Worms have more purpose than Tim, and a better love life. They break waste down into rich fertile soil; Tim just makes the rich richer. Worms copulate for three hours at a time whereas the closest thing Tim has to love is his lesbian friend Jo. Salvation comes from Jo’s flaky niece Charlotte who asks him three profound questions. Inspired, he sheds his old life to become Habitat Man, giving advice on how to turn gardens into habitats for wildlife. His first client is the lovely Lori. Tim is smitten, but first he has to win round Ethan her teenage son. Tim loves his new life until he digs up more than he bargained for, something that threatens to bring out all the skeletons in his cupboard.
– When and where do you prefer to write?
I distinguish between writing and plotting/musing. My perfect place to daydream and plot would be floating on a warm turquoise sea, gazing at the clouds and allowing my mind to relax. That is when I find plot conundrums are resolved, dialogue appears seemingly ready written in my head and characters come to life. Unfortunately this is rarely possible so I content myself with sitting on my decking gazing at the oak tree in the distance, or daydreaming while walking my dogs by the river. Or when it’s cold and dark, lying in my bath listening to The Lark Ascending on my speakers. The actual writing it all down I can do anywhere – typically sat at my desk, nicely positioned near the kitchen.
– Do you have a certain ritual?
I do my musing and thinking when I’m relaxed at the weekends or when on holiday and write it up in the week.
– Is there a drink of some food that keeps you company while you write?
I’m regularly fortified by tea and toast.
– What is your favourite book?
It’s hard to pick one but I loved Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. For me the message at the end is that life is a balance of good and bad deeds and all we can do is try to tip the scales the right way by our own actions – and who knows which grain of sand will make the difference. I also loved the way he tied together diverse stories from past, present and future to make a coherent whole. A very different book I just finished is Melt by Lisa Walker. It’s a straightforward romance set in Antarctica and I loved the characters and the way she smuggled in green issues without in any way compromising the fun or the characters. I hope I’ve managed to do the same with Habitat Man.
– Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
Habitat Man is an eco-themed rom-com but the sequel I’m working on is called Habitat Man Die. Following on from the first book when he becomes a bit of a hero and sees his name in Graffiti – Habitat Man Rules – he later sees the ‘Rules’ has been crossed out and ‘Die’ written instead – red paint dripping off the final ‘e’. It then turns into a bit of a whodunit as he tried to find out who is spreading this message and why and if they mean it. I’m hugely enjoying experimenting with the whodunit genre in this way.
– Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
More than I should! It’s so entertaining when I hang out with other writers and we all look far too interested in any titbits of gossip or interesting stories we have to share and you know we’re all wondering if we can nick that for our books. I’m ashamed to admit that I did once threaten my son with turning him into a character in my book! In reality, so far my characters are a mash up of all the most interesting quirky and wonderful parts of the people I know and love shuffled up and re-dealt. Only Florence the gorgeous Yorkshire Terrier is the exact replica of my dog Lily!
– Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
Kind of – I talk into my phone when an idea pops up.
– Which genre do you not like at all?
Some I’ve never even picked up such as Westerns. I don’t like anything too grim. I work in the field of climate change so when I read fiction, I want to be uplifted and entertained not depressed.
– If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
I hugely admire Dave Goulson who has written numerous non-fiction best sellers such as the Garden Jungle: How to Save the Planet through Gardening and the A Sting in the Tail. He set up the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and is hugely knowledgeable about ecology and has a wonderfully lyrical turn of phrase. He was kind enough to read Habitat Man and double check my ecological facts, and even contributed the odd lyrical passage himself. Fiction and non-fiction are very different but his writing style is so accessible perhaps one day we could write a book together.
– If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
I did this a few years ago and travelled to Cuba a few times. It’s the only truly sustainable country and so I was interested to see how they managed it. There has been a lot of anti-Cuba propaganda, much of which doesn’t stack up when you visit the country yourself and talk to the people. They are so educated and interested in politics and culture and other countries. Also they really seemed to idolise their leader Fidel Castro and I took the opportunity to interview a variety of people about his leadership. Fidel and Che Guevara are such interesting characters – either villains or heroes depending on your perspective, so perfect for a story. It gave rise to my writing a musical called Fidel which was performed in London in 2016. I began writing a screenplay and then a book, but then the idea for Habitat Man took hold and took over. One day though I’d love to return to the Fidel idea.
Thank you, D.A. Baden and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
Denise Baden is Professor of Sustainability at the University of Southampton and has published numerous book chapters and articles in the academic realm. She wrote the script for a musical that was performed in Southampton and London in 2016, and has written three other screenplays. This is her first novel. Habitat Man was inspired by a real-life green garden consultant who helped make her garden more wildlife friendly. Denise set up the series of free Green Stories writing competitions in 2018 to inspire writers to integrate green solutions into their writing (www.greenstories.org.uk). Habitat Man began as an effort to showcase what a solution-based approach might look like, and then took on a life of its own. In between teaching and research, she is now working on the sequel.