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Listen: Realistic Utopias - Writing for Change

  • By Sophie Freeman
  • 30th January 2017
Listen to five new stories and poems from emerging writers that take a personal look at our rapidly changing world. Reflect on whether words can help inspire us to take action.

“I feel a responsibility to tell stories of hope. What’s helped me is knowing how we can use our power to affect change.” Darragh Martin

With New Year resolutions still in the air, we listened to stories of change, action and hope. We heard short readings from the authors of five new works on climate change that included:

  • A real-life account of when floods and a birthday party collided.
  • A thrifty love story.
  • Poetry about an ancient people who watched their home swallowed by the sea.
  • A sci-fi take on The Tale of Two Cities.
  • A children’s detective tale of a mysterious farting elephant.

These stories and poetry were commissioned by TippingPoint, Free Word and Durham University. In May 2016, we brought together writers and climate change experts for Weatherfronts to explore one of the most urgent issues of our time. All five pieces are inspired by discussions that took part during that event.

Following the readings, Professor Harriet Bulkeley, Durham University, lead a conversation with Emma Howell and Darragh Martin, two of the five writers, and Dr Jane Riddiford, co-founder Global Generation. The discussion looked at whether stories, and the act of writing itself, can help encourage us to take action and imagine new realistic utopias.

“The greater the range of styles of climate change writing that can appeal to more people the better.” Emma Howell

Finally, young people from Global Generation shared their thoughts and poetry on nature. Global Generation works to build community between each other and the natural world; writing holds a vital place in the work that they do. The young people and Jane then encouraged everyone to do some free writing on what nature means to us. A couple of brave people shared their thoughts and poetry with the whole crowd.

“Stories enable us to see glimmers of a utopian future.” Dr Jane Riddiford


Read more about the stories and poems:

Peter Gingold from TippingPoint introduces our collection of new writing. And we share background and details about each story and poem here.

Or if you’re eager to get reading, you can go straight to the collection of writing here.


Listen to the whole event:


Speakers at this event included:

Harriet Bulkeley is Professor of Geography at Durham University. Her research focuses on the processes and politics of environmental governance and she has particular expertise in the areas of climate change, energy and urban sustainability. Her work has examined how and why cities are responding to climate change, the emergence and potential of transnational environmental governance, the ways in which everyday practice shapes energy use, the political economies of energy systems, the nature and potential of community-based energy projects, and the politics of climate justice.

Justina Hart is a poet, novelist, short story writer and non-fiction writer. She has had two books published: a collection of her poems and photographs about the natural world, and a non-fiction book. Her short stories won the Ian St. James Award. Justina writes about the effects that nature and weather have on people. Her current novel, set in an oyster fishing town where stocks have become over-fished, explores the devastating effects this has on the local community. She is an alumnus of Writing West Midlands’ Room 204 career development programme. Justina lives aboard a 160-year-old solar powered ex-working narrow-boat.

Emma Howell writes for children; she has a novel being published by Oxford University Press in June this year as part of their Dominoes series for teenagers. Emma has taught creative writing for over 20 years, primarily working with marginalised and excluded groups, and wants to inspire others to engage with climate change in their work.

Darragh Martin writes plays and children’s books. His work includesThe Keeper, ‘Nora and the Sky-Snake’ (in Magic!: New Fairy Tales by Irish Writers), An Air Balloon Across Antarctica, and Climate + Change + Theatre, part of the 350 plays project. Originally from Ireland, Darragh has a PhD from Columbia University, where he designed a class on climate change and literature in 2015. He is also involved in climate activism (as a divestment campaigner and occasional mermaid) and is interested in nurturing further connections between literature, academia, and activism.

Dr Jane Riddiford is the Founding Director of Global Generation an environmental education charity whose home is the Skip Garden in the middle of Kings Cross Estate. Global Generation uses land based activities and experiences to foster a sense of community, which includes different people and all of the natural world. Jane’s love of the outdoors comes from growing up on a farm in New Zealand. After she moved to London in 1996, Jane set up a vocational horticultural training programme for Camden Job Train and managed Rise Phoenix, a community arts organisation. From these experiences Global Generation was born.

Sarah Thomas is a non-fiction writer working in the genres of new nature writing and memoir. She is currently undertaking a PhD in creative writing at the University of Glasgow; her thesis is a memoir based on when she lived in remote north-west Iceland and the country came to the world’s attention for several environmental reasons. In 2013, Sarah was selected as Penguin Summer Wayfarer – a ‘mobile Writer in Residence’, walking across Britain guided only by what and who she met on the way. She has been published in EarthLines Magazine, Dark Mountain, and Caught by the River.

David Thorpe is a writer who believes that with imagination we can change the world. He is the author of the cli-fi novel Stormteller which led to his presence on Hay Festival’s first cli-fi panel in 2015, and he won theHarperCollinsSaga Magazine 2006 Childrens Novelist competition with his YA novel Hybrids. He also co-authored the Doc Chaos anti-nuclear novella, comics, TV and film scripts. David’s non-fiction includes many articles on carbon-free energy and sustainable development, as well as several academic books. He has written for Greenpeace and Oxfam. David is a co-Founder and Patron of One Planet Council.


This event took place on 19 January 2017 at Free Word Centre and you can view the original listing here.

Presented by TippingPoint, Free Word and Durham University, with additional funding from ESRC and Arts Council England.

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