The Rain Never Came addresses several significant issues of the twenty-first century. Climate change is high on the list, but this story also considers the strained interactions between communities and the law. Another focus is the difficulty of communicating emotions and thoughts, especially between men. Opinions proliferate. Considered responses are held close and not shared.
Does this sound like a world you know? You are right! It’s Australian dystopia with bite.
In a bone-dry Australia of the future, not everyone wants to scamper to the safety of the north where the climate is more habitable.
Small rural communities hold out in the parched outback that covers most of the country. They barely scrape a living.
The CRP (compulsory relocation police) try to round them up into camps to send them “up the line”. For their own good, of course.
Bill and his brother-in-law Tobe witness strange lights in the sky to the west, which they feel compelled to investigate. Is it thunder and lightning bringing longed-for rain? No? Maybe it’s a battle site between the CRP and another small town?
With Tobe’s two dogs struggling alongside, the pair discover devastation and a frightened, silent child who needs saving.
This is dystopia that kicks you in the head. The story strands us in the misery of the unknown, in the helplessness of a wrecked climate. Readers never learn what events led up to this point, or what happens elsewhere in the country (or the world). We’re not sure where the CRP send relocated people after the holding camps. We don’t know what political or official community infrastructure exists. We are deep in dystopia here. Just like Bill and Tobe, who are lost in the new world, navigating without guides apart from what their own judgement tells them.
Inevitably, secrets are revealed and relationships are fractured. Nothing can be taken for granted, nothing stays in its familiar place. This world doesn’t really allow for anything else.
Some of Bill’s inner commentary is poetic in its description of the country:
We slowed, stopped at the bridge, jumped out. Trees grew thickly around us, hugging both sides of the road. We must have been on an aquifer; they formed a solid wall, casting us in deep shadow. The pounding sun was far away, hidden by the canopy, robbed of its ferocity.
There was no birdsong. The world sighed as the wind blew.
By contrast, the spoken dialogue is sparse, colloquial and bloke-y. A minimalist vocabulary serves every situation and emotion. The contrast speaks effectively to the enormity of this post-climate-disaster world. The Australian vernacular is bleak.
Lachlan Walter, writer, science-fiction critic and nursery-hand (the garden kind, not the baby kind) is today’s guest on Last Word of the Week. Lachlan’s Australian post-apocalyptic novel is called The Rain Never Cameand his next book will be the Kaiju story-cycle We Call It Monster. Lachlan also writes science fiction criticism for Aurealismagazine and reviews for the independent ‘weird music’ website Cyclic Defrost. Lachlan’s short fiction can be found floating around online, and he has completed a PhD that explored the relationship between Australian post-apocalyptic fiction and Australian notions of national identity.
LWOTW: Welcome, Lachlan! Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.
Lachlan: To me, the distinction between wanting to be a writer and actually being a writer is psychological more than anything else. Being a writer means accepting the fact that you don’t have to write a blockbuster (and probably won’t) or churn out a book a year, but instead have to put in the work and make the sacrifices needed. Lots of people who want to be writers seem to see it as some kind of glamorous calling that doesn’t actually involve any real work, whereas the truth is that it’s often a slog involving persistence and tenacity, in which a thick skin is utterly invaluable. To touch on an old chestnut: writing is about perspiration, not inspiration.
In my case, I realised that I was actually a writer when found myself unable to step away from my work-in-progress of the time. I was putting in ten and twelve-hour days, turning a simple idea into a novel (and neglecting my oh-so-forgiving family and friends), and waking up each morning dead-keen to do it all over again. There were good days and bad days, but the important thing was that they were all writing days, and ever-so-slowly my first book was coming together. By the time I’d completed the first draft, this had become a routine – wake up, have breakfast, clean up, start writing – and was the equivalent of punching a clock or reporting for duty. And thus, I considered myself a writer.
Of course, it helps to have your work affirmed through publication, positive feedback, in-depth reviews and sales, but they aren’t strictly necessary. What matters is your work ethic, getting on with the job and creating a body of work that you can be proud of.
That’s an interesting analysis, thank you. For your writing, do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream that resulted in a good piece of writing, so let’s scratch that off the list, which leaves imagination and planning. Both are important, but planning is a skill that can be refined whereas imagination is intuitive, inspiring and seems to strike like the metaphorical lightning bolt. An example: I had the idea for my first book long before I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, which is more accurate though less poetic), but when I started writing it – and consequently started planning it – I really had no idea what I was doing. It wasn’t until a fellow writer gently pointed out that my plan was a bit long – three books long, by their estimate – that I realised how much I had to learn about this underappreciated skill.
In other words, I rely more on my imagination than anything else, but it’s the planning that really matters.
That sounds like a good balance of imagination and organsation. So what’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
This would have to be a tie between having my first book accepted for publication, and having my second book accepted.
Having your first book accepted is an incredible feeling, as all authors would know – it’s a validation of your hard work, and confirmation that the idea behind it and the writing within it is solid and of a high quality. Everyone’s first book is a labour of love, something that’s been happily sweated over, something that contains a little bit of your heart and soul, and mine was no different. As mentioned, I had the idea for it long before I put pen to paper, and nurtured this idea like an obsessed gardener growing the fussiest plants from seed.
But once your first book has been published you realise that if you want to be a writer, you have to do it all over again from the beginning. This can be a struggle because you carry within you an expectation that your second book has to happen sooner rather than later, and you have to conceive it and work at it quickly and diligently, whereas the ideas and writing of your first book just seemed to come naturally and at its own pace. However, once it’s completed to your satisfaction, having it accepted for publication somehow proves that you’ve got what it takes to keep on writing.
That letter (or email) acceptance is such a joy, isn’t it? What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
Finishing my third book, so that I can then get onto the next and the next after that and so on. I’m like most writers – I have more ideas than I do time to write them, and I just can’t wait to get them down and bring them to life.
Oh, yes, that’s the problem. Not where we get our ideas from but how to herd them! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Write, write and write some more – you can always be better, and the only way to achieve this is through dedication and work. And remember that not every piece of writing has to be a book: short stories, articles, reviews, blogs, criticism, they all help hone your talent.
And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
The Doctor, without a doubt. He/she possesses everything that one would want in life, and that makes a good person: kindness, intelligence, inquisitiveness, childlike wonder, loyalty, a circle of loving friends who are loved in return, and a dedication to pacifism that only falters when absolutely necessary.
I thought you had a bit of a Tom Baker look about you! Thanks for speaking with me, Lachlan, and more power to your writing.