When I wrote the first draft of The Exile of Elindel, I was a carnivore. I aspired to be a vegetarian but had yet to take that step. Back in 1977, vegetarians were considered to be cranks, nutters, Hippies and weirdos who consumed their own weight in lentils every week. Joining this band of social pariahs was a daunting prospect.
I put my aspiration into my main character, the elf Elgiva. She manifested what I wished to become. It seemed logical to me anyway; Elves lived in forests surrounded by animals so surely they would have a deep affinity with all natural creatures. I decided they should go one step further and be able to talk to animals as well. It gave me more opportunities to convey my own regard for animals by depicting them as intelligent beings with thoughts and emotions they had every right to express. And this added an extra dimension to the story. There was the human world, the elven world and the natural world: the interaction between them is enriched by interspecies communication. It frequently came in useful for plot purposes too.
Naturally, once the elves were gifted with the ability to understand animals, they stopped eating them. For me it worked the other way round. Once I stopped eating them, I felt a deeper understanding for animals – in fact a greater empathy for all life generally.
I finally became a vegetarian in 1983. Over the years I have seen the vegetarian lifestyle become easier and easier. There are more meat substitutes now than you can shake a breadstick at and every pub, café, restaurant and hotel usually has a vegetarian option on the menu.
Vegetarians today are no longer regarded as lentil-eating subversives. Increasing numbers of UK consumers are moving towards a more plant-based diet, while 20% of sixteen to twenty-four year olds claim to be vegetarian. Astonishingly, one in five British households now avoids dairy. Globally, the number of vegetarian food products available doubled in 2013.
Two years ago I became a vegan. That’s a challenge at first but it’s second nature to me now. It’s a lifestyle choice I wish I’d adopted earlier. It’s a good feeling that no animal has to suffer or die to keep me alive – but I’m wary of appearing self-righteous. Everyone has their own path to follow.
If a reader reviewed their attitude towards animals or nature after reading The Exile of Elindel, I’d be delighted, of course. A work of fiction should have something important to say even if the message or moral conveyed is just a background theme. But the main purpose of the book is entertainment. It’s a fantasy, an adventure. If readers get nothing more from it than enjoyment, at least I will have succeeded as a storyteller.