The non-fiction writer and journalist Marcus Rosenlund answers HLA’s questions.
Your book The Weather that Changed the World could be called a somewhat of a sensation. Four prints in Finland, rights sold to 7 countries – including the Italian publishing giant Garzanti – and numerous accolades in the press. One of the reasons, why this narrative nonfiction is so different from all the other books about climate change, is that, instead of lecturing how badly we changed the climate, it rather tells a story about how the weather has changed us. Could you tell a little bit about the beginnings: how did you get the idea for such a book?
I’ve always been sort of a weather geek. As a science journalist, I’ve also covered the climate issues, and over the years, I’ve gathered a bunch of exciting stories about climate change in the past, and the many different ways in which it has shaped the world, its history and peoples. From the storms that foiled the invasion plans of Kublai Khan and Julius Caesar, to the Little Ice Age that thrusted medieval Europe into centuries of war and famine. We wouldn’t be who we are today without many dramatic climatic turns, from hundreds of years to millions of years in the past. I have collected some of the best, and in many cases most thrilling stories of how it all came to be.
What does the writing process look like in case of narrative nonfiction? In this particular book, you tell many incredible historical facts that go back even tens of thousands of years. Is it all about sitting in the dusty archives for months? How much space can be left for your imagination?
There is, obviously, the many dozens of hours of reading, everything from dusty old manuscripts to the cutting edge scientific journals of the web. But to make an exciting page-turner out of it, one needs to paint a picture. To visualize. To make the readers see it with their own eyes. To transport them there, when it all happens. That calls for some good old storytelling: “Gather round, folks, wait till you hear this!”
The topic of climate change can easily make one feel very depressed, helpless, paralyzed in the face of such enormous, unstoppable processes. Does your book have a hopeful message?
Definitely! Climate change is, obviously, a huge challenge, which we will have to face. In fact, we already do, it happens as we speak. And it will only get more challenging from here on. But my main message with this book is: we have been there before. We have faced really tough times, and we have come out on top. Human civilization hasn’t gotten where it is today by things being too easy. On the contrary: every quantum leap our species and our civilization has made has been put into motion by the challenges and the hardships that the climate has thrown our way. I feel confident that this will be the case this time around, too. But we need to get cracking – time is running out.
As a science journalist, you have made several programs about space – and now a new book about it will soon come out. Could you tell us a little bit about it? Why is it different, exceptional?
It is, first and foremost, a book about the sense of wonder that space inspires in us. Space is, as they say, the Final Frontier. But it is also the first one. Light, and ultimately life once arose from the cold, forbidding vastness of the primordial clouds that penetrated the early universe. As a part of that life, we are the Universe looking at itself in wonder, as Carl Sagan put it. We are also wondering: where to next? We need to become a multi-planetary species, as Elon Musk keeps telling us. That means going to Mars. But what will we find when we get there? And where does our final destiny lie? How will it all end, not only for us, but for the universe itself?
What are your plans for the near future? What can the readers expect?
Well, my space book is up next, this autumn. So there’s that. But I’ve obviously got more exciting ideas for books on popular science, and even a few ideas for a science fiction novel that I keep returning to in my head. Time will tell.
Finally, a version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, used by the legendary French journalist Bernard Pivot at the end of every broadcast of his literary television talk show Apostrophes.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Chance encounters with creative, inspiring people.
What turns you off?
What is your favorite curse word?
What sound or noise do you love?
The cries of seagulls in springtime.
What sound or noise do you hate?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“What took you so long?”