Guest Post: Sci-Fi Author Anne Charnock

Anne Charnock is a fellow 47North author and a wildly interesting person! Her debut novel, A Calculated Life, will be released on September 24. The novel is set in the later 21st century amid a dystopian culture of class-separation and corporate power. Please do yourself a favor and pre-order it as I have. It will be a wonderful addition to 47North’s science fiction catalog. And now, here’s Anne:

If you put Roberto’s novel The Scourge alongside my novel A Calculated Life you’d think they had nothing in common. The Scourge is clearly set in medieval days whereas my story is set in the near future. But there’s a surprise connection between our novels. My main character Jayna works for a mega-corporation that predicts social and economic trends (okay, so far we’ve no common ground). But in an early key scene, Jayna has a meeting with her bosses – Olivia and Benjamin – in the company boardroom, and a large poster draws Jayna’s attention:

 “Jayna’s eyes were flicking between Benjamin and the image on the wall behind him, a large poster of Jesse Recumbent; a rare and monumental, oak sculpture from the medieval age, of immense significance according to Olivia. Jesse lent gravitas to the boardroom, Jayna thought, even though he was lying down. She wondered what he’d make of Mayhew McCline and its world of trend forecasting and economic modelling. Jayna changed the subject. ‘Any news about Tom?’” 

Why did I want to include Jesse Recumbent? Well… I’ve always felt that when we look at very old photos of our hometowns, we usually spot something familiar. Often it’s just the surfaces of things that have changed– rough tracks and cobbled lanes have become asphalt roads, shop signage has been modernized. Likewise, I feel that if we time-travelled to the future we wouldn’t feel totally lost — the past would be visible if we looked closely. In other words, the past and present co-exist. And I wanted to emphasise this point not only in the way I described details of Jayna’s city, but also by showing that people still held a fascination with their very distant histories. Hence… Olivia and her amateur interest in Medievalism.

Recumbent Figure of Jesse, Tate Britain, Image and Idol: Medieval Sculpture, 2001

During my art studies, many moons ago, I researched early Italian painting (and that entailed forays to Italy to see the frescoes in Florence, Siena, Padua — such a hardship!) What really upset me was the knowledge that our own art heritage in England and Wales had been systematically destroyed. This happened between 1540 and 1650 in repeated anti-Catholic assaults on religious artefacts. Only a few paintings and sculptures escaped – Jesse Recumbent being one of the very finest survivors!

In fact, Richard Deacon, who curated an exhibition of medieval art at Tate Britain in 2001, described Recumbent Figure of Jesse (its full title) as “sensational”. This massive oak sculpture normally resides at St Mary’s Priory in Abergavenny in North Wales. (Roberto’s note: There’s another link. Edward, in The Scourge, sees signs of the Virgin Mary everywhere he goes.)  At one time, the sculpture had a bough ‘growing’ from Jesse’s chest with small sculptures of his ancestors. And of course Jesse would have been brightly painted. There are still traces of paint — gold on the angel’s hair, and green on the bough.

The period of greatest destruction fell in Henry VIII’s reign and according to Phillip Lindley in the Tate Britain catalogue, Image and Idol: Medieval Sculpture:

 “By the time of Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the monasteries had been dissolved, the shrines and saints smashed and pilgrimage statues destroyed. Within a few years, almost the entire population of medieval religious sculpture was to be devastated by the evangelical politicians who formed Edward VI’s council. Evidence of a powerful, pent-up desire for change came in outbreaks of unofficial iconoclasm.”

I get a lump in my throat whenever I think of these lost treasures so I guess it’s not too surprising that Jesse Recumbent found its way into my writing.

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Anne’s debut novel, A Calculated Life, is a near-future dystopia. It will be published by 47North on 24 September and is available now for pre-order.

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Anne Charnock’s writing career began in journalism; her articles appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, and International Herald Tribune. She was educated at the University of East Anglia, where she studied environmental sciences, and at The Manchester School of Art. She travelled widely as a foreign correspondent and spent a year trekking through Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya.

In her fine art practice she tried to answer the questions, What is it to be human? What is it to be a machine? And ultimately she decided to write fiction as another route to finding answers.

Visit her blog at http://www.annecharnock.com to read her many reports on other writers and their novels.