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#234  Any Human Power – Manda Scott talks about her new Thrutopian Mytho-Political thriller

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This week the tables are turned and Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture Magazine interviews Manda about her new ‘seismic’ Mytho-Political thriller, Any Human Power, which will be available from 30th May.

From a bestselling storyteller who brings together myths and speculative futures with a radical compassion, comes the story of a family at the heart of a political crisis and the ensuing uprising of a disenfranchised generation. A family that harnesses the skills and stories needed for real change, if they can choose the right path, before it is too late …

***

As Lan lies dying, she makes a promise that binds her long into the Beyond. Fifteen years later, her teenage granddaughter, Kaitlyn, triggers an international storm of outrage that unleashes the rage of a whole betrayed generation. For one shining fragment of time, the world is with her. But then the backlash begins and soon she and those closest to her find themselves facing the wrath of the old establishment, who will use every dirty trick in the book to fight them off.

Watching over the growing chaos is Lan, who taught them all to think independently, approach power sceptically and dream with clear intent. She knows more than one generation’s hopes are on the line. Nothing less than the future of humanity stands in the balance.

Grand in scope, rich in courageous characters who breathe new life into ancient wisdom, here is a dream of a better future: a world we’d be proud to leave to our children and their children and on, generations down the line.

***

‘A polemical thriller like no other, an absorbing manifesto to change the world. It constantly surprises. Manda Scott’s characters play havoc with your emotions, her narrative keeps you turning the pages, and her ideas might just change your life.’

ANDREW TAYLOR, AUTHOR OF THE SHADOWS OF LONDON

‘The critical task in present times is to find a way out of the world-destroying political status quo. To make that happen we first have to imagine how it could happen. In Any Human Power, Manda Scott uses her own supreme imaginative powers as a novel is to open windows into the flow of possibilities.’

CHRIS SMAJE, AUTHOR OF A SMALL FARM FUTURE

‘This book brilliantly depicts the frightening reality facing those who mobilise against a violent global establishment. However, instead of regarding cosmic and spiritual forces as separate from politics, this book transforms our sense of what is possible.’

RUTH CATLOW, CO-FOUNDER OF FURTHERFIELD

Episode #234

 

ORDERING

If you’re in the UK, please either order through your local independent bookstore or by following this link.

If you’re elsewhere in the world, you have options (NB – the book is currently only available in English. If you know a publisher who’d like to publish a translated copy, please let me know)

You can order from the UK at the link above and they’ll ship a hardback to you anywhere in the world
If you’d like to order through your local independent bookstore, you can let them know that the books are available through the distributors – Gardners UK or Ingrams US
or
You can order an ebook from your national Amazon, Kobo or Apple stores

Or you can order the Audio Book from the following sites:

Whatever you do – if you like it, please do leave a review at Amazon and Goodreads as well as whatever other social media follow – word of mouth is our best possible friend!

Links 

In Conversation

Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is still time to create a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your guide and fellow traveller on this journey into possibility. And this week’s guest is me. We’re doing this one differently. If you’ve listened at all in the last couple of years, you’ll know that I’ve been working on a novel and it’s going to be out at the end of this month. And so I asked Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture magazine, if she would come along to the podcast and ask about the book. I didn’t want to just sit here and talk at you. Itfelt much better to be in conversation with Maddy. But I really do want you to know about this one. And by the time you’ve heard the conversation that follows, I imagine it will be clear why. This is a political thriller, that is true. But above everything else, it’s a Thrutopian novel. It is designed to walk us forward from exactly where we are, peacefully, to a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. And there are, as Maddy noticed, a few other layers to the book that I probably wouldn’t have thought of unpicking. So this is it. People of the podcast, please welcome Manda Scott in conversation with Maddy Harland of Permaculture Magazine talking about the novel Any Human Power.

Maddy: Hello, Manda, I have to ask you, how are you and where are you today?

Manda: Thank you, Maddy. I’m very well. We had actual sun yesterday. I was able to go up the hill to a stone at the far side of our hill that faces exactly east. It’s kind of like a small dolmen, and I go and sit with it. And it’s been so wet recently that I haven’t and yesterday I was able to and I feel very much recharged. So I’m recharged and I’m in south Shropshire on the edge of a hill. And thank you for doing this.

Maddy: Well, thank you for inviting me to interview you. I have to say, it feels quite odd, having been on the other side of the fence and listened to many, many of your podcasts. But I’m very happy to be here. So let’s launch straight in.

Maddy: Any Human Power is your 16th novel, and it weaves together many, many themes as part of what we would say this other world that is still possible. And for anyone who hasn’t read it, I’d like to just paraphrase you in your description of the book. ‘Any Human Power is a political thriller aimed at mapping a route through from the present mess of late state predatory capitalism towards a future we’d all be proud to leave behind. Plot revolves around a family that finds itself thrust to the edge of a global movement for change. The rage moving into action of the whole betrayed generation and that generation need and have to have the help of the older generations to rise to the challenge. For one shining moment in time, the world is with them. And then, as it does, the establishment fights back and it fights dirty. So how do we establish the values of a new paradigm, while using all the tools of the old system to dismantle it? How do we, in fact use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house? Because that’s pretty much the only way to do it peacefully. It’s just that we use them in a different way, with different heart mind behind all that we’re doing’. I love that description.

Manda: Thank you. Did I write that?

Maddy: Yes. You spoke it actually.

Manda: Right

Maddy: Your Boudica series took shamanic practice to a general audience, although some of your readers may not have realised what was happening. I think it’s fair to say that the readers who were ready to understand the process of dreaming and holding intent knew that they weren’t just reading a historical novel, but something far more radical, as it explored our deep separation from the land and our connection with its rhythms and cycles that bring us into a spiritual coherence and gives people agency as people in a society. So your new book, many years later, and I would feel as a novelist, you feel like you’re a different novelist to the woman that wrote that early series.

Manda: Sure am.

Maddy: So far from leaving behind this idea of dreaming and this worldview, these are actually indeed some of the core practices of Any Human Power. So I want to ask you, who is this book for? Because it’s much more overt for me, the shamanic dimension of it.

Manda: It is, isn’t it? But also it’s not. I don’t think I use the word shamanic in it at all. So the dreaming is there. It’s for anybody. So the answer to the question is, I sincerely hope that every single person who can read reads a copy of this book, not simply because I would like that to happen – every novelist wants everyone to read their book – but this book is designed to foment systemic change. To show that it’s possible to show the routes that we get there. So it’s designed for everybody. Because it arose out of my own dreaming there were certain baselines that when we went through quite an interesting editorial process, these things are not changing. And the dreaming was one part of that. Partly because we’re in the middle of a meta crisis. It is complex, it is hyper complex, and we need to come at this from many different angles emotionally, spiritually, materially, politically, economically. And I was given a set of visions, and I was not going to veer from the guidance that they offered. It wasn’t huge guidance and it was not very restrictive, but an integral part of it was that the opening scene is where a character makes a promise as she is dying and then is held to it. And the rest of the book is told from her perspective. And that was one of my lines in the sand that wasn’t going to move.

Manda: And when I started, I had no idea why that was. And over the course of writing it, in doing the research of other things, and particularly research of people’s experience of being dead and their experience of encountering people who had recently died, and the shamanic work of psychopomping, I came to realise that a lot of the trauma in our culture, which I believe we need to heal, comes down to an absolute failure to understand anything about the process of death and dying. We’re in denial, and there’s some quite interesting psychological research that shows that if you make people more aware of their own mortality, they are more likely to flip into climate denial and their politics move towards the hard right. And I don’t think either of these things is useful. So part of what I think the book is for, and to be honest, if I have a shamanic nudge, it’s not my job to ask why. It’s my job to do it as well as I can. So I don’t know exactly why this book is what it is. I just know that I had certain constraints, and I endeavoured to write the best that I could within those guidelines. But I think part of it is to help us become less afraid of death as a culture. Whether that works or not is not my decision to make.

Maddy: Because it is a kind of radical smorgasbord, isn’t it, of themes. I mean, it’s so polythematic that it’s beyond genre and it’s not something that you can stick into a little box. Again, that’s quite challenging for a reader that might come to it thinking, oh, I’m going to read a political thriller.

Manda: Yes. And way back in my publishing career or my writing career, speaking to publishers, one of the lines that really struck a chord with me was this class of reader, whatever this is, knows what they like and likes what they know. And even way back then, I was not wanting to write for that, which is always going to be hard. However. I believe this is why the phrase genre busting was created. And I’m not the first person to write a book that people call genre busting, so there are others out there. If we’re going to get through the meta crisis that’s here, we have to stop thinking linearly and we have to step outside our own boxes. And I also think we need a new mythology. We need a new way of viewing ourselves and how we situate in the world. Our existing mythologies, and some of them are amazing, and some of them are really toxic, but they’re all relatively young. And we can’t go back to mythologies that are 50,000 years old because we don’t know what they are. But I think we need a new one. And so part of what we’re doing in this book is putting some pegs on the board for a new mythology, which grows out of the old mythologies of this land, of the islands of Britain, but begins to evolve in different ways, because I think our concept of who we are needs to evolve in those ways.

Maddy: And that was exactly my experience.

Manda: And also we need a political thriller.

Maddy: Yeah we do. We need both. We need all, actually. Let’s be all. But that was my sense, that having been thinking and working on and dreaming and trying to imagine this other world that’s possible and understanding fundamentally that we need a paradigm shift, what I’ve been searching for in my own life is like, okay, so what are the mechanisms of that transformational shift and how do we do it? I mean, I remember once going to a climate event at the Commonwealth in London, and they gathered together some of the real sort of movers and shakers from the global ecovillage movement and global permaculture movement and all sorts of amazing people. And even so, I was thinking but how are we going to get from the sort of climate conferences that fail dismally all the time, to this new vision, which integrates agroecology and all those other wonderful techniques and practices that could change the world. Because until you change how governance functions, you can’t change anything.

Manda: Yes, yes.

Maddy: So you know what fascinated me about your book was this melding of, and I will unashamedly call it the shamanic worldview, with politics and algorithms and an understanding of social media and, you know, all these many different threads that weave together this different tapestry of the potential for a new world. So that was what sort of blew my mind about the book, because it sort of opened so many doors, not just 1 or 2.

Manda: Thank you. You’re making my little heart sing.

Maddy: Oh, good. But let me just step back a minute. So you’ve mentioned it already. You’ve written the novel from the perspective of somebody who dies at the end of the first chapter. And in a way, this is an understanding that you’re going to step beyond many, many edges in the book, that you’re not going to stay in the safe realms. And without any spoilers whatsoever, can we talk a little bit about the edge of life and this liminal space that we can enter between before people move on to the beyond? Is that possible?

Manda: Yes. Of course, yes.

Maddy: And also how we don’t hold and celebrate and recognise our encounters with death. We run away from them as a society.

Manda: Yeah, we run away from them to the extent that there’s an entire transhumanist movement which focuses around rich white men in Silicon Valley who think that they can just stop death. They can make it not happen and go away. Which I think would be a terrible mistake, because there is a perspective that says death is a rite of passage, and it’s a really necessary part of our progress. The main thing though, is that anything that happens after the moment when we stop breathing becomes a belief system. There are people who have reported really detailed experiences, particularly there’s a set of books written by a neurosurgeon who was pretty hardcore, left brain, in the system, who died. Basically he was on a life support and he flatlined and he flatlined for two weeks. And then all of his colleagues, who were also his friends and also the people looking after him, eventually said to his wife, look, we’re just going to have to switch it all off. I’m sorry. And his nine year old son climbed onto the bed, prised open his eyes, looked into his unconscious eye and said, daddy, it’s going to be okay. Over and over and over. And he reports being dragged back from an experience that he could remember in exquisite detail, which threatened his career thereafter because everybody says if you are flatlining on the EEG, nothing is happening. Which is astonishing hubris.

Manda: I look sometimes at my former colleagues in the veterinary profession, the medical professions and we still end up thinking that if we don’t know about something, it doesn’t exist. Which is the ultimate expression of the the Dunning-Kruger fault and is clearly untrue. And yet, as far as they were concerned, if your EEG is flatlining, then you are not experiencing anything. And he came back and went, no, actually, I was experiencing this and he wrote a book about this, and then he went on to speak to other people who had had similar experiences. And there’s something about the fact that this guy was a neurosurgeon that anchors it in a world that doesn’t allow me to think that it’s flaky nonsense.

Manda: So the between. My shaping of the between comes from my shamanic experience of doing psychopomping work. And psychopomping is one of the traditional roles of a shamanic practitioner in our culture, or shaman in an indigenous initiation culture. And the roles are healing, prediction up to a point, psychopomping, which is helping the newly dead to move to where they need to go. And all of the teaching, pretty much in all of the spiritualities that have roots in indigenous culture, so not the real trauma based ones, have a narrative that says there is something that continues after the physicality of our body ceases to be animated. The animating factor moves on, and it has a journey that it needs to undergo, and the exact details of the journey tend to be culturally defined. But the fact that there is a journey and that there are often elements from life that we need to reface. So the bardos, if we’re in Tibetan or some Buddhist cultures. There are questions that need to be answered. We need to find the core of ourselves again in this between space, between the lands of life and the lands of death. And then we move across something which is not necessarily a one way valve, but is slightly more of a one way valve. And the premise that I was given on the hill was that Lan, this grandmother, having promised her grandson that if he needed her she would come if he called, is then locked in the between space. And it becomes a dreaming space. It becomes what she needs it to be, which is populated with memories of her childhood in western Scotland, West Highlands of Scotland.

Manda: So there’s a loch and there’s a tree and there’s a waterfall. And she learns the agency to move towards the lands of life and to find a degree of agency there, which is really hard. Everyone who has any experience of this liminal space, it’s very, very hard for people who are no longer within a physical body to have agency in the lands of life. But what she can’t do is get to the lands of death, the totality of her can’t get to the lands of death, I’m not going for spoilers. But I wanted to explore the nature of this, and definitely it’s a belief system and people don’t have to take it on board, but I would suggest that as a thought experiment it could be useful. And it gave me a character who has the wisdom of age, who has the aspects of life of someone who dies in 2008. So she’s not part of the millennial generations, of the regen generations or the broadband generations, but she is able to interact with them. And so it gave me multiple layers of agency and a viewpoint that were still deeply embedded. As a structural thing that’s quite useful.

Maddy: Thank you.

Manda: Did that answer your question?

Maddy: Yes, it did actually.

Manda: Okay, good.

Maddy: So I wanted to also acknowledge that there’s many more edges that are explored in the book. So you explore the intergenerational edges between the older and the younger generations, particularly the boomers and beyond, who have so much privilege that they don’t acknowledge. And, you know, it made me think, what if the over 65’s couldn’t have voted for Brexit, what would have happened then?

Manda: Well, very definitely we would still be in the EU. And we would have Corbyn as our Prime minister. Those figures have been looked at.

Maddy: Exactly. So, all of this is not fanciful. So another one is the edge between activism and technology.

Manda: Yeah. Because we need that.

Maddy: Because we assume that technology is the tool that in a way beats us. But actually it could be the tool, or is the tool that enables us.

Manda: It could still be. Yes. I don’t know that it will be necessarily if we don’t use it with a new set of values, but it could be for sure.

Maddy: And of course, then this edge between the digital community and then real community and how do we how do we have a flow between the two, so that people don’t become victims of digitalisation?

Manda: Well, that’s an interesting premise. Can we unpick that one? Because I think that’s really interesting. Well, we could have picked up any of those, but I wanted to let you get to the end of at least one sentence.

Maddy: Exactly. I’m dangling hooks.

Manda: Let’s go backwards on those, because you said real community versus digital. And I think for a lot of people younger than you and I, there is no distinction. Digital community is a real community. The digital world is a real world. There’s an amazing moment in a podcast that was 2018 or so. And it was either Jamie Wheell or Jordan Greenhall, I think probably Jordan Greenhall, and he’s speaking of his 12 year old daughter, and he is an entrepreneur, so at the start of the vacation he offers her a whole bunch of money if she will design something on Minecraft, which is her thing that he has never seen before. And she goes, okay, can I bring in some friends? He goes, yep, anything you like. So okay. And by the end of the day, she’s got seven people all around the world who are going, yeah, we’ll do that. And then they play Minecraft for the rest of the summer. And he sees nothing towards anything that he’s never seen before. And it gets to about three days before the end of the holiday, he’s going, did you actually want this money? And she goes, oh yeah, that’s fine. And within 48 hours, these seven people aged 12, around the world, had self-organized into a group where one was writing the design, one was making it happen, one was writing the manual, various others were putting in other translations. And by the end of that time, he said they had designed something that not only had he never seen before, but that he could not have conceived of.

Manda: And he said he didn’t even want to begin to name the process that they used, because it was so far out with his experience. Their way of collecting, their way of allocating roles, their way of being fluid in the moment and and yet making things happen. And the world at the moment is in the hands of our generation, and I think genuinely our brains are wired differently. And so what I am endeavouring to do in the book is look at the fact that any way that gets us through is going to have to be multigenerational, because we’re all here and it’s going to take all of us. But that at some point the people of Lan’s generation, which is she’s basically my age, have got to acknowledge that the people of her grandchildren’s age, some of whom are in their 30s and some in their 20s, by the the time the main action happens. And then Caitlin is 14. They think differently. And actually the 14 year olds think differently than the 13 year olds. And very likely in in ten years time, there’ll be a new generation that thinks differently again, and we can’t expect the old constraints to happen.

Manda: So I have a real belief that there are communities of place, geography, which are what communities have been throughout the whole of human history. But there are also communities of passion and of purpose. And that one of the things that modern technology gives us is the capacity to move between those quite fluidly and in some cases to meld some of them. So our community of place can also become our community of passion and purpose, or can link with a much wider community of passion and purpose. And if we are going to get through the coming breach, I think we have to have a global movement. It has to be everyone, everywhere, all the time. And the only way to do that is using the gifts of modern technology. But that means also taking them back from the predatory capital death cult. I think it’s Daniel Schmachtenberger who says, if you show me the incentives, I will show you the outcome. And at the moment, the incentives of the social media companies are to make enormous amounts of money. And they do that by sowing division. They do it by limbic hijack, and they deliberately do it by limbic hijack. And so the question arises of how could we use social media in a way that doesn’t tribalize people, doesn’t trigger the cocaine hit of outrage? Jonathan Hyde has a brilliant book called something along the lines of Righteous Anger; Why good People are Divided by Politics. And Righteous indignation, apparently, so it’s the my tribe is right, that tribe is wrong, it’s not just neutral, it’s actively wrong. And I have proof, and I can use that proof to hit them with, creates a dopamine surge that is the same as if we took a nose full of cocaine. But as with a nose full of cocaine, next time you need more outrage to get the same surge. And again, more. And it’s temporary.

Manda: Serotonin connections, the connections we make with our communities, are self-reinforcing, long lasting, and extend. So we need to move from a dopamine culture to a serotonin culture, which I think is the same thing as saying we need to move from a trauma culture to an initiation culture. I think that pretty much these are coterminous. And we’re not putting the genie back in the bottle. Technology is what technology is. We have blockchain, we have AI, we have social media, but we also have people who are using these really intelligently. Audrey Tang in Taiwan is an absolute (expletive deleted) genius, and is using social media in ways that builds bridges.

Manda: They’ve just created a new algorithm, and it cuts out the people at the margins who are wafting outrage at everybody, and highlights instead the comments that are seeking to bridge across whatever social divide, conceptual divide, ideological divide is in the moment. And they’re bringing communities together and making them more cohesive. And they used variations of this and something called prebunking to keep the Chinese at bay. They just had a general election back in January. The People’s Republic of China definitely wanted a particular party to win in Taiwan, because that party wants basically Taiwan to become a part of China. And that party did not win by quite a large margin. So it’s possible. Everything, pretty much everything in the book, the ideas of progress, the ideas of political and economic and social change are not my ideas. I just put them all together. And that’s, I think, what narrative can do. What stories can do, what a thriller can do, is give you a narrative impetus and little bright lights of ideas around it and through it, so that by the end of it you go, God, yes, that’s possible, why are we not doing that now? And then we can create our communities of place and purpose and passion and make it happen. That was quite a long answer. Sorry.

Maddy: Many writers actually fudge the Another World Is Possible theme, and we end up with dystopian or utopian worldviews, which I don’t think very much help. But you with others, have developed this concept. Rupert Read started it of a utopia which you has been defined as an act of imagining the actual mechanics of how we transition from this broken, collapsing world to one that’s in a process of transformation and healing on all levels.

Manda: Yay! Yes.

Maddy: So you’ve mentioned Audrey Tang as a real influence on this idea, or the ideas of how we transition to another world. Can you talk a little bit more about some of the ingredients in the wonderful transformation cake of the new World?

Manda: Okay. Yes. Thank you. Fantastic question. So the thing that leaps up that I haven’t, I think, emphasised enough when I’ve written about this is that it needs to be peaceful. I think the use of power to solve perceived problems is a part of the old paradigm. It’s part of trauma culture thinking. So whatever we do, it needs to be peaceful. That’s one of the absolute lines in the sand. Building on that, we’re in the middle of a poly crisis and we are a hyper complex system. We need to move on all fronts. We can’t get away with linear thinking. If we fix point A and then we fix point B, and then we fix point C, and 120 years from now we get to point Z and start all over again, and that we’re just going to walk a single path. We need total systemic change, because the existing system, I used to say the system is broken and I changed that. No, the system is not broken, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do, which is to enrich a very, very few number of people at the expense of absolutely everything else. And so we need a new system. And that means we need to change our political system, our governance system, our economic system, our systems of social connectedness, our food and farming systems, our urban rural design systems, our transport systems, everything that we do. And there’s no point in trying to change just one of them.

Manda: Fixing farming to the point where we have regenerative farming everywhere would be lovely. And I have heard people say if we solve for food, we solve everything and we don’t. But I also think we can’t solve for food unless we have also solved quite a lot of the rest. We need a new value system underlying. We can talk about that later. Asked me about value system in a bit, but let’s have a look at the actual components of change. We badly need an emotionally literate, intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate governance system that trusts the people. We have the opposite of that at the moment. We have an absolute kleptocracy run by psychopaths, because that’s what the system elevates. The system is designed to perpetuate the system. So we’re going to have a new system. But we have to do this peacefully. So part of what the book does is walks us through the ways that we could shift the existing model using the rules of the existing model. So one of the suggestions that our movement brings up is that there’d be random drug and alcohol tests in both houses of Parliament in the UK, or anywhere around the world. In your governance system, it should not be possible to pilot a country while you are not in your right mind. And three strikes and out. First strike, you have some time out and you’re offered counselling, second time you have longer time out and the counselling is mandatory and by the third time you just lose your job. And you don’t get the huge pay off that MPs get when they are sacked, because why should you? And you’re not allowed to stand in the by election that inevitably follows. It’s not in the book, but I would have compulsory voting, but I would have compulsory voting like they have in Australia but with the addition of a NOTA, which is ‘none of the above’ box. And if ‘none of the above’ wins, so it gets whatever voting system we use, but it wins in a particular constituency, you have to hold another election, that constituency, a by election effectively, and none of the people who stood first time round are allowed to stand. Which is, in the current system, one of the ways that you would get round political parties parachuting in people that you don’t really want. Although you could also get around that by having open primaries. All of these happened somewhere in the world, they don’t ever happen all at once together. So random drug and alcohol tests. The second thing was to have total transparency of government spending, by putting it on the blockchain. Because the blockchain cannot be retroactively altered. And this is not the Bitcoin iteration of the blockchain, we need to be clear about that. Bitcoin is to blockchain what email is to communication. It’s very old, it’s very clunky and it uses up a lot of power. And there are much, much, much cleaner leaner lighter versions.

Manda: But you could put every bit of government spending on the blockchain. You could require that all political parties have no funding from the outside, and that they have funding proportional to the number of their MPs, once you have a proportionality of distribution of MPs. It would be no good just now, but we have to stop the fact that people can buy votes. We have the best democracy money can buy and that’s not reasonable. There are some very interesting papers from the states, and I think it would map onto the UK. It would probably map onto most Western democracies, to show that what actually happens in terms of laws being made and changed has no bearing at all on what general people want and think. It is defined entirely by the spending power of the lobbyists. So once people have money, they have the money to affect the legislation such that it continues to make them money. And we have to stop that. So all spending on the blockchain, and if a company wants government money, so basically public money, it has to commit to putting all of its accounting on the blockchain also, so that everybody can see everything. And then the final one was a complete shift in the age of voting. At the moment in the United Kingdom, if you are voting for the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament, votes are from 16 upwards. For the UK Parliament, it’s 18 and upwards because they know that if they allowed those two extra years to vote, the Tories would never be back in.

Manda: So they just don’t let them. And they’re doing a lot of voter suppression to try and make sure young people can’t vote anyway. We are recording this on the day of a particular set of elections, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the voter suppression works. Not good, but interesting. And so part of what we say in the book is that definitely we extend the voting age down to 16, but I also put an upper and a lower limit from ten years old to 16 years old and from 80 to 85, if people want to vote. They have to commit to three hours of facilitated zoom conversations with someone at the other end of the age range. So a ten year old with an 83 year old say. And they have to discuss topics that matter to each of them. They don’t have to agree, but if by the end of it either side says they have not been listened to, then neither gets to vote. You’d have to listen. You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to persuade each other of your viewpoints, but you have to listen. What I said in the book, in the first iteration was that 85 and over, I’m sorry you’ve had your time, you don’t get to vote. That was presented in the book as a bait and switch. It was a deliberate we put this out there, it causes outrage and then we step back from it.

Manda: And because we have something we can give up, then we get the ten year olds and upwards in there. To be honest, if it were left to me 85 and up, I’m sorry you got us here. And here is an extremely bad place and you did not do enough to stop it. I’ve had a lot of pushback on this, but a number of people who’ve read the advance reading copy have gone, oh my God, you’re taking my vote away. And the conversation thereafter goes where do you live and why do you think that your vote counts? Because in the UK, there are about half a dozen swing constituencies where 2500 votes makes a difference. Corbyn lost the 2017 election by 2385 votes. If votes had gone the other way, spread through a very small number of constituencies, we’d have had a Labour majority. What would have happened thereafter is open because the Labour Party is not a social democratic party. But let’s leave that aside. The actual voting system means that most people’s votes are utterly irrelevant. And by the time you finish the conversation of, yes, I live in a safe seat here, you know, they voted this particular way for the last 150 years, so probably actually my vote would make no difference. It’s an interesting conversation to have. So one way or another we need to change the voting system.

Manda: First past the post is an absolutely catastrophic way of pretending to give anybody any sense of democratic agency. So we need to change democratic agency. And there are a whole number of ways of that. I mention in passing quadratic voting on the blockchain, because I spoke to Ruth Catlow on the podcast, and she has created an app that allows that. But it’s slightly geeky and a little bit too complicated, and I had explained it in much more depth. And we just edited that out because, hey, this is a thriller. You don’t actually need to know the details of quadratic voting on the blockchain. So those are governance things we could get. There’s economic change that needs to happen. There’s structural change. But underlying all of it we need a change in our value system. If we continue with the value system that says he who dies with the most toys wins, and that power accumulates upwards, that the accumulation of wealth gives power over everybody else, and that the accumulation of wealth is the only target and it doesn’t matter what dies or is destroyed in in the process, then we can make all the changes we want, and we’re still going straight over the edge of the cliff. So we need to change the value system. But that’ll take time. And we need to model what it is that we want to be.

Maddy: And there are some indicators in the novel about what the value systems could be, you know, the changed value system. So without giving the game away too much, can we talk about that as well? Can we explore some of the key sort of essence I think of new values and where we need to go? And I see it very much as part of our evolution as a species. You know, it’s not just the adoption of what we ought to do. This is about growing consciousness and becoming more awake.

Manda: Yes, yes, you are so my ideal reader. Yes. And because Accidental Gods predates Any Human Power, and Accidental Gods is at core about facilitating conscious evolution, consciously changing our consciousness, evolving ourselves out of choice. And I have believed for a long time that that’s where we need to get to. So everything that I do has that at its basis, it’s just more or less explicit. And anyone who’s listened to this podcast for more than half a dozen episodes, I think, would be able to work out the value system that my current understanding says that we need. And I think one of the things we have to say is we’re going for emergence. And one of the points of emergence from a complex system is that if you can see the new system, it’s not an emergent system, it’s a slight tweaking of the old system. So actually, I don’t know what the emergent system looks like. But from the standpoint of here and now, I think it has to be based on integrity, groundedness, compassion and connection.

Manda: Yesterday we launched within Accidental Gods, something we’re calling the Three Pillars of the Heart Mind, to really help people build that sense of a heart mind, that sense of deep inner knowing, that sense of the textures of their being, grounded in gratitude, compassion and joyful curiosity. And I think those are integral to what we’re doing. But if I throw that out into the world, people glaze over. You need to already be walking towards that to be able to assimilate it. So what we have to do in a novel is assume that people are coming to this from business as usual and and walk slowly and carefully and stumble on the way, because that’s what’s inevitably going to happen. And have people argue with each other, because not everybody gets this. If everybody was on board, we wouldn’t need to be writing this. So we need the people who aren’t on board, and we need them to very stridently not be on board so that we can see how behaviour changes.

Manda: Almost everything that’s been written in the past 10,000 years is predicated on a certain set of values. And changing those values isn’t going to happen overnight. So nobody wants to read a polemic. I don’t want to write a polemic. I want to write something that has all those edges and edges of disagreement. Human conflict is part of how we grow. It’s part of how we find our individuation. It’s part of how we know who we are. How we manage that conflict is the core of where our values are at. We manage conflict from our value system, and if our value system is extractive and trauma based, we manage conflict by lashing out. If our value system is based in a groundedness and a sense of agency and compassion and connection and integrity, then I think we manage conflict with empathy. And by finding common ground and by seeing how we can move forward together. So those are at the heart of where certain of my characters want to take us, and the others don’t always want to go there.

Maddy: No, as is evident. And I’m so interested in this. I talked about edges, this edge between rage and fighting and then non-violent activism and how they come together and you tease out the advantages a more peaceful approach. And the necessity, I mean, there’s real drama and agency in that, that we don’t just descend into fighting as a movement.

Manda: Thank you. Yes. Because we haven’t got that. I mean, we haven’t got time and we won’t win. I mean, those are pragmatic. And it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s old paradigm thinking and we need to step away from that.

Maddy: And there’s something far more complex and woven in empathy and peace. You know, people see it as backing down and being weak, but actually it’s the opposite. That it takes far more presence of mind to embrace conflict and process it and have empathy than it does to hold an opinion and wage it.

Manda: Yes, yes. And sadly, our social media at the moment teaches us very clearly how to hold an opinion and wage it. It’s a really good phrase that and we need to step back from that.

Maddy: Absolutely. And the book has got that complexity woven into it. Maybe that’s the wrong word and subtlety is a better word; that it weaves in the subtlety of those diverse viewpoints and we can have coalescence and come to into agreement whilst holding our differences.

Manda: Yeah, I hope so. Thank you. Yes. That’s the aim. I don’t think it would be interesting to read if everybody agreed with everybody else and it wouldn’t feel real. And it really matters writing these that it feel real. And I think you said earlier on that a lot of writers skate around this, and I think they do it because actually it’s incredibly hard. It’s much easier to set up factions and have them fight each other. And continue that model of behaviour of the good guys will win and the bad guys will lose. Or maybe they won’t and things will be horrible. But basically conflict is at the heart of everything. And how do we move within that? Where’s the freedom of movement? Where are the liminal spaces that we can step into? And I think one of the advantages of having the between, having a character who is dead, is that they’re much less invested in being right all the time. It’s much easier then to take that, you know, ‘life is very short; make the most of it’ becomes then really quite a real and tangible concept within which to build everything else. I’m working on the sequel at the moment. I’m wondering who the main characters are going to be, and that’s an interesting journey also, is do I still need that viewpoint? Is it still valid? Is it still valuable? Are the better viewpoints to come in from? I haven’t got an answer to that yet mind you.

Maddy: I can’t go there in this conversation, but I’d love to. I shall hold back. You’ve mentioned Lan again, and I just wanted to observe that you deeply explore the nature of grief in the novel, and it comes across as very authentic, very much lived experience. And I read it as, you know, having just lost my partner. So it was very poignant. But there’s also a sense in the novel that there are many types of grief, not just personal bereavement. And there is the grief that I think most of us, whether we’re conscious or not, experience as we go through the sixth mass extinction. There’s the grief that we’re all experiencing as the climate unravels, whether we consciously know it or not. I mean, here we are at the beginning of May, and it’s cold and very, very wet. And it’s obvious that the birds are struggling to find the insects to feed their young. You know, I’m watching the natural world struggle, and for anyone else sensitive to that will bring a sense of grief. And I had a sense while I was reading this novel that in some ways, you’re preparing your reader for what I would call grief warrior training. That there’s an element where we explore the sort of practical mechanics of the other world that’s possible, but also this understanding that the transition will not flow smoothly, that it’s going to be tough, that it will be rocky. And it’s obvious as the novel, particularly at the end, comes to its conclusion, that it’s tough out there, particularly in the political landscape and brutal. So I guess my question is, were you consciously aware of this idea of warrior training for your readers, or does it just come across as it’s just part of the Manda package?

Manda: That’s a really, really interesting question. So that particular phrase was not part of my lexicon as I was writing it. But I can see how you get there, and it might become part of the lexicon for the next one. That would be really interesting. That said, clearly I teach the shamanic dreaming and the north of the wheel in the system that we work in is the place of the guardian parent, the inner warrior and the hunter and the hunted. That duality, amongst other things. And the concept of inner warriorship is something that we work with a lot within Accidental Gods and within the dreaming. The sense that the inner warrior is the part that lets us be heart open, that lets us be vulnerable, that lets us feel grief without feeling that we need to move into denial or rage, or any of the other deflections that happen when we are drenched in grief. I spoke to Douglas Rushkoff on the podcast a few weeks ago and and asked him what was most alive for him at the moment, and he said, this sense that right beneath everybody’s skin is this ocean of grief. And he’s right. It’s there. And it has to be real. And the more that we can acknowledge that we’re all feeling this, the more we can also find the three pillars of the heart mind. Find that sense of connectedness to the all that is, and then have the humility to ask, how do we move forward in this? Because for me, part of the Conscious Evolution that we need, is to let go of this idea that we can fix things when plainly our attempts to fix things are part of the reason we are where we are. And instead connect with the web of life and ask, how can I help? Which is a very different state of being.

Manda: And we don’t get exactly there in the book, but we’re heading in that direction. And certain of the characters, certainly Lan and a couple of the others, are within that framing of there is life; aspects of it are dying. Can we help? So yes, I think warrior training sounds like a really good and interesting way to bring us to the point of an inner warrior, someone who is completely committed to being the best of themselves, which for me is what the inner warrior ness is. It’s the bit that goes, no, don’t engage in the online rows. Don’t do whatever it was you’re about to do that inflicts pain on somebody, emotional or real. Do what you can to help. And then that is the seed corn for the Conscious Evolution that needs to happen. So it’s all steps on a journey and we can’t rush the journey, but we can commit to it, I think. So what I would like from the book is that people make the commitment and just ask every day, what can I do to help? It brings a different tenor to the days, I think. And then the more people that ask that and that find other people that are asking it, and ask it in communities online and offline, then the more likely we are to move to a place where we are all viewing the world differently.

Maddy: And I think that’s critical in the sense of how do we manage grief and despair. The only way, in my experience, to manage grief and despair is, and it may sound a little bit, I don’t know, like an understatement, but it’s not. Is to ask, what can I do to live my best life, even in these circumstances. And to acknowledge all the things that we are capable of being grateful for, daily.

Manda: Yes. In the moment.

Maddy: Even the times of dissolution and and loss. And I really feel like that as a society we’re going into dissolution and loss. As a world we are. And therefore we need to learn how to manage it collectively and personally. But the collective management of it and these shared values are one of the key ways through to strengthening ourselves and allowing ourselves the depth of consciousness. Because consciousness isn’t about light, you know, love and light. It is, but it’s not. It’s about all of it. So the more light, the more darkness, the more love, the more hate. You know? As we get bigger, we suffer more. And then we also have to have more detachment.

Manda: Yes, and more engagement as well, though.

Maddy: And agency.

Manda: And I’m really worried that you read this not very long after Tim died and your entire world had disintegrated. But you are sharing within that. What struck me was your capacity to be openly vulnerable. And I think that the capacity for vulnerability is one of the things that is missing from our trauma culture, because it doesn’t feel safe. And so I think part of what we’re trying to do, you and I, here and with the book and with everything else that we both do, is create safe enough spaces in the moment for people to bring the best of themselves. In a world that is, as you said, it’s disintegrating around us. Nothing is predictable. We’re probably heading for really quite interesting food situation this autumn because nobody can grow anything. Things are not growing the way they were doing this time last year or the year before, and we have already seen in the pandemic how fast people end up clawing each other’s eyes out over a packet of spaghetti. What happens when our safe, known world falls apart? And large parts of the world are discovering this and have been discovering this for decades, and now it’s coming to the places where we thought that it wouldn’t.

Manda: And how are we going to step into that? Rebecca Solnit has a brilliant book called A Paradise Made in Hell, where she looks at responses to things like Hurricane Katrina and tsunamis and big environmental disasters around the world, and the extent to which people take agency and help each other and the places where that was stopped. So particularly FEMA in Katrina where they said, no, you can’t do anything. We’re going to help you and you must not help yourselves. It destroyed the communities. Places where communities were able to come together and help each other, are places where community thrived and grew. And I would like us to have our communities of place and passion and purpose, in place and functioning, so that we have the layers of trust. I think it’s within XR, one of the statements that I’ve heard is change happens at the speed of trust. And trust takes a long time to build and it goes away very fast. How do we build trust in ourselves and each other? Is, I would say, another of the core questions of the book that’s kind of threaded through: who can we trust? How do we know we can trust them? What happens if that trust is challenged?

Maddy: To just take you in a slightly different direction while I can. Can you tell me a little bit about splitting timelines? I know it’s something as a novelist that it’s one of the muscles of your writing in a sense, that it’s something that you do. But here particularly it has a huge impact, where we’re able to travel back and forth in time and explore different timelines in the book. And I think that culminates in a deep understanding about time not being linear. So I wonder can we explore that? I know it’s perhaps a little bit abstract, but I think it is a key.

Manda: No, no, it’s was one of the things in the vision. So this is a shamanic concept. The concept of the void exists within the shamanic structures that I work with as a shamanic practitioner, and that I teach within the dreaming awake. And I have once been lost in the void without an anchor, and it was the single most terrifying experience of my life. And I thought I was going to die of fright, which sounds like one of those quite amusing things when you’re 20 years away from it and was at the time extremely unpleasant. So part of the vision on the hill was that Lan would need to be taught how to go into the void and split the timelines. And the principle is that with training, and with a lot of support and with anchoring and not to be done lightly, because getting lost in the void, whether you’re alive or dead, is an extremely bad idea. I want to make that very clear, because I do not want people to think that this is something they can just try. Anyway, you go into the void, learn to split timelines and one can see options. That from any given moment, there is a fan of infinitely spreading options of choice A, B, C, D, and from there there then nodes where numerous choices are made and there’s an almost infinite array of possibilities. And it’s possible to see the outcome of these.

Manda: What we can never see in my current understanding is the timelines in which we take agency. Because we if we haven’t taken that agency yet, that timeline does not exist. And so Lan is shown how to split the timelines and then basically instructed to take some agency, which when you are newly dead, is very hard. And she finds it very hard, but she manages. And she enters the timeline twice more over the spread of 15 years. And in each of those, she sees not just the timelines of a specific individual, but in the second one, the timeline of humanity, and in the third one, the timeline of the movement behind her family and her family explicitly. And what she’s seeing is the many, many, many ways we don’t make it through. I think near-term human extinction is extremely likely, and everyone that I’ve spoken to goes, oh no, that’s not going to happen. When we boil down to, okay, tell me why, because I would sleep much better if I thought not. It’s the person saying it can’t happen, don’t want it to be possible. I have not heard a single person come up with a really good reason why near-term human extinction is not very close on the cards, other than I don’t want that to happen, which is not a reason. So she sees all the ways. Or she sees a number of the ways humanity goes over the edge of the cliff.

Manda: And then the implication is she can take agency and there is still time to divert the bus of humanity from the edge of the cliff. And then she has to figure out the nature of that agency and how to do it. This is one of the things in the editing process. I know editing should be a secret, but I think it’s interesting that in the beginning I wrote a lot more detail of the void and what to do, partly because I have this instinct that these books should be a manual for my students, but actually they’re not a manual for my students. It’s a political thriller. So tens of thousands of words went out the window, because it was getting in the way of the flow of the action. But I really, really, really don’t want people to try this at home. Really. It’s not a clever thing to do. But it does bring us to the concept that we are barrelling towards the edge of a cliff. But I genuinely believe that the bus can still turn. And part of the reason I believe that is, is in the shamanic work we are getting so much help now, in ways that 20 years ago when I started teaching wasn’t there. And partly I have spent 20 years teaching, and perhaps I know how to help people to ask more cleanly and clearly and with stronger intent. That is definitely a thing.

Manda: But I think also everything feels much more immediate, and the veils between the worlds are much thinner. My understanding is that whatever we call that which has agency in the not consensus reality worlds, whatever we call them, it has limited agency in our world. We are its arm of agency. And committing to that is quite different to committing to be the best of ourselves. But ‘I will do whatever I can to interpret what is being asked of me in the moment’ is essentially what shamanic practice is. And then hearing the nudges and the ‘we want this of you now’ that isn’t our projection, is what takes the 10 to 20 years of training. And it’s hard and it’s a continual question. So I think splitting the void was an essential part of what I wanted Lan to do, because I wanted us as readers to understand that there are options. That we do still have agency, but it really matters that we take that agency now and that basically informs everything that I do. But I believe it to be true. I really, genuinely think there is still time to turn the bus, but I don’t think we have very long and I don’t think we get there if everybody continues to pretend that business as usual is a thing.

Maddy: And I think the pace of the book, I read it in fairly long sittings, but in short days the first time. Then I went and reread certain passages that I thought, oh, I haven’t quite got the real sort of dimension of this, I need to understand this better. So I went back to it and then the last day or so I’ve read it again, but obviously I’ve had to speed read it.

Manda: There was a deadline.

Maddy: It’s a big thing. And what I come away with is this real sense of agency, but also it’s quite an adrenaline packed ride, the book. And I’m not saying, oh, it’s really uncomfortable, but when people talk about, oh, something’s a thriller, that implies it’s thrilling. And so many books so aren’t thrilling; they’re formulaic and predictable and a bit boring. And you kind of think, well, yeah, okay, what have I actually gained from reading this? Have I been entertained or have I been educated? Because I want actually, as a reader, to be both. I want to learn stuff and I want to enjoy it. And that’s what fiction is about to me. It’s about expanding your consciousness in an enjoyable way, whether it’s on a level of prose and the aesthetics of how the book is written and plotted. And it strikes me that you’re a plotter in the sense that you have all these different characters and timelines and themes. How do you do that? Do you do you have like a wall in a room?

Manda: No. I definitely don’t.

Maddy: Do you have a massive sort of multi-dimensional room in your head where these are all written out? Can you just unpack for me? You know, the insight of how you map it all, as a writer.

Manda: I can try. That’s a really good question. And it’s the kind of thing in the years when I was in the Crime Writers Association, we would sit around and talk about this. Because there are the people who plot things in advance. And in the old days, they had everything on a little two by four card, and they would pick up the next card and write the next plot point. And I can’t do that. Partly I can’t do that because my books are always absolutely character led, and I just need to get to know the people. And that means, you know, Niall becomes a really important character in the book. And when I started, he turned up as a balance of a sentence. I didn’t even know he existed until he walked into the room and said, oh, there’s a person there. Well, never mind, he wasn’t in what I thought I was going to write.

Maddy: And you know, he is a bit boring at first.

Manda: Yeah, yeah. He doesn’t have space.

Maddy: Yes. You know, he doesn’t come alive until later on.

Manda: He doesn’t do much. Yeah, exactly. And he came alive for me. So I have to get to know the people and then always I am asking the characters what is driving you? I need to know what drives them forward. And once I’ve got a handle on that, then they they get to do what they need to do to achieve whatever it is they feel they need to achieve. And the thriller arc, if there is one, arises out of that. I at the very beginning I knew Lan made her promise and she split the timelines and I knew nothing else, and the rest emerged in the asking of that question what do you need of me? What do you need to do next? You, who is the biggest and brightest in my in my field of view. And then there was a first draft and then there are eight drafts after. And some of those eight drafts are seeing that there is a thriller here and polishing it, taking away the stuff that really isn’t necessary. And feeling into what charges these people, what what animates, what gets them up in the morning? What do they care about and what do they care about that’s under threat? And what do they care about that’s not under threat?

Manda: You know, there’s a cat that arrives towards the end. I completely had no idea this cat was going to turn up. And he’s there. He has agency and he does stuff, and he’s there for very, very good reasons. He needs to be there, but he’s not under threat. And you need those things as well. You need the things that are completely under threat and the things that just aren’t, because otherwise it’s too tense; it’s too tense to write and it’s two tense to read. So I don’t plot, I probably should, it would probably make the writing much, much, much easier. But I don’t know how because until I have somebody on the page dancing in front of me, I don’t know who they are and I don’t know why they are who they are. So it’s a very organic process, which makes me quite frustrating I think, when I’m teaching writing, because I just, you know, guys, you don’t need to plot anything. Just sit down and write. It’s not necessarily the most useful statement, but I happen to believe it’s true. I think the thing that I always say when I’m teaching writing is you can do all of the research in the world that you like about practical material stuff. You cannot write a single sentence beyond the edges of your own emotional intelligence. And if you want to write better, deeper, more textured books, you expand your own emotional intelligence and then everything else slots into place. And that’s not necessarily easy either. But it’s possible, I believe. I am a very different person than I was 20 years ago. And part of it is an explicit endeavour to do that.

Maddy: And this is a very different novel from your series 20 years ago. Let’s say that, very strongly.

Manda: It has the same roots. You know, someone who really liked Ban who became Valerius, they’re going to recognise him in Finn.

Maddy: True. And we’ve got Hail.

Manda: Yeah. Yes, Hails back. Yes.

Maddy: Hails back.

Manda: Yeah. I was really surprised by that. Totally wasn’t expecting that. But then he needed to be there.

Maddy: He had to come back didn’t he. So I think we’re moving to summing up. But I wanted to say do you dream with your characters? I mean, of course you do, but do you meet them in the dream?

Manda: Totally. Yes. But we would have to define for people listening that for me, dreaming is a very wide frame. It’s not just night dreaming. I do night dream with my characters, but also there’s the liminal space of hypnagogic and hypnopompic spaces as you’re going into and coming out of sleep, where I use a lot, you can expand those spaces to take hours if you need to. And I spent an hour at least with Conor, who is one of the characters. I hadn’t dreamt with him barely before. And literally three mornings ago, I spent an hour in Conor’s company exploring the new book and amongst other things.

Maddy: I knew he’d be in it.

Manda: And that was really unexpected. So I try not to control the dreaming too much, because I don’t want my ego and my head in the way. But definitely I dream. I have to because dreaming is how I function. So yeah.

Maddy: And I find it really interesting that one of your primary characters, Caitlin, is a young teenage girl who’s sexually aware, highly intelligent, highly articulate, almost a taboo to write about her in today’s society. Did you feel that?

Manda: Do you think? Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s a good thing.

Maddy: Well, only in the sense of should we even go there exploring that aspect of another generation. I just had that sense that we live in such a bizarre world with pornography and the exploitation of young people. And so I felt like it was really brave to bring that theme to the forefront of someone so young, with agency and that kind of awareness as well. And, you know, speak about it openly or have her speak about it openly.

Manda: Yes. And the key thing about that is she sends a tweet which changes the world. That tweet existed. That’s a real tweet. And it was sent by a 12 year old. Caitlin is 14.5. The person who sent that tweet was a girl who was 12. And it lasted half an hour. And I happened to be on Twitter because that’s my cruise of choice, at the point when it hit Twitter and adult, you know, older boomer basically heads exploded all over the place because it was it was basically saying, we need pornography for teenagers in which somebody does not get strangled at the end. And I saw that and I thought I bet that somebody who gets strangled at the end is not the bloke. And she didn’t say that, and it was taken down within half an hour. She was the daughter of somebody whose name people in the UK would recognise. And I was incensed by the response. Nobody went, oh my goodness, this is something we really need to look into and address. They went ‘you can’t say that’. No. Yes you can. Yes, she needs to. And so I had been looking for a trigger of a mass generational movement that wasn’t me recreating Greta. Because first of all, I don’t need to because she exists. And second, I didn’t want to. I wanted it to be something other than the climate part of the meta crisis. And this tweet just floated past me and Ok that. I’ll have that. And then it’s gone. Oh, that’s not good. I was so cross by the fact that nobody supported this lass. She’ll be what, 15 now. So so that tweet existed as part of it. And I had no idea this was taboo. I am online partly because I have just given up Warcraft again for the fifth time, but I play World of Warcraft, and a lot of the people playing are teenagers. And I spent, while I was writing this book, really quite large amounts of time in battlegrounds with people where I was easily old enough to be their grandmother. And, and we talk about stuff and they are highly intelligent and totally sexually aware in ways that I never was at that age.

Manda: And I listened to a really interesting podcast again sometime way back, with a woman who was an academic, and it was her job to look at sexual awareness in young people. And somebody said to her ‘however did you know what to do before videos?’ And she said I have never felt so old. And you know, she was ten, 20 years younger than you and I are. It’s another generational gap. But my goodness, you can’t pretend it’s not happening, guys. You just can’t. This is the internet. I remember decades ago, probably in the early 90s, reading something in the New York Times where somebody mentioned the internet and he said then, and if you don’t know what the internet is, you’re 11 year old is currently downloading pornography off it as we speak on your computer. And that was the 90s. It’s there. It’s a thing. Exploitation is utterly horrendous. And the question of what do we do about this is one of the animating kind of trigger plots within the broader plot of the book. I don’t think that’s a particular spoiler, and it’s a part of the meta crisis. What are we going to do when the generations who have had access to anything that could possibly be made come of age? And I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that it’s not something we can pretend isn’t a thing.

Maddy: No, I think it’s absolutely huge and it’s making huge changes. And like you say, when they come of age, it is so emergent. We just don’t know. But I think most people of older generations almost turn away and pretend it’s not happening because it’s such a difficult thing to talk about and also fundamentally understand, because it’s not our experience when we were growing up and therefore we turn away from it. And this is what interests me about this book. So my last question, Manda, is, can we talk a little bit about moving beyond the hero of a Thousand Faces and the sort of metaphor of the Hero’s journey? Because what I love about this book is the community of characters, that they have their own pulse and some come to the fore later on in the book. But fundamentally, I’m reading something where I feel in relationship with certain characters, like Mo Baker and Connor McBride and I love Crow and Finn, of course, and Hail and so on. You know, they they become very real. They become a very powerful collective. And to me, this is a very different way of writing. And there are more, you know, and more come towards the end as well. And you think, well, can I really, as a reader, can I integrate more, can I enter into relationship and get attached to, fond of more? But it’s possible. And it seems to me this is again something that’s moving away from this limited hero or heroine’s journey and into something very different. So I wondered if we could just explore that.

Manda: Sure. Yes, we definitely can. Although I want to skip back to one of the things I was thinking when we were talking about gender and sexuality and young people. And one of the things that I think, I don’t know, the age span of people who listen to this podcast, but one of the things that strikes me most when I’m in digital connection with young people, is how much more emotionally literate they are in terms of navigating the complexities of gender and sexuality than was even considered possible when I was a teenager. And up to a point, I really wish that I’d had access to that level of emotional intelligence when I was exploring sexuality, knowing that I wasn’t, in a binary heterosexual world, I just was not going to fit there, but not really having much access at all to speaking to anybody. The only lesbian woman I knew in the entire world was Martina Navratilova when I was growing up. That was it. But at least she was there, you know. A decade earlier they didn’t even have that. But it’s a different world and we have to accept the fluidity is a thing now. It’s a really, really different experience. And the capacity to navigate it enables a lot more empathy than I think we who didn’t have that give credit for. I just felt I needed to say that.

Maddy: I think that’s important, and also not to be so trapped in gender, you know, in that binary sense of I’m a woman and he’s a man. And quite apart from one’s sexuality, it’s just as a being. You know, as human beings, are we identified by gender?

Manda: Or not. Yes, exactly. There’s a whole spectrum, and we just have to accept that the spectrum is a lot wider than we used to think it was.

Maddy: But I love that. I love that because I think it frees us, you know, it frees us from those very limited, narrow constraints that we were forced to grow up with and hide our shame if we were different in any way.

Manda: Totally. And and it’s in such a short time. It’s been a couple of generations. I look back at my mother or my grandparents and the cultural limitations, particularly placed on women, but also on men and the expectations of roles. I look at it and I am utterly horrified, and I imagine that when the current teenagers are our age, they’re going to look at the restrictions we placed on ourselves and be equally horrified. We just need to make sure there’s still a functional world for them to get to, to think that. So anyway, your question about the heroic journey. I exist in two spaces with this because in our trauma culture, we exist in a space where everyone is the hero of their own journey. That is just a thing. I had a really fascinating conversation with Josiah Meldrum nearly a year ago now, and he’s worked with some indigenous groups in the Amazon, and he says they’re amazing videographers. Give them a video camera, and they can create the most astonishing videos of the jungle in which they live. And people in our culture, the Western educated, industrial, rich, democratic don’t get these films at all, because their concept of personhood and of time is so different to ours that we can’t find the narrative arc. And I’ve explored that a lot, and I’ve thought about the question of whether I could write a novel that was fluid in terms of time and personhood, and I think nobody would understand it, of the people who needed to. Because it’s not the indigenous tribes in the middle of the Amazon that are destroying the entire biosphere.

Manda: We need to write stories that people of Western educated, industrial, rich, democratic nations can empathise with. Can see themselves in, can become emotionally engaged with. So there needs to be a degree, I think, of a heroic arc. And then the question is, do we need a single individual? And obviously you’ve already said, I think not, although I find that starting a second book, do I start with that very big cast? Because you don’t start, you start with Lan and Finn, you start with two. And then you follow Lan for quite a while where it’s just Lan. And gradually we open up to other people. You’re not dumped into a big cast, and I don’t think you could be. I don’t think it would work. But the cast grows because our need for other people with other agencies grows, and then people arise to fill that space. And then we get to a point where the movement has its own sense of personhood and agency, and it is infinitely big.

Manda: And for me, this mirrors what people do and how our own agency works. For millennia, for all of human existence, we’ve existed with the Dunbar number as our constraint, and the Dunbar number is the number of people with whom we can create reflexive, intimate, agency led relationships. And it tends to be around 144. And what we’re finding now is we can have our local Dunbar number, our Dunbar number of place, and we can do it in our communities of passion and of purpose. And we can have multiple communities and actually our capacity to build connections, relevant connections, is exploding beyond the Dunbar number. This is part of why we are in a hyper complex culture. And bringing that into a narrative is challenging, and I don’t want to over face people. People have to get to the end of this book thinking, yes, I could do this. Not thinking, oh my God, my brain’s just been exploded, and now I just have to lie down for a week and recover. So you can’t over face them, but we can get into a place of realising that agency is multifold. That communities matter, that being part of a community gives us a power and an agency and an empowerment. I mean, not a power over but a power with, that acting individually cannot ever have.

Manda: So I am also endeavouring to undo the myth of the individual that has epitomised our neoliberal culture. And a lot of this came from reading the Dawn of Everything by Graeber and Wengrow, which is one of those books that totally rewired my brain. And reading the letters of the Wendat, we called them the Huron, who had cities I never knew, and they had such an advanced culture, and one of their representatives went to France and was utterly horrified by the top down, hierarchical people give you orders and you follow them, and you have people who are so rich they don’t know what to do, and people who are starving on the streets. How does that happen? And he came back and he said, nobody tells me what to do. Nobody has the power to do that. But he existed in a serotonin mesh of a functioning culture. And if one person starves, everyone starves and one person has food, everyone has food. Nobody is going to be left starving on the streets. It’s just not a thing. And somehow we need to find that. Find the place where I can be an individual in community. And these are not binary opposites. I think that’s so important. And so that too is an integral mesh within the book. Good question. Thank you.

Maddy: Thank you. I think I’ve probably exhausted my questions for now. Well, some of them.

Manda: I think we’ve probably run to the point where both our brains are full. Thank you. Yes, that was fantastic Maddy, I am so grateful for the chance to explore ideas.

Maddy: I’m very grateful that you asked me. I want to say something to your listeners, is that okay?

Manda: Sure. Go ahead. The mic is yours.

Maddy: Thank you. So I would like to thank you for inviting me today, because it’s such a different thing for me to do as someone who’s been editing environmental books for 30 odd years and doing Permaculture Magazine. And it’s been such a pleasure to go into a more literary dimension and have to reread a book and enjoy the prose. I mean, there’s some prose in this book that I’ve underlined, that took me back to sort of studying practical criticism at university as a student of literature, you know, it’s wonderful. So I really would just like to say that I think that Any Human Power is an extraordinary blend of wisdom and also a real take on contemporary life with all of the complexity of the systems at work. And I do think it’s genuinely brilliant, and I’ve never read anything like it before. And I think the characters are very well drawn. I think you’re plotting, whatever you say about your process, is really good. I looked for holes and things that didn’t fit or match, but I think your editorial process has served you well. It’s very vigorously done. And there are some passages in it that are very, very beautiful. I’m not going to say where they are in the book because I might give something away, but you have to read it people out there.

Maddy: It’s a big book and it’s full of magnetism and drama and a ripping good story. So, you know, it is a compelling read. And I’ve certainly had friends that have borrowed my copy and read it in as few sittings as possible, because I said no, you can’t have it. You can’t take it away. I need it because I’ve got to interview Manda! So we’re all seeking this new paradigm. We’re all searching for the mechanisms of emergence. We’re all looking for future insights of how we can change the world fundamentally. And I really believe that this combination of quite intellectual, quite vigorous exploration that Accidental Gods has allowed you to do, in all of the harvesting of the brilliant people that you’ve spoken to over the years. But combined with the liminal, the non-material dimensions is an incredible recipe to explore emergence. And I really guarantee to anyone that reading it will challenge you and excite you. So I just want to say from my heart to your listeners, yeah, go get that copy. Stop procrastinating. June the 6th. I can say this, Manda can’t. And thank you.

Manda: Thank you. I am so moved. Thank you so much. It landed well with at least one person. I am beyond grateful and I do have to say thanks to Hannah MacDonald, who’s who was my editor and publisher at September, because if we have good plots in there, a lot of it is down to Hannah. And then to Helen Bleck, who came in for the final edits. They really, really helped me sharpen it. So any book is the work of a village and and September provided the most amazing village. So we need to say that too. Thank you. Maddy thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast, and for being the best possible person to talk to about the book.

Maddy: Thank you Manda.

Manda: And there we go. That’s it for another week. And huge thanks, as I said, to Maddy. For taking the time to read the book more often than anybody else but me and the editors should ever have to. And for picking out the things that really mattered. I am beyond bad at self promotion. This is why we have agents and publicists and lovely people like that to do it for us. But I have put the link tree in the show notes and if you go there, you can order the book from the publishers or from Amazon or from Waterstones. And pre-orders make an enormous difference to the impact the book has. And then when you’ve read it, five star reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Waterstones make an enormous difference to how a book lands. But so does sharing it on social media. Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, twitter, mastodon, blue sky. They are all the ways that we get the word out these days. As Maddy said, this is not a book that’s going to slot into easy genres. It is extremely unlikely to feature much in the mainstream media. If this is going to reach the people who get it, the people who care, the people who really want to find ways forward peacefully through the existing meta crisis. Then it’s going to do so by word of mouth.

Manda: So if you want to help, please share it. Share it with your friends, your communities of place, of passion and of purpose. Find what you liked. Find what inspired you. Find what you think you could make work and then go out and make it happen. But first and foremost, if you possibly can, please just share that this exists and that it’s worth reading.

Manda: So that’s it for now. We will be back next week with another conversation. In the meantime, enormous thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot. To Alan Lowles of Airtight Studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcripts. And to Faith Tilleray for all of the work behind the scenes and for the conversations that keep the podcast and the writing moving forward. And as ever, an enormous thanks to you for listening. There would be no point in writing or recording if you were not there to pick up what we offer. So thank you. I am genuinely grateful. And that’s us done. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.

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