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.
4 thoughts on “#MWFDIGITAL: How Crises Shape Literature”
It was an interesting question, I thought… write now, or write later when you’ve have time to digest the situation. I’ve been asked to write stuff about C_19, but although I’m reading and writing as much as I usually do, I don’t want to write about it. I’m sick of it actually, and I want what I do to take me away from hearing about it, not to wallow in it. Because really, my life is not all that different and apart from missing the opportunity to travel, living a quiet life at home is not such a burden for me.
I feel mildly guilty about refusing because of course that means that the narrative will be captured by people less stoic and the whole mental health avalanche will prevail, as it is in the media. And it’s not a true picture, there are lots of us just getting on with it. There’s no virtue in that, I hasten to add, we’re just lucky that our personalities and our personal circumstances allow for stoicism. But we are part of the story that should be told, and I know I should make the effort to tell it… I just don’t want to.
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I completely understand where you’re coming from. While the situation in Queensland can’t be compared at all to Victoria, I still feel sick of Covid and reading about it is unappealing, so writing about it would be as well – hence my lack of notes on that part of the session. Even when we were in lockdown though, my life was largely unchanged, apart from the working from home and not having bookclub. This is a state that can be attributed to where I currently live and my frame of mind about that at the time, but even accounting for that, I wasn’t mournful about staying at home. I saw more of my teens too, which was lovely, and we indulged in more peaceful pastimes, like games and watched movies together instead of each person watching something different in separate rooms – there was some of that as well.
But anyway, I definitely understand your position here and would likely have made the same response if it were me.
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