we? Here’s one awful news story somewhere in a developing country, here’s another one somewhere in Europe, here’s a terrible tragedy in America. Prices are rising. The world is on fire. I had the remote in my hand. I wanted to change the channel, but I couldn’t. All this tragedy had frozen me. I couldn’t make myself press the buttons, even though my brain was screaming at me that I couldn’t cope with all this awfulness. I needed to switch off the TV anyway. I had homework to do.
And then the final news story came on, and it’s the one I remember most vividly. Somewhere—I forget where, but the place doesn’t really matter all that much—a young wright whale had become lost and swam up onto a local beach. Stranded and unable to get herself back out to sea, she was slowly suffocating.
It was a sunny day, midsummer, and further along, the beach was full of people. Holiday makers from all over the place. Families, Couples. Just out for a day at the beach, in bikinis and swimsuits and beach covers. Playing on rubber dinghies and throwing beach balls.
But several hundred of them stopped their play when they saw the distressed whale, abandoned their holidays, and rushed over to help this animal. Most of them had never met each other before and would likely never see each other again. They had no emotional link to this animal, save that it was a fellow inhabitant of planet Earth is distress, and they wanted to help. If the whale made it back into the sea, they would likely never see her again either, and she had no real means to communicate any gratitude she might be capable of. She would likely just swim away.
Nevertheless, these people—holiday makers, parents, children, couples—began to form an industrious group. Some soaked clothes in the sea to lay over the whale’s body to stop her from getting sunburnt. Others splashed her with seawater to keep her cool. Most co-ordinated themselves around the side of the whale and started to push her towards the incoming tide. They coaxed her, cajoled her, spoke to her. At moments when it looked like they might fail, they cried. And then they rallied, trying one last time. Refusing to give up.
By some miracle, the whale did eventually make it back out into the ocean. She flicked her huge tail once, shot a plume of water into the sky and disappeared, to the uproarious cheers of those strangers who had come together to help her. They watched the horizon for a long time, shielding their eyes against the sun. But the whale was long gone. Still, they were smiling. Laughing with each other. And then, slowly, they dispersed. Heading back to their individual families. Their dinghies. Their holidays. Perhaps some of them kept in touch. I’m betting that most didn’t. But it didn’t matter. Because they’d always be united by that one act of co-operative altruism.
Do you remember that time we saved the whale?
Whenever the world seems a bleak place, I think of that story. How strangers came together to save a creature who wasn’t even a member of their own species, who they’d never seem before and would never see again. There is so much fear in the world right now that stories of hope are hard to come by. But they’re also the galvanising force behind change.
When I started writing The Last Beekeeper, I learned a lot about the plight of our precious pollinators. While whales and polar bears are charismatic creatures that easily inspire empathy, we often forget the smaller life. The miniature engines of the natural world. And it would have been so easy, reading some of the statistics and research, to fall into despair.
But I remembered that whale, and the people who saved her, and was determined to write something hopeful.
There are absolutely ways we can fix the problems we see developing in the world. Plant pesticide-free flowers for our insect friends. Recycle as much as possible, and buy recycled goods rather than new ones. Join local wildlife protection schemes, like counting butterflies, or clearing up beaches. Donating, if we can, to worthy causes. We can educate our children, teach them to be kind not only to members of their own species, but to every living thing they come across. Empathy, in particular, is the thing that’s going to help us build a better world. Empathy for each other, for other species of animal, plant and fungus. Understanding how the world is an interconnected place and, like it or not, we are a part of the natural order of things, not a separate entity from it.
With The Last Beekeeper, some of the sections are told from the point of view of a queen bumblebee called Blume. I think we rarely view insects as creatures worthy of empathy, but I want to play a part in changing that. Let’s show love and understanding even to those creatures that scare us. Bats, spiders, wasps. To those creatures that disgust us. Slugs, worms, beetles. I want to tell stories that encourage love, compassion, empathy.
I want the people who read my books to open their eyes to a new world of possibilities, to see that all is not lost. That there is still much we can do to fix the problems in the world, even though they seem insurmountable. So, I’ll keep writing stories about fearless young women who fight the status quo, who rescue the creatures around them, who battle for freedom and fairness. I want to empower my readers to feel that they, too, can be warriors for a better future.
I believe I can.
I hope I can.
When one tiny creature holds the fate of humanity, how do you stop it falling into the wrong hands?
Solma is a fighter. Trained by her Steward to guard their village from the predators of their harsh world, she is dedicated, fierce and loyal. But how can she protect her friends and family from crop failure and starvation? With flying insects extinct for over a century, nowhere on the forsaken continent of Alphor is safe and Solma is terrified her little brother, Warren, will be one of the next to die. The villagers cling to life, waiting for the Earth Whisperers—mysterious nomads with a strange magic that helps plants grow—to arrive.
But then Warren finds something. Something impossible.
When the first bee in a hundred years crawls out of the earth, Warren forms a strange bond with the creature and Solma fears this unique power will make him a target. One that leaders of Alphor would kill for. As she and Warren fight to keep the bee secret and safe, word of this miracle sweeps the continent. Allies and enemies alike descend on the village. Some demand the bees for themselves, others want to destroy thecolony to level the odds. When words become threats and then violence, Solma and Warren are caught in the conflict, and now it isn’t just the bees in danger.
When whoever controls the bees controls the world, how will Solma and Warren know who to trust?
About the Author
Rebecca has been obsessed with two things since she learned to walk and talk: stories and animals. Luckily, the two seem to be very compatible. Rebecca writes stories set in strange worlds filled with bizarre creatures, strong female characters and magical powers. She started her writing career as a poet, performing all over the country and publishing her first collection, Octopus Medicine, with Two Rivers Press in 2017.
In addition to writing, Rebecca is also a teacher and, in 2018, decided that she wanted to write quality books for the young people she works with. Her books tend towards themes of respect for the environment, protecting the planet and the new generations challenging the old to face up to their mistakes.
She lives in Reading, UK, with her unusual family, which includes herself and her partner, a friendly little mini-lop rabbit (called Cleo) and a gregarious and feisty quaker parrot (called Maya).