Novel

Ended August 2019

1st prize The Woman who Planted Coral by Sophia Jones & Gideon Simeloff

This story is about a woman who changes the direction of her life to become an environmental activist and a restorer of the distressed natural world.  This change is inspired by her meetings over several decades with a hermetic woman who has dedicated her life to the remarkable scientific art of coral restoration.

The hermetic woman echoes Elzeard Bouffier in The Man Who Planted Trees  (Jean  Giono,  1953) and throughout she is elusive and private, until at the end the story twists and reveals her haunting and poetic secret.  This secret is the final motivation for our hero’s change.  Our story glories in the natural world, accounts for its deprivation by war and profit and shows a path forward if we can change how we think,  feel and behave.

2nd prize What on Earth by Susan Cope

In the not-far future, in a small neighborhood of clapboard beach houses, climate change is increasingly felt, though there may still be time.  Merry (13), is obsessed but paralyzed by two things: global ecological danger and her crush on a new classmate, an immigrant from Somalia.  Her brother Max (10), oblivious to both world threat and his sister, is engrossed in computer games and techno-toys.  A sibling squabble gets them shut out of the house for an hour, apathetic and exiled.

Banished from the beach by a sewage spill, Merry and Max head for their Secret Place, a shack high in a massive tree in the last vacant lot in the neighborhood.  There they encounter a developer about to chop down the tree and displace Owliver, a crusty owl they’ve befriended.  Max, outraged, taunts the developer.  As he and Merry run from the developer’s henchman, they find themselves in the realm of the mysterious woman who lives next to the lot. She may be an artist, witch, or both.  Her art involves glass globes, each containing a vision of the past, present, or future.

Max and Merry are first transported to a future imagined by Max: a life-sized version of the digital wonderland he already inhabits. Max is in his element and thinks he’s in control until he and Merry encounter the desolation of this place. They are taken in by a rich couple (the husband a doppelganger for the developer) who live in a tower encased by a dome. Their old neighborhood, outside the dome settlement, is barren, uninhabitable. No owl could survive. The beach has been replaced by bulwarks and hydraulics.

Lured to an amusement park named “Wilderness World” Max and Merry find themselves trapped and terrified. They are helped by school kids on a field trip (one, a double for Merry’s crush). Their unlikely savior is an outlaw, an eco-warrior who is unkempt, but otherwise resembles Merry’s science teacher.

In company with their new friend’s small band of eco-revolutionaries, Max and Merry break into a barbed-wire compound where those too old or infirm to be productive are warehoused.  They bring food and comfort, until they are surrounded by police.  Cornered, Merry and Max seize their only hope–another vision, this one inside the globe grasped by Merry.

In Merry’s future, the world has recovered much of its wonder after surviving near annihilation. Their guide is a local boy, another iteration of Merry’s crush. He leads them through a forest, along the seashore, and finally to a village in which a very few remaining humans live simply but well. Owliver, still sleepy, survives in his tree.  But people are people.  Greed and ambition, as well as violence, have survived in this world too.  Merry and Max blow the whistle on the villains, but in peril for their lives, must flee, this time for home.

Infused with passion from their adventures, Merry and Max incite their schoolmates, kids from kindergarten through middle school.  Together, they halt the bulldozer and save the tree.  Kids with a cause? The media have a feeding frenzy, the developer is thwarted, the teachers are proud, the kids are triumphant, and Owliver…blinks his bleary eyes.

3rd prize Hope and the Magic Martian a children’s novel by Helen Moore

This modern fable about climate change for children aged 7-10 (in just under 20,000 words) centres on a young girl called Hope MacGregor and her inspirational friendship with Martin Love, a Martian boy.  Despite Hope’s fears that she’s too small to make a difference, the pair finds the courage to help the Arctic animals and people, who are being affected by the melting polar ice.

At a time when many children are feeling disturbed about the future, this story offers a loving vision of a way forward.  Having just received a telescope for her 10th birthday, Hope is in the garden with her father, looking at Mars for the first time.  In her excitement, she makes a strong wish to meet a Martian.  The scene then shifts to the Red Planet where Martin Love and his father hear someone calling and come up to the top of their ice tower.  Risking the poor air quality outside their home, these rare Martians look through their telescope towards the Blue Planet.  Seeing the melting polar caps, Martin Love decides to help.  Travelling through Space on his magic snowball, Martin Love lands at Hope’s school.  Hope is delighted to meet a Martian, but when the school bully-boys approach, Hope is forced to hide the small Martian boy in her pocket.

Seeing the boys smile at her, Hope wonders if her new Martian friend is magic.  Eager to escape the school day, Hope wishes they could go somewhere else.  She touches the magic snowball and shrinks in size, imagining they’re about to travel to Mars. In fact they land up in the Arctic.  There they meet a Polar Bear cub, hungrily waiting for his mother.  The cub is surprised to discover that the Martian boy knows next to nothing about life on Earth and brings them both to a meeting of all the Arctic animals.  They hear the animals’ stories – from Seals and Collared Lemmings to a Snowy Owl, a grumpy Walrus and the amazing Arctic Tern – each species mysteriously affected by the changes that are occurring in the Arctic.

At a loss as to why this warming is taking place, the animals call the Arctic people. Busy herding their Reindeer, they respond and join the meeting.  To Hope’s surprise, the Arctic people report that the warming is being caused by human activity.  The animals are delighted – now they must tell all the other humans what’s happening. But the Arctic people point out that most people have forgotten how to listen to animals, and Hope realises she’s the only other human who’s heard them.  What can a little girl like Hope do?

Back at school, Hope is restored to her normal size.  Later she and Martin Love discuss the Arctic animals’ plight, and despite Hope’s protestation that she’s too insignificant to help, the Martian boy’s warm heart and seemingly magical abilities soon convince her to try.  Introducing him to her family causes a humorous situation, but before long family and friends support Hope’s new ecological sensitivity and this gives her the courage to start an Energy Action team, with inspiring results.