In interviews about my little Doctor Who novella, I am nearly always asked why I chose the setting, so I thought I’d write a blog post and provide some links about the sources of inspiration behind it.
Initially I only I wanted the story to take place somewhere very Australian, but not the sort of landscape you see in tourist ads. No huge red rocks or gum trees, white beaches or instantly recognisable opera house and bridge, but a different sort of outback.
I immediately recalled an episode of Catalyst, an Australian science show that has been running, in many incarnations, for decades. In particular, an episode where three of the hosts visited a Lake Lefroy, a salt lake, and tried land sailing before undertaking some scientific tests. The stark white landscape looks like the surface of another planet. Add land yachts and it looks like a science fiction setting.
That got me thinking about salt. I already knew about salinity, an environmental problem caused by european agricultural methods used on land they’re unsuitable for. I had pinned photos of awesome salt crystal caves in Pinterest, thinking I’d have to set a story in one, one day.
So I considered the salt-related superstitions, stories, and sayings I could remember: tossing a pinch of salt over your shoulder, the story of Lot’s wife being turned to salt, the meaning of sayings like ‘the salt of the earth’, ‘rubbing salt in a wound’, taking something with ‘a pinch of salt’, whether someone is ‘worth one’s salt’. I also considered the properties of salt, adding flavour to food and its use as a disinfectant as well as for preservation (you could almost say it is time-travel for food). I looked up the health risks and benefits, and thought about all the living things that live in salty conditions.
To expand my knowledge, I bought Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky and discovered how important and valuable salt was in the past, and how salt has been harvested over the years. A fascinating read.
Salt and salty landscapes are such a rich source of ideas that the story came together easily. In fact, salt itself was as much a setting as the salinity-effected land and salt lakes – and you could even say it became a character in the story.
If you are interested to know more about salt, salinity and salt lakes, or just see some of my sources of inspiration, here are some links to follow:
This video/transcript of an article about salt harvesting from another Australian program, Landline.
The video of the Catalyst episode that first got me thinking of salt lakes as a setting.
This fact sheet from the CSIRO explains what salinity is.
These awesome Giant Crystal Caves in Mexico.
And to buy Doctor Who: Salt of the Earth, go here and select an ebook format.