The Zelkova Tree

The Zelkova Tree is the title of my work-in-progress debut novel. In this post I will describe where the book is going, along with some background on the title’s significance to the story.


The original idea was for a dystopian, young adult science fiction thriller. I saw it as a cross between Hugh Howey’s Wool and Huxle’s Brave New World.

Yes, that’s right, I was infected with a good old dose of genre-itis i.e. if it’s popular (whatever that means), let’s write the damn thing to death.

Anyhow, I started in November for Nanowrimo 2014, but my heart just wasn’t in it and after about 17,000 words, I abandoned the effort.

This year, with Nanowrimo 2015 as the catalyst, the book’s setting became much clearer to me. The timeframe remains the mid-21st century but the place is an alternative Earth where the inhabitants haven’t figured out whether they are involuntary participants in a utopian experiment, a dystopian nightmare, or some combination thereof.


My main characters certainly are. Innocent as newborn lambs. I guess their ignorance helps to fuel why I’m writing the story. I want to find out what happens to them. And even though I have figured out much about the world they exist in there are some shocks to come that I was not expecting.

The genre I had in mind the second time around was hard science fiction, with climate fiction as a back drop. Think of Andy Weir’s bestseller, The Martian;, but set on Earth in a floating botanical city, bobbing around somewhere in the Equatorial Pacific.

That might end up as a cracker of a book, but it is not this book. This book is steering a course in the direction of magical realism with a salting of quantum fiction for good measure.

The story begins when a mixed race female finds herself escaping from Japan on a ship bound for a far off floating city, Skysea1.

The more I read about the Zelkova tree, the more certain I am that it is a most appropriate title. For example, the Japanese Zelkova tree (pronounced as keyaki, in Japanese) is easy to transplant and survives in a variety of tough environments.

Surprise me not, the main protagonist, Lisa, finds herself transplanted from what remains of Tokyo to a new, floating world in the Pacific.

She is also one tough cookie when the chips are down.

Two other major characters are also linked with the American and European versions of this tree.

Funny how this writing lark goes. When I came up with the title in 2014 I had only the faintest idea of where the story would lead.

Art follows botany?

In hindsight, and given my inexperience as a novelist, it seems a germination period was required before numerous plot buds hinted that both the theme of the book and the main character arcs will be bound up with the transplanting of people, ideas and lives.

Although this story world appears to be one where technology is a key driver of progress and comfort and civilisation, there is also room for tradition to surface.

The Zelkova tree plays a part because its hard wood is well-suited to making furniture such as dressers and chests of drawers. Years ago, Lisa’s father planted a Zelkova tree when his daughter was born with the intention of making furniture from it as her wedding gift one day. What happens later is bitter sweet and a key factor in the story’s climax.

Starting from scratch for Nanowrimo 2015, I ended up with around 22,000 words. I reckon the story is about 1/3 complete. I had high hopes of finishing it in a month but that was not to be because my muse only wanted to play when pen and paper were involved.

Writing in the morning and transcribing in the evening brought my daily word count down below 1,000.

I press on.