I have written all my life, an impulse connected obscurely with my Hungarian playwright great-uncle and connected surprisingly with my English sculptor father.
It is not in the first instance an aesthetic practice but one driven by a need to understand the deep structure of human experience. How, for example am I to understand that a mountain in Austria has ‘spoken’ to me? Not in the first instance through words but through its presence looming over me in the valley below it, limbs still singing with the effort of walking through blizzards on its plateau. It asked me to do something, to look more deeply into what us humans are doing to the world, to assuage its fears.
This charge lay dormant in me for four years until I returned to the mountain with the idea of a novel. I assiduously read the ‘New’ nature writers as John-the-Baptist’d by Robert McFarlane in his seminal Guardian essay, and also prepared my wife for the idea that I would write up the trip as a travel-romance, meeting a fictional woman on the flight with a common interest in reincarnation.
My wife, understandably, is still not comfortable with the supposedly fictional Roberta; neither does my philosophical bent always amuse her. Hence her suggestion that the semi-autobiographical novel – already a philosophical eco travel romance – be turned into a philosophical eco travel romance murder mystery. I could see the value in this: a protagonist so messianically certain, firstly, that a mountain could speak to him, and secondly that our collective industrial madness must be reversed, is bound to make enemies.
The mountain is the real protagonist of the novel however, even through lengthy Viennese coffee-house debates on Nature, ecology and spirituality. The varied disputants assembled by the determined protagonist become murder suspects, each reacting to him and Nature in different and often hostile ways. Sympathetic to him to some degree is an Austrian Theosophist and a Japanese Shintoist – these two traditions usefully introducing radically different perspectives on Nature compared to the insistent secularism of the New nature writers. Here lies the real drama of the novel, between the secular characters for whom Nature is utilitarian but indifferent or dangerous biomass and those inclined to more spiritual worldviews where Nature is sacred and our place in it threatened most by denying this holism of self and Gaia.
To feel first-hand the wildness of blizzard and snow-storm – significant because of how they erase human traces – and to feel deeply at home in them, this is what makes me write in defence of our home, our planet.