Journey to a Book (Part I): The Ark


I began writing my third novel, The Ark, almost four years ago, in September 2009. I couldn’t stop thinking about Adrian Atkinson’s foreboding essay Cities After Oil, about the likely collapse of society as we know it, in a period of chaos following post-peak oil. Then, in the ‘environmental lifestyle’ magazine G, I saw a snippet about the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, also known as the Doomsday vault. These two ideas came together in my mind and The Ark was born.


The Svalbard Global Seed Vault


While other seedbanks lose samples due to equipment failure, natural disaster, war and civil strife, the Svalbard seed vault, tunnelled into a mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, can protect its seeds from nuclear war, asteroid strikes, and climate change. Even if the power fails, the seeds will be preserved at or below zero by the mountain’s permafrost, and most seeds can survive at this temperature for two or more years. However, I didn’t want to set my novel at Svalbard, for two reasons. Firstly, first-hand experience of the facility seemed essential for verisimilitude, but my son was only two years old; it wasn’t practical for me to travel to the Arctic Circle. More importantly, I didn’t want my story to be constrained by reality.

I decided to create my own seed bank. Research revealed that in the last ice age, there was a small glacier on Mount Kosciusko, and though it no longer has permafrost, if I wanted an Australian setting, this was as close as I was going to get. Here I ‘built’ the National Arboreal Protection Facility, aka ‘the ark’.

my early research on Svalbard

Considering the scenarios depicted in ‘Cities After Oil’, I set The Ark in the year 2041 – close close enough to be familiar and relatable in many ways, but not so close that the chaos would seem unlikely, (especially given that as a society we are still mostly in denial about post-peak oil and the problems it raises!).


In my original conception of The Ark, documents such as emails, text messages and memos would be woven through the narrative, telling another version of the story. I had so much fun writing the documents that within a year I had ditched the descriptive prose altogether and decided to tell the whole story via the documents.


BLiPP (similar to a text message) – designed by Jacky Chum

Born Digital

On reading a draft of some early chapters, my writing colleague and friend Robyn Mundy pointed out that the structure would lend itself to an interactive digital format, and I kept that in mind as I wrote, always envisaging the broader possibilities of the text.

Support from the Australia Council

In early 2012, a new opportunity materialized via the Australia Council, in the form of a two year Creative Australia Fellowship for emerging artists working on interdisciplinary projects. Though I had previously been successful in securing a grant from WA’s Department of Culture and the Arts, I had never applied for an Australia Council grant before. As I would be competing at a national level with artists from all disciplines, I believed I had no chance whatsoever at getting the grant, but I applied anyway because I needed practise at grant applications. When I received a call from the Australia Council to say that I had been awarded the grant, I almost fainted in shock.


Me receiving my award from the Hon Simon Crean in Sydney, May 2012

The Ark is scheduled for release in September 2014 and I will continue to blog about my journey to a book, as it unfolds. Please let me know if you have any questions about my journey.

Want more? Journey to a Book: Whisky Charlie Foxtrot

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Journey to a Book  Part I   The Ark   ANNABEL SMITH

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