We are delighted to welcome Zillah Bethell to the blog today with a guest post on technology: Is it heaven? Or is it hell? Zillah is the author of The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare a brilliant new middle grade book in which everyone owns a super cool multi-tasking gadget you strap on like a watch, but had a really interesting childhood with no technology at all. With technology seemingly taking over our lives, it is really interesting to read Zillah’s views on this. We also have a preview for the first two chapters of Auden Dare!
I was born under Mount Lamington, a volcano in the Oro province of Papua New Guinea. It had erupted in the 1950s and thousands of people had been killed so every now and again, experts in vulcanology would turn up to study Mount Lamington. Vulcanology was the first really difficult word I learned and ever since then I have viewed an ology (a la Mrs. Gradgrind in Hard Times) with a mixture of fear, fascination and awe. Biology, Zoology, Egyptology, Technology…
We didn’t have any. Technology I mean. No TVs, no computers, not even a wristwatch. We told the time by the position of the sun and the shadows. Up at dawn, bed at sunset before the mosquitoes got a guzzling. Our days were driven by rhythms of wakefulness, hunger, energy, fatigue. We followed our body clocks literally. My first watch in England was a plastic digital from the local garage. The 24 hour clock was beyond befuddling! I remember a girl in school (secondary!) asking me the time and I replied fourteen fifty. She laughed and asked why I didn’t just say ten to three. I didn’t like to admit I didn’t know what fourteen fifty translated as! The phrase ‘clock watching’ has also interested me. Watching time. Watching a man-made manifestation of time instead of living it. In The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare everyone owns a QWERTY. A super cool multi-tasking gadget you strap on like a watch… Called a QWERTY because a teacher once said to me, you’d better learn to touch type as no-one can decipher your scribble!
Another remarkable event occurred when I was about six in PNG with the arrival of an Australian doctor called Doug. He brought fireworks and a remote controlled aeroplane. This was true magic beyond all others imaginable. He can hold the stars in his hand, my friend Kumari said, and he flies a big red bird called Cassowary Girl out over the sea and back again. Imagine us standing in the shallows as a bright red aeroplane hums and soars above us. Lost in the end, having plunged into the jaws of a freshwater crocodile no doubt but I can still see her now, hibiscus coloured Cassowary Girl against an azure sky. No question that plane inspired the Ariel drones in my book, hawk like surveyors of the street. And the beautiful butterflies of PNG are reflected in the Zephyr drones Paragon manages to hold at bay.
I came to live in the UK and eventually became interested in the work of Stephen Hawking – the bits I could understand that is. Artificial intelligence! True magic once more. Beyond galaxies, beyond gods. I’d met some missionaries in my childhood who liked to talk about creating a god in their own image. Father O Hara who had teabags and herbes de provence imported to him. And Father Muller who knocked out mosquitoes with an egg whisk. They both scribbled pictures of heaven (double chinned cherubs) and hell (people dancing round a fire). But that’s what we do, Kumari said, dance round the fire at night. She turned the chalk board upside down just to prove a point!
That’s how I feel about technology. Is it heaven? Or hell? I keep turning the chalk board round in my head and in my books because I’m never quite sure.
Information about the book
Title: The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare
Author: Zillah Bethell
Publisher: Piccadilly Press
Date published: 7 September 2017
Auden Dare has a rare condition that means he cannot see in colour – and life is beginning to get harder for Auden. The war for water that is raging across the world is getting a little closer all the time. Everyone is thirsty all the time, and grubby, and exhausted. Auden has to learn to live without his father, who is away fighting, and has had to move to a new town and start a new school. But when he meets Vivi Rookmini, a smiling girl bright with cleverness, his hopes begin to lift.
Auden and his mother have moved into the old cottage of his recently-dead scientist uncle, Professor Jonah Bloom. It soon becomes clear that Jonah was working on something secret and possibly something that could cure Auden’s condition.
When Auden and Vivi make an extraordinary discovery of an enigmatic and ingenious robot, who calls himself Paragon, they embark on a thrilling journey of discovery as they seek to find out just what exactly Paragon is – and what link he has to Auden – and find that the truth is bigger and more wonderful than either of them could have imagined.
You can read the first two chapters here:
About the author
Zillah Bethell was born in a leprosy hospital in Papua New Guinea, spent her childhood barefoot playing in the jungle, and didn’t own a pair of shoes until she came to the UK when she was eight. She was educated at Oxford University and now lives in Wales with her family. She is also the author of A Whisper of Horses.