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Beacons: Stories for Our Not So Distant Future

18/03/2013 12:59 GMT | Updated 18/05/2013 10:12 BST

"The problem we face is that so far it's only scientists who are talking about climate change. And scientists aren't always the best communicators in the world."

"Exactly. What we need is to get people thinking creatively about it. We need artists. We need writers. We need a book."

That conversation took place in 2007, between the chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS), and an audience member at a lecture on Scottish wildlife.

SCCS was - is - an unprecedented coalition of organisations campaigning on issues around climate change. It includes development charities, environmental NGOs, churches, trade unions, community groups, student societies and many others. It was central in lobbying for the Scottish Climate Change Act, which remains the strongest climate legislation in the world.

Now - six years after the initial exchange that led to the idea of a book - SCCS is central to the realisation of that project too.

Beacons - Stories for Our Not So Distant Future is a book of specially commissioned short stories, from writers as esteemed as Joanne Harris, Toby Litt, Alasdair Gray, AL Kennedy and Janice Galloway. They came together for a briefing weekend in Perthshire in May 2012, and were then left to write about the theme in whatever way they saw fit.

Editor and contributor Gregory Norminton, who led the project, describes it as a "metaphorical gauntlet thrown down to challenge authors to imagine our worst and best possible futures."

Since 2007, several other writers have written about climate change - Ian McEwan's novel Solar is probably the most well known example - but never before has there been a collection that brings together such a diverse group of writers, with such distinct styles, each tackling the same theme.

There is satire, comedy and tragedy. There is historical fiction and dystopian fantasy. There is something for everyone, in this collection, whether you are a climate change expert, or whether you've never given our warming world a moment's thought.

Beacons is at its very best when it takes familiar things and twists them just enough to make you uncomfortable. It makes you realise just how much we take for granted - how quiet our world would be without bees, how empty our plates would seem without meat, how much we value our right to privacy, security and love.

It is a sad book, an angry book, and a scary book. But it is deeply rewarding to read. There are several sweet moments of hope; reminders of the innate goodness of so many human beings; reminders that if we act now and take advantage of the opportunities available to us, we might yet avoid catastrophic climate change.

The writers are talking about it.

People are thinking creatively about it.

We have a book.

It is a start.

***

Beacons - Stories For Our Not So Distant Future was published by Oneworld on 7 March, to coincide with Climate Week. It is a collection of 21 original short stories by some of the UK's best writers. All royalties from the book go to Stop Climate Chaos.

A version of this post originally appeared on DorkyMum.