'The Rememberers' (We Are A Many-Bodied Singing Thing)

'The Rememberers' (We Are A Many-Bodied Singing Thing)
Author: Manwaring, Kevan (2020)


Focus: Researching and writing an ecological short story about endangered species.

‘We Are a Many-Bodied Singing Thing’ is an anthology of speculative fiction and poetry inspired by endangered species, commissioned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ‘Back from the Brink’ project and published in 2020. The brief was for positive speculative writing that raised awareness about 28 threatened species highlighted by the project, including the Violet Click Beetle, the Royal Splinter Cranefly, Eagle’s-claw Lichen, Coral-tooth Fungi, Knothole Moss and the Noctule Bat. Using the ‘Back from the Brink’ resources as a starting point, the author researched a cross-section of endangered species. He combined this with field research, visiting ancient oaks in situ, various botanical gardens, the insect house at Cotswold Wildlife Park, and the Eden Project in Cornwall. The challenge was to then turn this scientific information into a creative narrative. When contemplating current and imminent species extinction it is very easy to slide into despair. As with much contemporary fiction that contemplates the stark existential threat of the Climate Emergency the predictable pathway (in terms of the storyworld paradigm) is one of dystopia. Utopia is a lot harder to imagine. But perhaps a more nuanced and realistic conceptualisation is one Margaret Atwood called ‘ustopia’. And so, this is the approach the author takes. His near-future narrative imagines a world with many problems, but like Pandora’s Box, there is also, critically, hope. ‘The Rememberers’ in Kevan’s story are a group of ecological resistance fighters who use their memories as storage for the minutiae of endangered species. This co-opts Cicero’s ‘method of loci’ (from De Oratore) and turns it into a kind of ark. As a professional storyteller and performance poet, the author has made a study of mnemonic devices and has used them extensively in his performance to memorize text (see The Bardic Handbook, Gothic Image, 2006). This long-term experiential research (1998-) has informed the story in this anthology. The story has been ‘tested’ out on live audiences (via virtual open mics during the 2020 lockdown), including during ‘Writing the Earth’ (AUB, April 2021), the 2-day symposium exploring creative writing and the environment organised by the author, in which creative responses to the climate crisis were extensively discussed with students and a range of guest speakers. ‘The Rememberers’ encourages readers to commit to action, while demonstrating the power of words, especially when embodied. The effort required to learn something by heart is an act of honouring. As a regional organiser for the national annual recitation contest founded by former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, ‘Poetry by Heart’, the author has seen this first hand: how committing a text to memory can be very empowering – which is the dramatic arc of the story’s main protagonist. Thus, the story itself explores the mnemonic process and the valuation of ecological knowledge within ‘storied’ communities. The short story that resulted from this range of research was included in the published anthology from the RSPB.

Publication details
View Item