Famed for her provocative, socially aware fiction, Barbara Kingsolver holds an unusually stellar place in the global literary canon. A biologist before turning to writing, Kingsolver was awarded a National Humanities Medal in 2000 in recognition of her advocacy for human rights, social responsibility and the environment in American fiction. Every one of her books since the publication of her sixth, Pigs in Heaven , in 1993, has been a New York Times bestseller. But she remains perhaps best known outside the US for her 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible , which questioned US foreign policy in the Congo. She talked to Bron Sibree around the time her latest novel, Flight Behaviour , was published last month. deals with climate change in a way that seems almost prescient, particularly in its final scene, which echoes the kind of scenes that were played out in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. How did the novel come about? That made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. But nobody wants to be right about this. The storm was like a gut punch to this country and the dimensions of what we're in for are terrifying. But at the same time it is interesting that people are now eager to talk about climate change in a way they perhaps weren't before. It has bothered me for a long time that we have this difficulty in the US speaking about climate change. It seems strange that a whole lot of people can look at the same set of facts and come away believing different things. So I wanted to write about that. Why is that? How does that work and where does that leave us? So the novel is not so much about climate change as it is about the non-conversation around climate change and what is the genesis of that. You were a scientist, a biologist, long before you became a writer. What made you choose the monarch butterfly and their annual migration as the central motif for this novel? I woke up one morning with an image in my head of this forested valley that looked like it was on fire. But it wasn't on fire; I knew it was this freak biological event. And suddenly, all of a piece, I had the setting, the plot, the characters. I knew of course I would have to do a lot of research and went to it straight away. But before that it seemed an impossible subject, I really had no idea how I would write about it. But I knew when I saw this image of all these butterflies that I had a novel in hand. It was magical and very rare. But because I'm a scientist who relies on rational explanations, I would say probably I had been working on this subject in the back of my mind for years, and I was just ready to get that image. I do cook ideas more or less subconsciously for a long time before I'm really ready to begin a novel. This novel not only asks questions about scientific evidence versus faith and religious trust, but its setting in a small impoverished rural town in the Appalachian mountains, effectively America's Bible Belt, is of particular importance to you. Can you tell us why? It's a sector of American culture that is widely misunderstood, underestimated and generally ridiculed. And it also happens to be my home. It's where I was raised, so it's my culture, my people. Church is crucially important to this culture and religion is fundamental to these people's worldview, so I really needed to include religious faith as a part of this story. I also wanted to turn some clichés about that on their head. I feel a lot of sympathy for people who can hardly afford to keep their electricity on from month to month, so are really in no position to be cutting back or conserving. I think it's a blind spot that the environmental movement has perhaps overlooked, and there are class issues that need to be discussed. You've often said of your own childhood in rural Kentucky, that the worst thing people could say about a woman was that she was "parading herself around". I'm thinking of that a lot as I'm about to again launch a book tour - "parading myself around". Part of this rural and mountain culture is to cultivate modesty, especially for women. So you don't want to draw attention to yourself. The notion that you could distinguish yourself by becoming a novelist would be kind of absurdly boastful and improbable, and if you were lucky enough to get an education, you should learn something that was useful. I was the only person in my high school graduate class who went to college. The only one. So it was hard for me to come out of the closet as a writer. I really didn't admit to myself that it could be something I might do for a living until my first novel was published. Some 13 books later, you're often described as a socially aware or political novelist. How do you feel about that? I think all novelists are political; it's just that some of us own up to it. It's an audacious act to put a story into the world that invites people into it, to change themselves and to change their position in the world. I'm respectful of the power of that. Ultimately it's because it creates empathy, and that's life changing. And that's what makes it political.