What would post-apocalyptic town look like? Author’s story paints a picture

Map showing Herts under water
Map showing Herts under water
  • Author bases new book in Hemel Hempstead where he grew up
  • Jonathan Empson now lives in Sydney but still remembers his home town fondly
  • The This Happened is based 14 years after a global catastrophe

An author who grew up in Hemel Hempstead has submerged the town under water for his latest page turner.

Hemel Hempstead is the unlikely setting for Jonathan Empson’s new teen book - Then This Happened - which is set 14 years after a global catastrophe that has wiped out almost all human life.

Although Jonathan has lived in Sydney for the last 20 years he grew up in Hemel Hempstead and attended Longdean School.

The book, set following a 400-foot rise in sea levels - features hero, 13 year old Felix, who lives in a small settlement called Doggett Island, once a hilltop in the Chilterns.

One night, a group of soldiers land on the island hunting for him

Felix escapes with a girl, Edith, and together they must find their way to safety across a fractured and lawless landscape.

The London Eye submerged under water - image from the book

The London Eye submerged under water - image from the book

Jonathan still retains a strong connection to Hemel Hempstead and its surrounding countryside.

He said: “On sunny afternoons I used to stare out of my classroom window towards the fields beyond the edge of town and wish I was out there roaming the landscape instead.”
His inspiration for Then This Happened, the first book in a trilogy, came from studying the contours of an Ordnance Survey map of the Chilterns and wondering which areas would remain above water.

“I realised that, if sea levels rose high enough, the Chilterns would become the new south Coast of England,” said Jonathan.

Tools such as Google Earth meant he could model the landscape after such an event and the book includes a map of how Hertfordshire would look - though with a little artistic licence.

“I wouldn’t recommend relying on it for post-apocalyptic navigation,” said Jonathan.

While locations are not specifically named in the book, readers might enjoy trying to work out which towns and landmarks Felix encounters on his travels.