Author John Keeble explains how his new book, Beyond Extinction, tackles a future where humans are a species under threat.
You can download your free copy of Beyond Extinction here.
On your author bio it says that you are a lifelong vegetarian/vegan. When did you go vegan and can you tell us what triggered the change?
I was about 35 – half my lifetime ago – that I went completely vegan, though I ate very little non-vegan food in my vegetarian diet. In my 30s my mind was focused on the cruelty of the vegetarian diet when I spent two years writing animal welfare stories for The Guardian. I am not critical of vegetarians: whatever anyone does to reduce animal exploitation gets my enthusiastic encouragement. However, for me, veganism was what I had to do. At the same time, there was a great expansion of vegan foods with, for me, critical additions like very good vegan ice cream and soya milk.
Tell us about the vegan scene in Ecuador.
There has been a remarkable change in the two years I have been living in the beautiful city of Cuenca, high in the Andes in southern Ecuador. When I arrived there were some good vegetarian restaurants offering vegan meals as well. They were much used by local people because they were (and still are) very inexpensive. Today, with the effect of the expat community and tourists, several excellent gourmet vegan restaurants have opened. Local restaurants and eateries will usually adapt their menu items for vegans. Most local people eat meat and fish (especially trout) but there is a strong current of plant based commitment through the Seventh-day Adventist churches. There is also a growing pressure to reclaim the pre
Spanish indigenous diets which, while not exclusively vegan, have strong plant-based elements. It is easier to eat vegan in cities than rural areas if you do not have good Spanish skills.
You live among an expat community, mostly North American, 10,000 strong. Do your friends support veganism?
Expats are driving much of the change in Ecuador because, at grassroots level, they are a rich market. Most expats are not vegans. What I find exceptional in my world travels is the way that my friends here make sure there are vegan options. That is mostly kindness, but also growing awareness of vegan issues and an interest in what I eat as a vegan. I often find that what I eat one time, others will eat the next because they noticed how good the vegan option looked.
In your book, Beyond Extinction, humans are the species which are being dominated and your characters verbalise their emotions about that – how did you get this idea?
I wanted a series of characters to verbalise what it is like now for powerless nonhuman animals, without preaching to readers and without shocking readers into turning off. I wanted to touch the emotions by easing under the everyday barriers of people who cannot face the pain of what non-human animals suffer. I reached this writing point very precisely. I spent three shocking years investigating and publicising the dog meat trade in Thailand. The TV film, called Shadow Trade, was sold widely (all cash to the dog’s campaign) and I kept a copy of the director’s cut. I quickly found that very few people were willing to watch my director’s cut and when I showed it to fellow-writers in Chiang Mai, some were nearly in tears. That built on what I learned (while secretary of British Mensa’s animal welfare group) about kindly people’s inability to watch or read about animal suffering. Beyond Extinction came from the need to build a world that showed in an engaging way what animals suffer.
Where did the idea for numans come from?
Genetic engineering is something that is gaining ground every day. At a human level, a world where a new race overtakes the old race is quite convincing – it happened with the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. This conflict in Beyond Extinction is a driving force for the story, which lets me cast numans as what we call “humans” in our world, and humans as what we call “animals” in our world. That let me explore what it feels like to be a non-human animal while making it a very readable story that entices kindly people who empathise with the characters and, in that way, come to understand our world better – as well as getting a rewarding pleasure from the story.
Can you give us approximate timelines for your writing?
I started writing Beyond Extinction while living in Chiang Mai nearly three years ago. I knew what I wanted to achieve and the early writing was the backstories of the numan world, how it operated, and the main characters. At the same time, I did some experimental writing to refine the writing technique. I wanted to unsettle the usual flow of thought from novels in the hope that it would let in new meanings and understandings. I wrote almost everything on my Samsung tablet, much of it lounging against airport walls, in coffee shops and at hotels while travelling. I finished the book over two years while living in Cuenca, Ecuador – which has tremendous expat and Ecuadorian writers communities. The final editing and cover-design stage took about two months.
What do you hope to achieve with Beyond Extinction? When people read the last page and put your book down, what are the thoughts you hope will run through their minds?
I want readers to sit back and say: “Wow, what a ride!” I want them to enjoy the book overall and to have reacted emotionally and intellectually to the underlying meanings. I hope to give readers some insights on which to base their future decisions about animals. I also hope that Vegan Life readers will pass on the free download link, especially vegans to non-vegans.
Can you give us some tips for writers who want to advocate for animals, but also reach a wide audience?
Writing is all about knowing your market. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The first thing to decide is what you want to say and where it can be published. Then you need to tailor your writing to the publishing outlet. If you are publishing it yourself on Amazon and/or Smashwords (with affliliates including Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo), be very sure to get the best results through a writing critique group and/or beta readers who won’t just tell you how wonderful you are.
Shadow Trade, John’s film about the dogmeat trade is now available on Netflix. Read the full interview and download your free version of Beyond Extinction (Worth over £10) here.