HM Waugh is an environmental scientist, writer and eductor with a passion and love for wild places and mountains. Her latest novel Mars Underground is the thrilling conclusion to her Mars Duology. Good Reading for Young Adults caught up with Heather to discuss her latest novel, life on mars and her research process.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Dee and Holt think they’ve found safety, but together they must face new dangers to reunite the humans of Mars in this heart-stopping, page-turning sequel to Mars Awakens.
When Dee brought Holt home to Davinci colony, there was a new sense of hope for human life on Mars. A new Y had been found – a precious boy – and more than that, there was a whole settlement still surviving at Newton. It felt like they were saved.
But now? There’s been no mission organised to go to Newton. Dee is on punishment duties, and Holt and Chayse are kept hidden away with the fragile Futures. Dee is destined to join them in a prison-like life of isolation, unless they can take matters into their own hands.
Dee, Holt and Chayse set out to cross the planet to Newton via a network of subterranean tunnels. Can they reach it without encountering the Others – the sinister biocloud they’ve been running from? And if they make it, can they convince the Newtonians to work with Davinci – those they’ve been trained to hate?
A thrilling and imaginative conclusion to the Mars Duology.
MEET HM WAUGH
This is the second book in your ‘Mars’ series – what challenges will Dee and Holt face in Mars Underground?
So many! So much fun to write! Think a never-ending rollercoaster crossed with a black-hole waterslide. Think vengeful crickets. Creepy tunnels. Dangerous enemies.
Also think the Noctis Labyrinthus – the labyrinth of the night – an actual Martian maze of super-deep and uber-narrow chasms and valleys where it’s quite possibly constant darkness at the bottom. How could I not send at least some of my characters to such a cool place?!
Friendships will be challenged. Tough decisions will have to be made. And not knowing if they’re sitting in ancient toilet waste will be the least of their worries. Because the Others are still out there somewhere.
In the book, the Mars colony faces various unexpected challenges. How did you go about researching the science and technology involved in sustaining life on Mars, and how did that research influence the story?
I did a lot of research when I was coming up with the world for my Mars duology. There is so much awesome information out there! Kind of disappointingly, we currently have no proven way to create the conditions on Mars that would allow life to flourish outside of protective domes. But I wanted a Mars where we could run (or fly!) free and grow things, so I embraced the fiction part of sci-fi and made up a way for humans to create and sustain an atmosphere and safe radiation levels on Mars. Who knows, maybe one of my readers will grow up to become a scientist and come up with their own (real!) solution!
I also drew heavily on my own science background here on Earth, like conservation biology, restoration ecology and organic gardening. What plants and animals could create a balanced food web? (Hello crickets!) Which plants could we make rope and fabric and oil from? (Flax, my old friend!) If we couldn’t smelt metal, what else could we use? (This is actually an awkward question for the Davinci colony …) Where do we expect water stores to be found on Mars? (This led to my placement of the Newton colony, right on an expected water source.) What might the climate be like with an atmosphere? (Hint: still really cold!)
Honestly, I have so much fun world-building for my books! I mixed all this information together to come up with the world that is my Mars.
Your book deals with issues such as resource depletion and environmental sustainability. How important do you think it is for science fiction to explore these themes?
As an environmental scientist, I seem to weave environmental sustainability into everything I write, even when I don’t think I am! But with the Mars duology I very much did this on purpose. These are issues we’re facing here on Earth and they’re issues that worry many of us. People (including me!) often read to be entertained, to escape to fictional worlds, and there is nothing wrong with that. I wanted Mars Awakens and Mars Underground to be awesome, exciting and funny. But I also wanted to include real environmental solutions within the fiction, to show that together we can make great improvements here on Earth.
Over the course of your novel you look at the importance of community and teamwork. Can you talk more about why this is important in the context of Mars?
I think it’s important no matter which planet you find yourself on, but it’s especially important if there’s not too many of you around. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. Everybody has something they’re scared of. The dark? The unknown? Killer mutant crickets? That’s why working as a team can mean the difference between success and being trapped in a toilet cupboard.
What was involved in your writing process for this novel and how did it compare to Mars Awakens?
I usually write quite fast and edit very, very slowly. So the first draft of Mars Underground, like Mars Awakens, was completed in about a month. I took a break from the draft once it was complete – I find this to be so helpful because it lets me read the story with fresh eyes when I come back to it – but the break was shorter than usual – only a few weeks – because I had a deadline staring me in the face. I had to speed up my editing pace from my usual ‘Active Procrastination’ level to ‘No Excuses: Do It Now’. Happily, writing and editing Mars Underground was like re-entering a favourite place with some great mates (my characters!), so I had a really solid base to work from.
Do you have a favourite character? Or is there a new character you particularly enjoyed writing?
I love fun banter between characters, and characters who provide comic relief, and so I definitely loved to write scenes with Chayse in them. She’s so irreverent and fun. For Mars Underground, that extended to scenes with Marte. Though at first readers might wonder why …
My overall favourite character has to be Holt though. I think because Dee was the first character who appeared in my head when I started dreaming up this world, so she was quite ‘real’ to me from the start. But Holt kind of created himself. He came alive as I wrote and edited, and surprised me with who he became. I think he’s such an awesome character.
Are there any other science fiction authors or books that have influenced your writing, and if so, how?
As a teen, I fell in love with the worlds of Anne McCaffrey. Especially her books involving alien planets with strange creatures and hidden dangers and amazing landscapes.
Some more recent sci-fi authors I’ve loved reading include Marissa Meyer, Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff and Kathryn Barker. Amazing worlds, characters who feel real, and the probability of a good laugh along the way. These books, for the most part, are for Young Adult readers. I wanted to write something that might open up the awesomeness of sci-fi for a younger audience.
What do you hope readers will take away from Mars Underground?
Hope. Sure, it’s a super-fun adventure and I want them to enjoy every moment of it and never look at a cricket the same again. But I also hope they realise that everything humans have done to Mars in my books – to make it liveable and beautiful and full of good food – is drawn from actual science. Stuff we can do right now, right here. Earth is the only viable planet we know of (at the moment!) and we have everything we need to turn around this climate crisis and make this planet even better for future generations.