When I was twelve years old, our literature teacher tasked us with writing an essay. We had two hours and complete freedom, as long as it fell into the science fiction genre. That was the moment when the seed of the Descendants of Earth story took root in my mind. At the time, my protagonist was a man—almost all the books I had read featured male protagonists, and I wasn’t even aware I was allowed to have a woman as a main character—and the planet he landed on looked very much like Dune’s Arrakis.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King says you should only write the story that sticks. The one that doesn’t let you go.
And this story clearly stuck with me.
Two decades later, my family and I were traveling in South Africa through the ancient forest of Knysna.
And I fell in love.
I fell in love with the vegetation, with the energy of the place, and what turned out to be Dora’s story, which erupted so violently that I had no choice but to start writing with no laptop, barely finding a piece of blank paper and a pen in time to start scribbling the first chapter.
With a full-time job and two small children, I didn’t have much time to write, but then in 2013 I made the drastic decision to devote myself to writing. The Senthien, the first book in the Descendants of Earth series, was published in 2015.
Writing the sequels to The Senthien was daunting. I knew the story, even what would happen at the very end, but the clear-cut path was there only for the first book. Once I stepped into The Mind, I had to paint Dora’s universe: this new society made out of genetically modified people, describing their politics, their social constellations, their Uni economy, and their own specific racism.
But how could I possibly invent a whole new society?
Not least one that makes sense?
Writing such a large story simply felt too great a challenge.
But … I started from the bits I already knew. Some scenes throughout the trilogy were fixed, so much so that it was as if I had already written them. I rehearsed them in my mind over and over again, just like the favorite scenes I’d seen on the big screen. But many other scenes evolved organically, with no plotting and no preparation, while I gave my characters freedom to do what felt natural for them. None of them would ring true had I forced them to do something or say something I wanted.
And this is where the miracle occurred because my own characters surprised me by what they did and what they said, in the same way they will surprise you. This is what makes writing such a magical experience.
Another surprise that grew quite spontaneously from this journey of discovery was a theme.
I didn’t start off by knowing what the theme was. The only thing I knew was that there were two people who were both spatially and temporally apart, and could not possibly come into contact with one another. Yet they did. Only once the story was finished did I realize what the theme was. And this was a good thing. The theme, I believe, is understood best when it is conveyed on a subconscious level.
Had I known what the theme was from the start and had I tried to push it through, it would have certainly disturbed the story, and the theme itself would not have been as strong and as impactful as it is now.
I won’t keep you much longer, only to say that I hope you will love reading Descendants of Earth just as much as I loved writing it. And I hope you grow to love my characters as much as I did too.
Enjoy the adventure!