The Big Idea: Michael Muntisov
Have you ever considered going vegan, or living a zero-waste lifestyle for the sake of the environment? It might be a good idea, especially if we get judged later in life for how we fought against climate change in our past. In Michael Muntisov’s newest novel, The Court of Grandchildren, the choices we make today decide our fate tomorrow.
George Orwell once wrote “If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren?”
Today we witness not Big Brother, but many people in positions of authority insisting that climate change is a hoax. If that makes your blood boil, it’s because you know those people have nothing other than their own self-interest at heart. They don’t give a damn, even about their own grandchildren.
Well what if, thirty years from now, those very same grandchildren decided it was time to hold today’s decision makers to account? That is the big idea behind Court of the Grandchildren.
By then, supercomputers will have advanced enough to tell us what the climate consequences were of every past policy decision or non-decision. There will be no gray areas. The excuses for today’s inaction will seem like parodies.
In one way this may feel satisfying — those damn deniers will get their comeuppance! But wait a second. How will you, dear reader, distinguish yourself from the ‘evil-doers’ in the eyes of the grandchildren? Are you just as much to blame? After all, you watched, participated and let it happen. What if you were lumped in with the ‘burners’?
And there are further annoying questions: How would your track record survive being picked apart by an AI lawyer? How would our generation be punished? But then, what is the value in attributing blame and seeking retribution?
These were some of the philosophical ponderings that ran through my head as I contemplated what sort of book Court of the Grandchildren would be.
One thing I already knew. Talking about climate change is hard. Harder than talking about sex and religion. Why? Because, as Rebecca Huntley says, the science of climate change is relatively orderly and neat, but people are not.
How a person responds to climate change messaging depends on how they see the world. Their politics, values, cultural identity, and even their gender identity play a role. So I had to stop laying out the rational and start being emotional. And what better way than through storytelling.
At first, I thought my target audience would be people active in the climate movement. Secretly, I wished that climate skeptics would be interested too. It took me a while to admit that actually neither of those groups would be the core audience. The climate skeptics wouldn’t bother once they saw the reference to the ‘Climate Court’ in the blurb. And the novel wouldn’t go far enough for the hard-core activists.
Once I was released from the bond of these fictitious audiences, I found the freedom to tell the story I wanted to tell.
After eighteen months of work, the publisher’s acceptance of the manuscript was a gratifying moment. But as COVID delayed the book’s release, my satisfaction was whittled away. The delay tried my patience, but it provided an unexpected benefit. I took the opportunity to write a stage adaptation of Court of the Grandchildren.
Adapting a novel demands a lot of discipline. You have to identify the core story. You have to simplify. You have to reduce the number of characters and action scenes. These necessities for the stage exposed several weak or half-hearted conflicts in the novel. The COVID delay meant I had time to rectify these weaknesses before publication. As an added bonus, The Magnetic Theatre in North Carolina has selected the play for performance in their 2022 season.
My big idea was about climate change responsibility. But as the story evolved, as it became more emotional, it became more personal. I realized that while Court of the Grandchildren questions the legacy we are leaving our grandchildren, it also questions me: Am I doing the best I can?