James Bradley (Ghost Species) and Caoilinn Hughes (The Wild Laughter) delivered an interesting session today on How Crises Shape Literature.
Caoilinn’s two novels play out against a backdrop of the Celtic Tiger; the Irish experience of the global financial crisis of the mid-2000s.
James’ work is all driven by the climate crisis.
There was a lot of ground covered within this session but I’m going to concentrate in this post on two questions each author answered.
How much time needs to pass before a writer can address a crisis that is in living memory?
For Caoilinn, she says she needs time to process and synthesise a crisis. She can’t ever imagine writing a novel set in the exact living time of the crisis, nor even the immediate past of one to two years. She feels that in order to write about recent events with any clarity, she needs about a decade in terms of distance.
For James, he deliberately writes inside the moment. He feels that when he writes from within the crisis into the imagined future, it allows for the present and the future to collapse inside each other, capturing the feeling of the moment we are living in.
Why write fiction instead of non-fiction?
For Caoilinn, fiction is her natural form of writing. She feels this is where she is most useful and interesting, where she can express herself best, and engage most fully with politics. In writing fiction, Caoilinn said she likes to write without a plan, writing ‘into the dark’ as a means of discovering, sharpening, and clarifying her intended messages.
For James, who does write both fiction and non-fiction, he likes the way in which fiction allows you to communicate the sense of what life might be like within the crisis. It’s a way of making it all comprehensible to ourselves. We understand the urgency and scale of the climate crisis, but not necessarily the application to our lives. Fiction allows us to inhabit the dissonance.
I’ve read, and loved The Wild Laughter (see my review here) and I had already bought Ghost Species before this session upon the recommendation of a couple of writerly friends. I also have a previous novel (unread) by James, Clade, on my digital shelf. I enjoyed this session, they did go into the current global pandemic crisis and the future recession we are facing, but like Caoilinn, I need some distance from a crisis before being able to write about it, so my note taking didn’t extend into this part of the session.