When Dr. Annis Pratt and her husband decided to go on a trip to England she was hoping to simply learn more about her ancestors. What she came back with was much more than insight into her family’s history – inspiration for a series of novels.
“I discovered that there were these people called fen tigers who resisted these evil uplanders for 300 years,” Pratt said. “I thought, ‘Those are my ancestors. I’d like to tell a story based on that conflict.’”
So she did. Enter Pratt’s 'Infinite Games' series, which focuses on a battle between environmentalists and developers in the Marshlands. The series comes to a conclusion in 'The Battle for the Black Fen', which was published last summer.
There are three prior novels in the series – The Marshlanders, Fly Out of the Darkness, and The Road to Beaver Mill – but Pratt said The Battle for the Black Fen can stand on its own because of all the introductory material she included.
“It is basically a story about how a modern economy and a self-sustaining, pre-modern economy get into this tremendous conflict,” Pratt said. “The Infinite Games part is that instead of win-lose, we look for win-win solutions. So that gives you a hint.”
While the books are based on the draining of the East Anglian Fens – which started in 1630 – Pratt decided to set her series in an invented world.
“I’ve done so much canoeing and kayaking in America that I wanted to use for my setting the flora and fauna from those places,” said the Birmingham resident.
Those familiar with the Betsie River – which is in northwest Michigan – may find themselves recognizing a few details from her books. Pratt said a lot of her details – down to accidents her main characters have with their boat, and the kinds of things they see in river life – have been inspired by the Betsie River, where Pratt has a cottage.
Her novels also have details based on her time in Wisconsin, where she taught English and Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1971-1990 before retiring. Pratt published three non-fiction books during her time there.
“I’ve always been a writer,” said Pratt, who used to be a poet. “All of my jobs were to kind of support that habit.”
So what ultimately brought her to Michigan? Family.
When she was teaching at the University of Wisconsin, her husband was teaching in Detroit at Wayne State University. They had a commuting marriage, and each week one of them would fly out to see the other. They never missed a week – except one – when they both had the flu.
“It was very difficult,” she said. “It was also very hard to do this kind of intensive writing on a daily schedule and to be a community activist.”
Now, she’s writing all the time, preferably in the morning. Pratt said depending on whether or not she’s writing or re-writing, she estimates she works on about 20 pages a day.
Her motivation to continue writing is two-fold.
“One, I just love to write,” Pratt said. “Two, I’m very engaged in the environmental movement and I wanted to express my love for the all the beautiful things that I’ve seen, and at the same time write for people in the environmental movement about characters dealing with these same issues.”
Looks like she’s achieved that goal.
Photo: Jean Lannen