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Planning degree helps young writer find her voice

12/09/2017 9:30:00 a.m.


What do sci-fi and environmental planning have in common? The answer may seem elusive, but a Lincoln University graduate has combined the two to produce her first published novel, Voiceless.

Set in a near-future version of Timaru, the young adult novel tells the story of a teenager who is inflicted with an incurable disease that leaves her unable to speak or write.
 
The book, launched in July, also explores how the town might look in 50 years’ time.
 
To flesh out certain details, 24-year-old author Rachel Wilson drew on some of the knowledge she picked up in her Bachelor of Environmental Management and Planning course, which she completed at Lincoln University in 2013. 
 
“Because I grew up in Timaru, I can remember the small changes that have happened even over the course of my lifetime so far,” she said.
 
“Names have changed, new subdivisions have appeared out of nowhere, and infrastructure and traffic patterns are constantly evolving.
 
“From that, I tried to extrapolate and think, ‘Okay, this is where we are now. What might it look like in another 50 years?’
 
“Then I tacked exponential growth and more advanced technology onto that, because it’s a science fiction book. It was a fascinating mental exercise.”
 
Ms Wilson’s future version of the town includes an underground subway network with commuter trains, while Central Timaru has become higher density with more high-rise buildings.
 
“With that much population growth, the town needs more land, so I created a whole new suburb called East Cape,” she said.
 
“It’s built on an extensive fictional area of reclaimed land at Dashing Rocks, a peninsula at the north end of Timaru’s famous sandy Caroline Bay.”
 
Ms Wilson said her first planning-related job after university had an impact on the idea for the novel, which she wrote under the pseudonym E G Wilson.
 
“I was working as a planner at the Timaru District Council in August 2015 when I had a spark of an idea for Voiceless.”
 
Associate Professor Hamish Rennie, one of Ms Wilson’s lecturers, said he was impressed by her ingenuity.
 
“It’s not quite what I expected our students to do, but she is the only student to ever have written an assignment for me that involved writing an environmental compliance manual for Mordor!”
 
Voiceless was published by American company Atthis Arts. Its sequel, Expression, will be released next month.

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