Q: What was your favorite and/or funny thing about writing this novel and why?
A: I get really into my research when I’m working on a novel, and this one was no exception. Reign & Revolution
has plenty of favorite learning moments to choose from. I adored describing my Chinese space station as well as adding verisimilitude to my gender-changing robot. I mashed up linguistics with sci-fi in-jokes to name the Goddess of Robots (“Saberhawen”). But my absolute favorite thing about writing this novel was the poetry contest that saves the world
Side note: My copy editor says her favorite thing was taking out all the hyphens.
You need to know two things before we discuss the poetry contest.
- I am not a poet. Sure, I can write intentionally bad poetry, no problem. I did some for comic effect in a videogame I worked on once. But good poetry?
- The Hive Queen Saga is based in a Welsh-colonized future, so the characters appreciate good poetry more than the average reader. (There’s a lot that goes into Welsh-centric worldbuilding, about what’s realistic and what isn’t, but this segment is about poetry, okay. Poetry.)
Based on item two above, it made sense to have a very important poetry contest. Based on item one above, it did not make sense that I should actually write any poetry. Ack!
What’s more, what kind of poetry was I going to write? This is a more complex question than you might think. There’s a long history of Welsh poetry, and it’s very politicized. A quickie chronology of the politics goes something like this:
- Welsh people write poems about Wales and their history and their countryside. It tends to tell a story. It’s written in Welsh.
- England conquers Wales. (approx. 1300) If you want to be a powerful person, you have to go to English schools. If you want a good education, you go to English schools. You learn to write and appreciate English poetry, which is about feelings and Englishness. It is written in English.
- In the 1970s, radical poets write in Welsh about English oppression and other problems facing their nation. They’re jailed. (For writing in Welsh? Probably not, but it’s a part of what makes them so radical. Famous poets are tied to a civil-protest group that fights for Welsh-language on public signs and spaces.)
- “Anglo-Welsh” poetry becomes a thing, but no one is quite sure how to define it. It usually means writing in English, but with Welsh imagery and sensibility. Some poets try to stay away from inflammatory topics. Hardcore Welsh poets say these works aren’t Welsh enough; and the English think they’re too pastoral. Anglo-Welsh poetry apologizes for itself at every turn, yet it’s still a powerful poetic form.
There’s more to it than that, but these are the four basic steps. What your poem is about, how you structure it, and what language it’s in – all of these are heavily politicized.
So, about that poetry contest that saves the world.
I did a lot of research. I read a slew of poetry (radical and otherwise). I discovered my new favorite poet. (The national poet of Wales! Gillian Clarke. She is phenomenal
With relief, I realized that my colony planet had already solved the language issue for me: the characters speak English most of the time, so a widely accessible poem would have to be in that language. Even better, I contrived to have the necessary poem written by a character who could be competent, but not great
, which took off a lot of pressure.
Finally, I made all the uber-Welsh choices in that list above. The poem that saves the world is about history and society (not feelings), and it is very politically radical in its context. It does everything a Welsh poem should do.
...it’s still never going to win a poetry award, but that wasn’t the point.