Competition published on March 9, 2016.
Welcome to London, but not as you know it. Oxford Street burned for three weeks; Regent’s Park has been bombed; the British Museum is occupied by those with nowhere else to go.
Set in a London of the future; civilisation is in meltdown, martial law is in place, nothing grows from the over-farmed and poisoned earth and only the very desperate or very clever have a chance of survival. The British Museum and Regent’s Park shelter the destitute, and people kill one another for the precious identity card that is the only access to provisions in a world governed by a digital portal called ‘The Dove’.
Sixteen-year-old Lalla is shielded by her parents from the worst horrors of her environment and only knows the confines of her family’s flat, though she glimpses her surroundings on occasional visits to see the diminishing contents of the British Museum with her mother. Lalla longs for the green apples of story books and a different life. Her father, the charismatic yet zealous Michael Paul, has planned a way for his family to escape London: he will captain a ship big enough to save five hundred worthy people.
Once on board, as day follows identical day, Lalla’s unease grows. Where will the ship take them? What does her father really want? Lalla must use all her initiative to find out and to decide for herself whether life on the ship is better than the horror they escaped from.
*We have 3 copies of The Ship by Antonia Honeywell to give away – scroll down for your chance to win!*
nb and nudge contributor Jade Craddock had some questions for the author of The Ship, Antonia Honeywell:
How did you come up with the idea of setting the novel on a ship and the ship itself as the setting for a new civilisation?
I needed to think of an environment in which one man, with virtually unlimited resources, could set up a society free of the jurisdiction of governments and laws. The sea acts as a natural barrier, and the fact that a ship can move around means that the people who live in it can form their own society, their own rules. They’re not dependent on geography or climate, or military protection.
What would you personally like most and least about being on the ship?
I’d love the time and the opportunity to read, have long conversations, finish a cup of tea while it’s still hot. I’d love to have the weight of responsibility lifted from my shoulders for a time. I find all the opportunities that Michael gives the people of the ship very attractive – I’d like to learn to crochet, and learn Latin. The fourth deck, with all the stores that have barely been touched as the novel closes, feels like a wonderful chance to try things out and to learn. And, of course, I wouldn’t object to having three meals a day provided without having to lift a finger!
Lalla is troubled by the realisation that the book Ballet Shoes is missing, what books would you most want to have access to on the ship and would miss the most if they weren’t available?
I can’t imagine a life without the novels of Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot. I love Thomas Hardy too, and Doris Lessing. I think it’s brilliant that the recent television adaptation has catapulted Tolstoy into the bestseller lists. There are other books I go back to time and time again – the detective stories of Dorothy L. Sayers, for example, and novels by Rose Tremain and Maggie Gee, Jane Smiley… I could go on. But I think what I’d miss most are new books. Not just newly published ones, but ones that you didn’t know about until someone else recommended them. The library on the ship may be vast – if Lalla read every day for the rest of her life, she wouldn’t be able to read it all. But it’s static. There’s no new material refreshing it, no new ideas, no original interpretations of the world around her. I’d find that very hard to live with.
Michael says that the ship is all for Lalla, but there’s a sense in which he’s also playing God, how did you understand him as a character?
Michael Paul is a man who thinks that he can create happiness for everyone. He has made a huge amount of money, and he’s prepared to invest that in his daughter’s future – and because he’s no fool, he knows that this means investing in the lives of the people around her. For the people of the ship, anything Michael offers is better than what they’ve had before. But Lalla has always been loved and protected. She’s always had enough to eat. This makes her spoilt and selfish, but it also gives her a unique perspective on her father and what he’s doing. I think every human being has a bit of Michael in them. Who doesn’t want the best for their own children? But in the end, good parenting is about equipping your children to live their own lives, not forcing them to live your idea of life.
The economic, environmental and political dystopia you depict in London, and the rest of the world, is obviously fictionalised but worryingly not too far-fetched, what do you think is the single biggest problem that needs to be addressed in the world today in order to safeguard it for future generations?
I think we need to start by factoring in the human cost of our economic activity. Most of us don’t think about where the things we buy come from, or where they go when we’ve finished with them. There are islands in the Pacific ocean made entirely of non-biodegradable plastic rubbish, so vast that no country can afford to take responsibility for cleaning them up. Industrial farming destroys the natural nutrients in the soil. Our financial systems have proved unstable. Michael wants to keep his own daughter safe, but he can only do this by taking her completely out of the world she’s grown up in, a bit like a gated community. I think we need to engage with each other, talk, communicate, understand and respect the variety of human experience. The planet’s not very big and we are all in it together, however hard people try and pretend otherwise.
One of the mottos of the ship is “don’t look back” referring to the idea of not getting bogged down by memories of the past, how important do you think it is to remember the past in order to prevent problems in the future?
I think it works both ways. We have to look back in order to move forwards. But we can’t move forwards if we cling to the past. If Michael allowed his people to talk about the past, they’d soon realise how unsustainable the life they are living is. They’d realise what they’ve lost, and that might come to outweigh what they’ve gained.
Why do you think people on the ship adapt so well? Would it have been a different story do you think had the mast filtering news from the land remained?
I think they adapt so well because they’ve suffered so much. If you’ve ever suffered acute pain for any reason, you’ll understand the sheer joy that comes when the pain goes away. And the people Michael chooses have all had a terrible, terrible time. Suddenly they can talk, and laugh, and share meals. They aren’t hungry any more. They’re not living in constant fear. I think it’s a little like the high you get at the very beginning of a new relationship. Everything is wonderful and you walk around on rainbows. Lalla’s like the friend watching from the edge, who just can’t see what the new couple sees in each other. If the mast had remained, I think the honeymoon might have ended quite quickly.
Aside from Lalla’s rebellion, the ship is a place of peace and contentment within the novel and Michael goes to great trouble to select the right people for the ship, but do you think it is possible for this utopian ideal to last?
No. I don’t. Nothing can last unless it contains the potential for growth. Michael’s created the illusion of potential for growth, with his enormous storerooms and all the resources of the fourth deck. But there’s no opportunity for anything new. When one of the characters thinks about writing, for example, Michael puts him off. No one’s creating anything. That’s existence, but it’s not life. There’s nowhere to plant a seed.
If you were on the ship, which five famous people would you like to be on board with?
Well, someone’s got to have a good long talk with David Cameron about the experiences of ordinary people under austerity and the importance of universal free education and healthcare. It would be a good chance to make him listen, but I’m not sure it would make for a very entertaining voyage. So (presuming I’m not allowed to choose anyone dead, which could get complicated) I think I’ll go for Patrick Ness, Julianne Moore, Tim Peake, Jack Monroe and Aretha Franklin. Cool stuff to read, brilliant acting to watch, literal out-of-this-world experiences to discuss, great food to eat and incredible singing. And I think the conversation would be brilliant too – all such clever and perceptive people, with such a variety of life experience.
And finally if you were on the ship and could only have one of each of the following what would you choose: Food, Personal item, Film, Luxury item.
Fresh figs. My piano. Casablanca. And pair of cashmere pyjamas – I’d love to find out whether they’re as comfortable as they sound.
Thanks to Jade and of course Antonia for an insightful interview, which is part of the blog tour for the paperback release of The Ship – do check out the other stops to find out more.
We have 3 copies of the The Ship to give away! Simply fill in the form below for your chance to win:
The Competition is closed.
About the author
Antonia Honeywell studied English at Manchester University and worked at the Natural History Museum and the V&A Museum running creative writing workshops and education programmes for children, before training as a teacher. During her ten years teaching English, Drama and Film Studies, she wrote a musical and a play which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival. Antonia is one of the stars of Curtis Brown’s inaugural creative writing course. She has four children and lives in Buckinghamshire. The Ship is her first novel.
The Ship, published by W&N on 10 March, 2016 in paperback at £8.99 and eBook at £4.99
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