Books·How I Wrote It

For the novel Corvus, Harold R. Johnson envisioned a thriving Indigenous community in a dystopian future

Harold R. Johnson is the author of Corvus, which is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist.
Harold R. Johnson is the author of Corvus. (Thistledown Press)

Harold R. Johnson is the author of five works of fiction and two works of nonfiction. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a former Crown prosecutor and a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, where lives with his wife, Joan.

Johnson's 2015 dystopian novel Corvus, is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist. In it, he imagines a world ravaged by climate change and war where people have migrated north to escape unlivable conditions.   

The Canada Reads 2019 final books and the panellists defending them will be revealed on Jan. 31, 2019. The debates will take place March 25-28, 2019 and will be hosted by Ali Hassan.

After the Canada Reads longlist announcementJohnson spoke with CBC Saskatchewan's Afternoon Edition host Garth Materie about writing Corvus.

Close to home

"Corvus is set in 2084 in La Ronge. La Ronge in 2084 is a megacity. The world has changed. We're no longer arguing about global warming — it's happened. There have been periods of droughts and floods. There have been migrations of people that resulted in two wars in North America.

"I wanted to write about climate change, quite bluntly. The entire book is premised on what's going to happen and Corvus is my imagining of it. I had to put in some interesting science and characters to keep the reader engaged."

Peer into the future

"I live in a cabin at the north end of Montreal Lake, Sask. and my writing desk has a window that looks out across the lake and I climb up into the loft and sit at that desk and look out the window across the lake camp because I can see for long distance. I can peer into the future sometimes."

When inspiration hits

"The idea comes while I'm doing something. Usually I'm busy with my hands working at something and an idea comes and my wife says she knows it because my face changes and I go away in my head a long ways and stay there and begin imagining it. After I've imagined enough of it I sit down and begin writing it." 

Go north, young man

"What sparked Corvus was a radio show that I heard with Al Gore, David Suzuki and James Lovelock. David Suzuki was interviewing Al Gore about climate change and Gore said, 'We can fix this. We can change it. We just need government action. We can avoid it.' And Suzuki said 'What about nuclear power?' And Al Gore said, 'No, no, no, never, never. We can't handle the waste.' And then Suzuki goes and talks to James Lovelock, who came up with the Gaia hypothesis that says that the earth is a single entity and if you do anything to any part of it you change other parts of it.

"Lovelock tells Suzuki, 'My advice to you, young man, is go north. And when you get there build nuclear reactors.' That was the beginning of it. If there are going to be huge population shifts and the best place to live in the future is northern Saskatchewan, then I just imagine that people would move north. And La Ronge is already here, so it'll just continue to grow."   

Listen to Harold R. Johnson's interview with CBC Saskatchewan's Afternoon Edition

Harold R. Johnson talks to The Afternoon Edition in Saskatchewan about his dystopian novel.


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