The epic struggle of our time – pitting characters against the climate storm

Apple blossom to illustrate hope in cli-fi Image by Ruby and the Blue Sky author Katherine Dewar

Like Amitav Ghosh, I’m fascinated by the role of novels in exploring climate change.  Though over 100 have now been published, collated here on GoodReads by Karl Friedrich Lenz and by Dan BloomAdeline Jons-Putra and Ted Howell and among others, they tend to assume we fail, using a climate-ruined world as a dystopic setting.  As literary scholar Howell asks, “where are the utopian visions of the future?”  Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior is a notable cli-fi exception, as a contemporary story of hope in the struggle, and I’m on a constant look out for more.

My fascination became an inspiration, so I recklessly centered my debut novel in the heart of the climate storm.  As a theme, it proved compelling and rewarding to write about, pitting my characters into everyday dilemmas against an epic backdrop.

Ruby illustration from the cover of Ruby and the Blue Sky by Katherine DewarLike many young people, my protagonist, Ruby, vents her frustration at climate inaction one weekend.  Less commonly, as a Grammy-winner, she has the power of “the mic and a global feed to millions” when she does.   Her words inspire a greek chorus of eco-groupies to chase and chivvy her to do more than speak out. Nevertheless, Ruby at first feels powerless to make a difference, as do most of us in our climate-wrecking society.

Responding to climate change, or not, is essentially an inner conflict, generally expressed as an external one.  It disrupts our everyday decision making if we choose to let it.  If it’s raining, will I walk the 800m to buy a pint of milk or will I take the car?  Will I fly or spend an extra day travelling and take the train?  Will I buy an imported mandarin because I love their citrus zing or settle for a local apple’s crunch today?  Good climate choices can often still be more difficult, inconvenient, or expensive, so dependent are we on fossil fuels.

Climate change isn’t something we can attack; it mostly requires us to exercise restraint in what we buy or what we do.  It requires us to relish the heady pleasure of the wind in our hair at 10km/hr on a bicycle rather than 100km/hr in a convertible, to extend Ghosh’s metaphor for cultural desire.  It is an daily struggle in our hearts against a threat we can barely imagine, until the local river floods or our rains fail.

Externally, powerful forces, including the oil and coal giants and much of the car industry, are obvious in preferring our dependency.   Even as I was making final edits to Ruby and the Blue Sky, my feminist climate change thriller, new evidence of the oil giants’ duplicity was revealed.

Less obviously, our whole economic model, founded on consuming, is pitted against the finite loveliness of Earth.  To meet even the Paris climate change targets we’ll need to do more than switch to buying fair trade, organic stuff.

In my business-life, our team support organisations working to be less bad and there is work internationally to shape businesses that benefit society and nature, as well as shareholders.  In my political life, I volunteer for a Party striving to move my country onto a footing our land, rivers and oceans can endure, where everyone has enough to eat.  I undertake both these roles carrying a silent scream inside me; while everything we are doing is worthy, it is not enough and far, far too slow.  Writing my novel let the silent scream become a cathartic, urgent roar.

But I like to entertain and polemic alienates me personally as a reader so, while it’s based on fact and science, you won’t find complex climate explanations in the pages of Ruby and the Blue Sky.  You will find a story about the epic struggle for power over our climate future and the sacrifices it asks of all of us.

I found, in the heart of writing it, the potential for humility; a humble remembering that while we have altered the future of our planet, we are just a temporary beast on its surface.  Our lair is overheating under the blanket of gases we have made and, like Ruby, each of us must decide how much more hot air we’ll tolerate.


Ruby and the Blue Sky


Ruby and the Blue Sky is a feminist, climate change thriller. Katherine Dewar‘s debut novel, it’s a tale of fame, power, sacrifice – and tea.  Where to buy >

Love the discovery

Digging to discover - image of spade in earth courtesy of Goumbik on Pixabay

I’ve realised my curiosity is a big part of what makes me an author. I want to write and I want to imagine, but I also want to find out.  In my ‘day job‘ we call it the ‘discovery stage’ and its one of my favourite activities – unearthing the intricacies that make an organisation tick and understanding them.

I’m in the ‘discovery phase’ of a new novel right now; exploring ideas imaginatively but letting them lead me into research, to find the intricacies that ‘furnish’, as Stephanie Johnson said last week, a character’s life.  This interplay between imagination and curiosity often seems to give me the inspiration that propels the characters through the plot.

As an author at the start of 21st Century, I have tools available no other story-teller in history has enjoyed.  I can visit a street in Leeds from my desk here in Aotearoa New Zealand in the flicker it takes my screen to load with pixels; I can look down on it from above, as if I were one of the city’s owls, taken flight from the town hall, or swivel on the street, looking around me.  I can dive into the complexities of veterinary care for polar bears in zoos, harvesting kernels from academic papers and expert websites, or watch people’s smart phone videos as they experience a flood,  like I did writing Ruby and the Blue Sky.

As I write, here in this remote part of an island 2000km from anywhere, the world at my fingertips, I’m full of respect for pre-internet authors and their patient library work and with gratitude for the internet which, at its best, can fire understanding, the empathy that follows and sometimes, for a short time, satiate my curiosity.

The three things I’m getting asked most, as a new author

Katherine Dewar - notebook with work in progress towards her next novel

It dawned on me yesterday that, as an indie author of six months, I could see a trend in what I get asked about writing my first novel, Ruby and the Blue Sky.

The most common question is ‘how long did it take?

Really I want to answer ‘a lifetime’. It feels two blinks and a heart beat since I was writing Hobbit fan-faction featuring giant spiders aged 10 and since I gave Crime a human form. There’s a been a lot of practice since then and a lot of learning. Much of it under the talented tutelage of Dame Fiona Kidman in her classes that later became a Whitirea Polytechnic course. I’ve had a couple of dry runs at novel writing, photocopied and shared with  whanau. One whispers to me from its box under the spare bed. One day it might entice me to unleash it on you.

Nicola Patrick and author Katherine Dewar
Nicola Patrick interviews author Katherine Dewar

What people really want to know is how long did it take me to write the 75,000 words that are this novel and, implicitly, the 75,000 more that were scrapped along the way.  The collection of scribbles that became Ruby and the Blue Sky started to accumulate in my notebooks around 2010. They settled around the ‘What if?’ question. What if someone with mass popular appeal really worked to lead change?  As I’ve written int he guest-blog here, the novel didn’t take shape until the following year, when I visited Leeds and the city crystallised the scribbles into the drafts that became the book.

I set it aside for most of a year at one stage, finding myself failing to progress either the manuscript or a non-fiction publishing project, an online course in ethical marketing. Once the course was launched, I revisited the draft with fresh eyes and the novel is better for its fallow time.  By December 2015 it was written, rewritten and a year of major edits complete. From then til I published took another six months of research into how to self-publish, commissioning the cover design, proof-reading, copy edits, layout, file formatting, completing tax forms and launch organising.  So, about four years writing, very part-time, around running one business and launching another, and six months to publish, all told.

The second most common question has been ‘how much is autobiographical?

Ruby illustration from the cover of Ruby and the Blue Sky by Katherine DewarWhen people have read the novel, this is frequently focused on the music; Ruby, the protagonist, fronts a band, singing and playing guitar. I don’t do either but it pleases me immensely I could imagine it well enough to make Ruby so convincing.  The only elements drawn from my life are a passion for nature, living in Leeds, which I did for nine years, and working in groups to make change, which I do to this day. The rest is made up. Except for climate change of course. THAT IS ALL REAL, whatever the US president might think. All the science is as accurate as I could make it, including the geo-engineering.

Thirdly, and easiest to answer; ‘are you writing another one?

Yes, dear reader, I am.

Katherine Dewar - notebook with work in progress towards her next novel

What makes it feminist?


On the bus from Dumfries this week, a fellow traveller asked me what makes Ruby and the Blue Sky a ‘feminist thriller. This is the first time I’ve been asked that question, so I’m writing this to capture the one reason I told him – and the five reasons I didn’t.  (I am finding I need to self-edit what I say a LOT at present or I wouldn’t talk about anything other than the book!)

I answered my fellow traveller that Ruby and the Blue Sky is feminist because it deals with big world-stage action and issues with women leading the narrative. I find that a lot of fiction is lagging behind movies and TV in having women leading in the public sphere. Books with strong female protagonists, like recent British thriller The Girl on the train, are more commonly located in the  domestic realm. What happens at home is important – but it isn’t the only sphere in which women operate. I am inspired to write by women politicians and activists, artists and journalists and want to tell stories that bring those kind of public experiences to life.

My fellow traveller agreed this was a gap and important to fill.

Now for the things I didn’t say to him.

Ruby and the Blue Sky is also feminist because …

  1. It quietly disrupts gender stereotypes with women working in traditionally male jobs, the way they do in life more often than fiction.
  2. It includes a story line about sexual violence used as a political weapon.
  3. The female characters get their support and help predominantly from other women.
  4. It references the complex  reality of sexual preferences.
  5. One of the novel’s central themes is the conflicting world views that place humans as part of nature versus humans set in God-given dominion over nature.

In the first chapter Ruby, the protagonist writes:

For every zealot there were many, many more of us who just wanted to live and let live. But we were silent.  We had been too silent. 

We’d respected different beliefs to the point where women worshipping everywhere were hidden under scarves and hats, whether they wanted to be or not. Even non-religious, white girls from Bradford were being heckled off the streets if they walked around by themselves after dark.  I’d always felt they were connected, our loss of awe in the planet and its replacement with Big Religion. Our loss of wonder at women – how we swell and birth life into the world, again and again – and this faith in some chaste, male God.  

Everywhere we relegate the awesome abundance of lust, fertility and birth to the bottom division. Sex is unclean, periods a curse and solo mums a burden or stone-able offenders, depending on where you happen to live.  I’ve never forgotten the fuss when I was 10, anticipating my first bra, and Janet Jackson’s boob popped out at the Superbowl.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the harsher the heat waves and the fiercer the flooding and the more afraid we become, the more women are tied down.”

Ruby and the Blue Sky is near-future speculative fiction – it is set in the city of Leeds five years from now, in 2021 – but as I type, extremism of one type or another is making headlines every week.  We need strong feminist voices and peace-building, not violence. Non-violent direct action features in Ruby and the Blue Sky too, but that’s a subject for another day.

As a new author I thrive on feedback so please do post your thoughts on this in the comments box below or on the Ruby and the Blue Sky Facebook page or Twitter @KatherineDewar.

Where to buy ‘Ruby and the Blue Sky’

Carole Beu, The Women's Bookshop reading and selling Ruby and the Blue Sky

Ruby and the Blue Sky went on sale worldwide as a paperback and eBook on July 15, 2016.


You can get a copy from these links on AmazonKindleKobo, iBooksBook Depository or Fishpond as well as many other online bookstores worldwide.

We ❤️ indy bookshops


Katherine Dewar, author or Ruby and the Blue Sky, at stockists Reading Lasses
Katherine Dewar, author or Ruby and the Blue Sky, at stockists Reading Lasses

UK stockists:  RadishWeb indy booksellers supported the UK launch and are selling in the UK online. Reading Lasses womans’ indy bookshop have on their gorgeous shelves in Wigtown, Scotland.

NZ stockists: The Women’s Bookshop and UBS in Auckland and Dunedin have Ruby and the Blue Sky in stock and so does the gorgeous Paige’s book gallery in Whanganui.

You can also ask your local bookstore anywhere in the world to order Ruby and the Blue Sky for you. To order, give your bookshop or library the ISBN – for the paperback this is 978-0-473-34550-1 and for the eBook, 978-0-473-34551-8. In NZ you can share this page with them.

We ❤️ libraries too

Auckland libraries, Dunedin library and Leeds central library already have Ruby and the Blue Sky on their shelves for borrowers. Leeds has the eBook to borrow too. It’s really important our

Author Katherine Dewar with a copy of Ruby and the Blue Sky at Paige's Book Gallery Whanganui
‘Ruby and the Blue Sky’ by Katherine Dewar is on sale at Paige’s book gallery, Whanganui

libraries thrive so if you like to borrow your books, do ask your local library for a copy.

You can see some of the other global eBook distributors here and softcover distributors here.

If you have any difficulty getting your copy of Ruby and the Blue Sky please let us know!