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Frequently asked questions

with Phil McNamara (writer for the Third Fuse)

Third Fuse writer, Phil McNamara

What is your first book, Red Reflection, about?

Red Reflection is about the life of a young woman, Ellin, who is dying and writing to her new born daughter, Little El, in the hope that she will grow up to change the way the people live. It’s written in a series of reflections on Ellin’s childhood, during the “Red”, when there was no city and stands of trees stretched across the land, and how everything changed when a wild fire killed many people. The people cleared the land to prevent the land burning again and Ellin predicts their decline, caused by the new way they live, the “Blue”; that’s why she’s wrting to Little El. At its core, Red Reflection is about how quickly we have changed the world and how we have lost our connection to nature.

What inspired you to write Red Reflection?

Initially, it was my way of being outspoken about our two most significant global “fuses”: climate change and habitat loss. As someone with a science background, I’d seen science fail to drive change that would address these threats. When I read some words by William Wordsworth about the difference between science and poetry, and how poetry “cleaves to us as a necessary part of our existence”, I was inspired to use writing to communicate this science and influence change. The second inspiration came from the events that surrounded a bushfire at one of my favourite reserves close to home. The community conversation about the fire was overly focussed on the threat of native vegetation. When natural areas are perceived as a barrier or threat to some social or economic need (or opportunity) the environment has so often been put last. No-one seemed to be talking about all the benefits of these places. I felt very alone during that time and used Red Reflection as a way of expressing that feeling you get when you perceive you are on the outside of popular belief.

Will there be a sequel?

Yes. I am currently writing a sequel called, Red Hope. While Red Reflection is primarily about the speed at which we have changed the world through habitat loss and our lost connection to nature, Red Hope focusses on our rapidly changing climate. I have completed a chapter outline and have started the hard part, the writing. I am aiming to have a first draft finished by the end of this decade! Readers will have to wait to see if the ending is a good or bad one for humanity. I hope it can reflect all the positive actions we take over the coming years to address our two most significant global fuses.

What is your approach to writing?

The first thing I always do is put down a structure to the story. This is often in short sentences about what happens in each chapter. I like to know how the story starts and finishes and all the bits in between. This is the easiest part of writing for me. The writing itself is painstakingly slow because I’m slow at translating the structure into prose. I also need copious amounts of time to think. This is frustrating but it has an enjoyable side. I’ll often go to bed or start my long ride into work with a problem in my head and wake up or arrive at work with all the words ready to put on paper. I love those moments. And that is generally how I write, at first on paper and then work from my computer.

What writers or books have inspired you?

When I was very young, my family spent three years in an outback mining town in central-west Queensland. I have wonderful memories of the feel of the remote natural places we visited. When we moved back to Adelaide it was Arthur Upfield’s “Bony” books that helped bring back memories of those places. One of Upfield’s strengths as a writer was his ability to give his readers all the senses of outback Australia. He was so good at giving the feel of those places, the smells and the sounds. Later, as a young adult, I read books by Charles Darwin. In particular, I loved On the origin of species and Voyage of the Beagle. They were important to me because, growing up, I didn’t feel like I had any kind of belief system. And I had so many questions about life. When I read On the origin of species it made sense of the world to me and became my belief system. Another one of my favourite writers is Charles Dickens. I’ve read Great Expectations about five times. And David Copperfield has one of the best characters – Uriah Heep, who is also one of the most unlikeable. Of the more contemporary writers, there are John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath), John Marsden (Tomorrow Series) and local Adelaide writer Eva Hornung. Dog boy is one of my all time favourites.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I am happiest when I’m spending time in nature. When I’m alone in the forests and woodlands around home, or mallee at work, my mind and body relax and any worries tend to disappear. I also enjoy trail running and allocate one run a week to plogging – a trend from Sweden where joggers pick up rubbish along the way for the sake of the environment. From what I gather, the word “plogging” is a derivation of the words “pluck” (or “plocka up” in Swedish) and “jogging”. Check out my plogging blog here.

What is “The Third Fuse Project”

The Third Fuse Project is a small business that I established to publish environmental writing and promote the “Third Fuse”. Fuse is a contronym, which is a word that has two opposite or contradictory meanings. Fuse can be a device to detonate an explosive charge (First Fuse: climate change; and Second Fuse: habitat loss) or it can mean to unite or blend into a whole (Third Fuse: people and nature coming together). The Third Fuse Project is essentially about writing for the environment, focusing on our major Third Fuse principles that bring people and nature together: living a modest life (living sustainably and lowering our carbon footprint), communicating environmental science through art, and respecting nature in everything we do and everywhere we go.

What happens to the profits you make from the sales of Red Reflection?

I want to use Red Reflection to promote and support organisations that are doing great things to change the way we live – organisations that are contributing to one or more of the third fuse principles: living modest lives, communicating environmental science through art or respecting nature in everything we do and everywhere we go. So, book sales through The Third Fuse Project will always be about making money for communities, not The Third Fuse Project. I have a strong belief in the benefits to society when we live our lives and make decisions as a community rather than a group of disjunct individuals. The organisations I support do just that. They work for the benefit of the environment and the community as a whole. Every 2-3 months Third Fuse donates $10 from every paperback sale of Red Reflection and $4 from every eBook and audiobook sale to one such organisation. We are also donating $10 from sales of our Third Fuse t-shirts. Keep an eye out for my blogs with stories about these fantastic communities.

Quick facts – walking the talk:

  • Home energy – 4KWH solar connected to the grid (no battery yet)
  • Home hot water – Solar Apricus (round tube design)
  • Vehicle – Suzuki DL650 V-Strom (aka “the fossil-burner”)
  • Hobbies – plogging, trail running, bushwalking, bushcare, reading and finding ways to re-purpose other people’s old or discarded possessions
  • Favourite animal – jumping spiders (they are bold and very cute)
  • Favourite vegetables – potatoes and zuchini (low input veggies that just keep on giving)
  • Mobile phone – Samsung Galaxy II (handed down through the ages)