The Balance Between Academic and Creative Writing

Apologise for not posting these past two weeks, I have been up to my eyeballs in uni deadlines and entertaining multiple groups out of town guests. The next four weeks will look much the same as I complete my Honours thesis and my final assessment items which is why this week’s blog will be a little shorter than usual!

These past two weeks have been endless paperwork as I applied for scholarships and further study (a doctorate). My editing cap has also been firmly in place with the proofreading of my thesis and final assignments while also preparing for an upcoming research presentation. As a result, most of my writing has been either academic or administrative (hello, Personal Statements!). There are many seasons in life and right now, the priority has had to be the progression and completion of the above projects, but I am so looking forward to returning to my creative work.

Recently, I read an article that focussed on the balance between academic and creative work as experienced by Australian Creative Writing lecturers. Some academics felt that their craft benefited from the interactions with students while others found that teaching and an increasing administration workload left little time or energy for their creative work. Many spoke about the pressure to publish academic articles and the fact that scholarly publications continue to be seen as more valuable than creative works. Fortunately, a few outliers stated that their creative and academic publications were equally valued.

I hope that this attitude towards creative practice and publications continues because the crafting of a compelling and thoughtful narrative requires a writer to dig deeper, to think critically, to ask hard questions, to reflect upon themselves and the world and to then respond to this internal and external stimuli.

Writing an innovation and original academic essay is not easy, but neither is creative writing.

I know which one fills me with a buzz greater than the strongest of coffees. The one that tugs my ear in the night. The one that steals away hours of time without my noticing it. The one that takes my hand and leads me to my desk each morning, and I can’t wait until I can get back into that chair.

A World Worth Writing For

Unfortunately, writers guilt is all too common. When we are working on a project, we feel guilty that we aren’t doing something more practical or useful – even if that task is nothing more than basic domestic chores. Ironically, as soon as we leave our desk to carry out said useful task, we feel guilty for abandoning our project. “I should be writing!” is the familiar, tedious mantra that plays in every writers’ mind.

Lately, though, I’ve been struck by the other type of guilt creatives suffer from. Perhaps you are familiar with it? The “Is my art doing anything?” guilt.

Part of me believes in art for art’s sake. With so much ugliness and helplessness in the world, I believe there is a place for aesthetically pleasing art. What harm can come from admiring something that is beautiful? What’s wrong with reading fun, frivolous fiction and indulging in the escapism it offers? Then there is the other part of me. The part of me that scorns this irresponsible reader. This placid person who chooses to read the latest bestseller while soaking in a tub of Epson salt as the world burns outside their window.

A vision that spurs the question: how can reading and writing contribute to solutions?

The “civilised” world has never been perfect. For better or for worse, technology’s omnipresence means we can no longer remain ignorant of our imperfection. In the face of these serious and urgent global issues, how can writers contribute to the crafting of solutions? Do their story-telling and communication skills offer anything of value?

Some argue that the publication of books reflecting current global issues is vital. Of course, these people tend to be authors. Ann Patchett (author) recently stated that she has moved away from reading classic literature in favour of contemporary texts. She believes that the accountability and challenging themes presented in recent works have once again made reading a political act.

To contradict Patchett’s point, I recently started reading Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and I have been shocked by the timeliness of the commentary. Many of Esther existential concern remain relevant today.

“I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer.” (31)

“A million years of evolution […] and what are we? Animals?” (87)

This modern classic was published in 1971. A fact that saddens me slightly, as it illustrated how little we have evolved in the last 47 years. As an aside, I bought my copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ from a second-hand bookstore. The previous owner had unlined the above passages (and others) in pencil.

I wondered why someone who loved a book enough to read it with a pencil in hand would ever part with said book. This question was immediately followed by the thought, “Maybe they died?” Given the sombre tenor of these passages/the whole book and the former reader’s obvious identification with them, I hope their ending was happier than Esther/Sylvia’s … That being said, I was constantly impressed by Plath’s ability to clearly articulate what depression felt like. I’ve never experienced depression (though the evening news does test me…) but Plath’s considered descriptions of Esther’s mental state bridged that divide. I got it.

If nothing else, this is what writers can do. They can communicate ideas. They can shape messy and complex emotions into tidy sentences. They can shatter binaries and expose hidden nuance. They can repackage complex problems into comprehensible forms. But. Is this the only irrefutable claim that writers can make? That they can present readers with information?

As the saying goes, if information was the solution, we’d all be happy millionaires with ripped abs.

You can write about the issues that trouble you, but you can’t make people read your work and you definitely can’t make them do something. While the publication of cli-fi and other challenging literary works are appearing more and more, the market isn’t exactly flooded. (No pun intended).

In a recent episode of The Garrett Podcast, Jennifer Mills, author and literary editor of Overland said that while the magazine has been successful in the publishing of marginal voices, few submissions address our present-day issues like the Anthropocene (humans impact on non-humans). Instead, most of the submissions received are concerned with relationship dynamics.

Is this because readers want escapism or because writers do?

Mills, who has published her own Anthropogenic work, Dyschronia, says that she intentionally constructed a plot that offered little in the way of solutions or action because that is what she sees in society: passivity. An observation that is no doubt reinforced by the submissions she vets.

Information is key. Without it, people may not understand the depth of a problem or how to fix it. Historically, the publication of good writing has played a vital role in the mobilizing of populations and the igniting of revolutions. Within our current culture, the problem is not a lack of information but our passivity and denial in the face of it.

Perhaps this is where our writerly self-consciousness stems from. Words are the tools wielded by skilful writers, but are we simply hiding behind our profession? Perhaps we should accept the fact that the gap between information and action is too wide? That our culture is passive. That a challenging book is likely to achieve little more than a 3.5 star rating on Good Reads. That it is time to close our laptops, start a biodynamic farm, become vegan and trade our cars for bicycles…I’m not being facetious; sincerity rests in this hyperbole.

It is true that the grandiosity of the world’s problems is overwhelming, but none of these issues occurred in isolation. We are all driving cars, drinking takeaway coffees, shutting our mouths instead of speaking up, lying to our kids about where the steak on their plate came from and buying caged eggs because they’re a dollar cheaper.

We need to do better. We need to do something.

Writers can offer solutions in their weekly columns and fiction. They can encourage readers to re-evaluate their opinions and behaviours by holding up a mirror. While a single blog post cannot change the world, our combined voices do have the power to shift culture.

Together, we can aspire to create a new culture. A culture that carries re-useable cups, that walks to works and eats ethical, sustainable food. A culture that votes. A culture that allows minorities to have space without slipping into fear that they are ‘taking over.’ A culture that questions why education hasn’t changed in 150 years. A culture that swivels its gaze away from the individual to focus on the collective. A world that is less about stuff and more about substance.

That, my friends, is a world worth writing for.

The Walking Writer

Daily walks have long been a part of my writing process, not that there’s anything special or unique about this habit. In Charlotte Wood’s collection of interviews titled, The Writers Room, Tegan Bennett Daylight says, “Scratch a writer and you’ll find a walker.” In contexts, Daylight was discussing how daily walks are a vital part of her writing process as they assist in the unlooping of her thoughts. Though she uses walking as a way to stay fit, this particular form of daily movement has had a positive impact on her writing craft, especially when she encounters creative problems, “Almost everytime I go for a walk on my own, it brings me the solution I was looking for.” In terms of problem-solving, outlining, plot development or a simple deepening of understanding regarding one’s own work, Daylight believes that these insights occur because walking allows oneself to become “distracted enough from yourself to let the creative play start to happen.” Daylight is not alone in this opinion. Anecdotal evidence from both contemporary authors and literary juggernauts has long connected the usefulness of aerobic exercise to creative writing.

If you’re wrestling with a difficult manuscript, taking a break in the form of a short walk may be more useful that you think. I’ve often solved troublesome plot holes and generated fresh approaches to structural issues while walking my local bush track. As Daylight says, “Maybe it’s because you’re distracted enough – because you need to look around when you cross the road or whatever – you’re distracted enough from yourself to let the creative play start to happen, and then your mind just goes, ‘Here’s the thing you’re looking for.’” Daylight goes on to hypothesise that these moments of insight may be brought on by an increase in endorphins. When the body relaxes, the mind is allowed to open up to “new possibilities.”

It is the potential to discover “new possibilities” that keeps writers on the track.

In his memoir/craft manifesto, On Writing, Stephen King says he experienced his first bout of writers’ block during his initial draft of The Stand. It was during an afternoon walk that a solution – that had been evading him for weeks – suddenly popped into his head and he was able to finish writing the first draft.

Beyond spontaneous insights and the space for mental clarity, walking – especially outside – can be a useful way to gather inspiration and stimuli that can fuel the creative process. Australian author Sarah Schmidt, often documents her daily walks by taking photos and posting them on her blog. The often eerie and unsettling images mirror the mood of her equally eerie and unsettling (though engrossing) debut novel, See What I Have Done. The photographs complement the mood and imagery of Sarah’s work, thus supporting her creative process, but the walk also grants her the time to contemplate her novel on a deeper level.

“I’m one of ‘those’ writers. You know the kind: fidgety, annoying, needs to walk out their thoughts, sees something along the way and thinks, ‘now that’s interesting. I wonder if…’ takes photos of it and then just stares at said photo for hours. I’m also desperately, heavily reliant on nature to help me write.”

In a study conducted by Stanford University in 2014, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz found that creative ideation increased during and shortly after walking. In a ‘meta’ moment, the idea for this experiment arose while Marily and Daniel were out on a walk. The study featured four experiments that tested participants creative divergent thinking by having them complete the Guilford’s alternate use (GAU) test. Their convergent thinking was tested using the compound remote associates (CRA) test. The study compared the effects of walking on a treadmill, sitting then walking, walking then sitting, walking outside and being pushed in a wheelchair outside. Following a walk, 81% of the 176 students had an increased improvement on their GAU score and 23% on the CRA test.

However, the study found that walking lessened students’ performance when the task required laser thinking. Oppezzo hypothesised that walking proved counterproductive in this instance due to the minds tendency to drift while walking. “If you’re looking for a single correct answer to a question, you probably don’t want all of these different ideas bubbling up.”

Fresh ideas, solutions and the ability to see “new possibilities” occur more frequently when a person is in an aerobic zone. Neuroscientists have discovered that this increase in creative thinking occurs when the mind is allowed to go into a non-thinking default state of consciousness. Many creatives tell anecdotes of how a fresh or exciting idea spontaneously popped into their mind when they were busy doing something else. As Henry Miller said, “Most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever.” Though some may be tempted to give all credit to the muse, the catalyst behind these spontaneous insights is physiological and psychological: there is an increased supply of oxygen to the brain and the mind is free to wonder.

Writing could be described as a conglomeration of personal experiences, observations, external stimuli consciously or subconsciously absorbed and the occasional random insight. These different sources of information settle in our brains, as Ann Patchett describes, like a “mental compost.” It’s through the act of walking that an author is able to shake free this compacted knowledge and discover something useful. This can only occur, however, if the mind is unclamped or enters a non-thinking state. A fact about heart disease read weeks ago and promptly forgotten may reappear while trekking a deserted bush track. Suddenly, the writer is able to fix that drab scene with their overweight, over-aged protagonists by transforming it into a medical drama!

Not all writers are walkers, yet many are. Though some see this casual form of exercise as nothing more than an excuse to take a break, some view it as a potentially useful practice for unlooping thoughts, for others, it is an essential tool in their craft kit. A daily walking habit will not turn an emerging writer into a best seller, but the endless author anecdotes, scientific proof and the basic physiological evidence allow for one solid conclusion: walking can help some writers some of the time, but you can’t make an ‘A-ha’ moment happen.

Writing Inspiration and Resources

This week’s blog is a collection of all the writerly podcasts, YouTube videos, blogs and movies that I have enjoyed lately. While I think it’s important to create before we consume, there comes a point where you’ve given all that you can. You can’t constantly produce if you aren’t also filling your mind with ideas, information, and insights. The conversations, advice, and ideas contained within these sources will do just that. They are the kindling you need when you’re starting to feel a little burnout and I hope you find them useful.

Podcasts

The Garrett

Jennifer Mills

Jennifer Mills is a writer of short stories, fiction, and poetry and she is the Literary Editor of Overland magazine. In this interview, she discusses her typical writing day, the difference approaches she uses for fiction vs non-fiction writing and the role literature has in our culture and society. In relation to her work with Overland, Mills identifies the common literary trends she sees in submissions, what good writing is and the types of stories she wished she saw more of.

https://thegarretpodcast.com/jennifer-mills/

Charlotte Wood

In this interview, Wood reflects on her writing process, her career as a writer and the downside of winning literary awards. Wood has a way with words, even off the page. Somehow, her description of the writing process debunks all the romantic notions we’ve come to associate with writing while simultaneously reinforcing it.

https://thegarretpodcast.com/charlotte-wood/

On Writing

Robert Lukins (Episode 39)

Robert Lukins’ writing career is an unusual one. He is not a freelance writer and he doesn’t have a folder filled with rejection letters. Most writers submit to competitions and magazines in order to get their work seen and to sidestep into the industry. Lukins worked odd jobs and wrote in his free time. He spent years honing his craft through writing exercises, some of which were novel length. Eventually, he decided enough was enough, it was time to write a ‘real’ novel. So he did.

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/on-writing/id1094985983?mt=2

Booktopia

Candice Fox

In this episode, Fox talks about her face-to-face interview with America’s most prolific living serial killer. It is a fascinating and totally insane story. I’ll say no more, just listen to it!

Angela Meyer

In this interview, Meyer discussing the research involved with her eagerly awaited, and incredibly complex, debut novel, ‘A Superior Spectre’.

Both interviews can be found here, simply scroll down to find these, and other, podcasts. https://soundcloud.com/booktopiapodcast

YouTube

Jenna Moreci

If you are interested in self-publishing, then consider checking out Jenna Moreci’s channel. She covers a range of topics in her vlogs, including marketing advice, reviews of online services, and tips about self-publishing. Her advice and reviews are honest, transparent and very funny.

Ellen Brock

Ellen Brock is a fiction editor. Her videos concentrate on the most common craft issues she encounters while editing manuscripts. The strength of these videos is Brock’s clear articulation of what ‘bad’ writing looks like and how to fix it. She also provides plenty of great examples from successful commercial novels.

Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection, ‘Her Body and Other Parties’, is a strange and exciting hybrid. The collection would certainly be described as literary, yet it contains elements of science fiction, horror, gothic and the supernatural. One of the more bizarre stories in the collection is a summarisation of Law and Order SVU, and what every episode was “really” about.

Roz Morris

I hadn’t heard of Roz Morris before I came across this interview, but seeing that she has worked predominately as a ghostwriter and fiction editor, that’s not surprising. Let’s be honest, we’ve all heard a lot of writing advice and most of it is a regurgitation of the same stuff. However, Roz’s specific advice about how to take a two-dimension character and turn them into a living person felt like a fresh find in a sea of same-same.

Articles

Writing and the Permission to Succeed: The Intersection of Art and Shame by Elissa Altman

Altman adds depth to what may otherwise feel like a very familiar topic: writers looking for permission. Altman acknowledges our self-consciousness while weaving her own personal anecdotes and insights with beautiful quotes from well-known authors. This elegant essay is the permission slip we think we need.

https://onbeing.org/blog/writing-and-the-permission-to-succeed-the-intersection-of-art-and-shame/?utm_campaign=Social%20Media%202018&utm_content=75336295&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

Stephen King: Master of Almost All the Genres Except Literary by Douglas E. Cowan

There are a lot of great articles on the lit hub, but I am a huge Stephen King fan, so I decided to go with this one. Douglas E. Cowan traces King’s career, the fact that his prolific body of work is often dubbed as “fast fiction,” and he attempts to answer what it is about King’s style of storytelling that we connect with so strongly.

https://lithub.com/stephen-king-master-of-almost-all-the-genres-except-literary/

How to Network Better by Saying Less by Jane Friedman

I’ve occasionally been trapped by other writers as they harp on about their current work in progress. Don’t be that guy (and it’s always a guy…sorry). If you think you might just be that guy, please, read this article.

https://booklife.com/market/pr-reviews/05/30/2018/how-to-network-better-by-saying-less.html?platform=hootsuite

Seeing, doing, knowing by Jenn Webb

This one is a scholarly article published by the fantastic TEXT journal. Webb explores the idea of “who owns creativity” and what role does art for arts sake play within the academy – where research projects must be justified.

http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue13/Webb.pdf

Shows/movies

Anne with an E

So, I fully bypassed ‘Anne Of Green Gables’. I think of Anne the same way I think of ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’: these are the narratives of American childhoods. I was raised on ‘Possum Magic’ and ‘Blinky Bill’. As I grew older, my taste turned to Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings. Speaking of, whatever happened to Jennings? **Googles Paul Jeannings. Wow. Still alive?!** Anyway, I understand that ‘Anne with an E’ is an adaption and from the reviews I’ve read, it walks a darker path then the books, but I’ve enjoyed my time at Green Gables and my childhood desire for red hair has been reinvigorated.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Confession, I watched the movie and then read the book. I enjoyed both immensely and I feel that the movie did a great job of capturing the novel’s voice. However, I enjoy the subtle narrative tension established in the novel better than the slightly illogical tension established in the movie.

Well, that’s all I have for you this week! I hope you enjoy these sources as much as I have and if you have any fantastic writerly sources that you would like to share, please do so in the comments.

Until next week, happy writing.

 

 

Slow Writing

Our lives are busy and they’re just getting busier. We’re desperate for tips about time management, scheduling, prioritisation and optimisation. We want life hacks and shortcuts. Technology has eliminated some of the tedious domestic tasks that consumed our time and zapped our energy, yet we’re still complaining about being time poor and exhausted.

These days, we expect more from life and ourselves.

Ironically, we have technology to thank for this. Polished images of highly productive people followed by #hustle fill our social media feeds. The subliminal message beneath these post is that a busy person is an important person. Of course, the shrinking job market, the increased casualization of work and the depletion of entire industries isn’t helping. With Baby boomers understandably stalling their retirement plans, mid-level personnel are unable to move into management positions and low-level workers are unable to take on more responsibility (or worse, they take on mid-level workloads, but without the title or pay). That means entry-level jobs are scares and competition is fierce. If you want the job, you have to go above and beyond.

That being said, we’re all very aware that “job security” is a thing of the past. The idea of limiting oneself to a single stream of income and to one employer is borderline irresponsible. We need to have side hustles, multiple streams of income, passive income and investments. We need to take control of our financial security and our careers instead of giving that control to corporations (who have their own interests).

This has resulted in a boom in online businesses and creative entrepreneurs. With so much uncertainty in the world, we’re desperate to carve out something stable and the clock is ticking. We need to “make it” before they do; before someone steals our idea or the market become saturated. We need to go, go, go and produce, produce, produce in the hopes that we are going somewhere and that we are producing something of value.

If you’re a creative, then this approach can be rather distressing.

Time management, tight scheduling, deadlines and optimisation tactics are…problematic… because there is nothing efficient about creating art. Don’t get me wrong, I keep a weekly schedule because I want to make time for the things that are important to me, like writing, work, study, exercise and free time. I also manage my time by keeping an eye on deadlines, and I maintain particular habits that increase my productivity.

I create timetables and outlines, but I hold these maps lightly. I listen to the recommendations of other hikers, especially those who have travelled to where I want to go! I follow small urges to wander down goat tracks in the hope that it will lead to a spectacular view. Sometimes it does. Sometimes I collide with a giant boulder. Good art doesn’t have to take a long time, but it often does.

We rush to get things done and I am no exception. If there’s a way to shortcut a recipe, send one email instead of fifteen or to coordinate my errands so that I am not backtracking all over town, then I will do that.

But art is slow, or at least my art is.

Writing is an act of perseverance and constant dissatisfaction. It takes me a long time to put together a short story, novella or even an academic essay. Although I conduct research and complete outlines before I start writing, I don’t really know what I am doing or what I am thinking until I’m actively engaging with the project. People may not think that writing is a tactile act, but it is. Although I outline my stories and plan my assignments, I can’t really “see” the work during this stage. I have a sense of what it is I want to accomplish and that feeling tows me forward, guiding me towards the watery image in my mind’s eye. It is through the act of writing that this image gathers shape. It is given a body, and consequently, a will of its own.

You must hold an outline lightly because a story can have its own motivations. Some authors work tediously on an outline that they then follow to a tee, others may mentally map out their entire plot ahead of time so that their writing sessions feel more like dictation rather than creation.

Personally, I maintain a working outline, conduct research and craft character profiles and I start each session with a five-minute mini-outline where I figure out what it is I’m going to write during that session. If you were to compare this mini-outline to the final product, you may not see the connection. The story has a form and a will of its own, but it is only through the act of writing that I can feel, see and hear it. The practice of outlining may seem pointless given my tendency to follow the story’s lead, but I continue this habit because it’s a way to orientate myself and the hardest part of writing is starting.

I am a slow thinker. I need time to ponder and to tinker with the work because clean poetic prose does not come easily for me.

I work slowly.

I revise in layers where each revision has a specific purpose. In terms of creative writing, a first draft is primarily concerned with plot. What are the story beats? What is happening here, to who and why? Later revisions will focus on character, mood, theme and voice or broad concern such as structure, tension and pace.

I write first drafts fast, because I want to get the story out. I need to see the shape of it before I can start refining. During this stage, I’ll typically write 1000 words an hour. During later revisions, however, I can easily spend an hour perfecting a 100-word paragraph. A paragraph that in a later revision may be reduced to 20 words or deleted entirely. Like I said, there is nothing efficient about creating art. At this stage of the revision process, I do not measure the success of a writing session by its word count or hours spent, but by my ability to say yes to the following three questions: did I make progress today? Did the manuscript improve? Did I write something that felt real?

I am comfortable with the fact that this part of the writing process is slow because there are few areas in life where we allow ourselves to be slow. Of course, the practice of slow writing is at odds with the current work culture where we are told to squeeze the life out of every minute and to produce more content in less time. A culture where we are told it is dangerous to be slow, because we may be left behind.

Slow writing is a luxury and I am not willing to give it up.

Author Interview with Jay Ludowyke

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Dr Jay Ludowyke is an author and academic with a research focus on narrative nonfiction, objects and artefacts. She holds qualifications in writing, history and library services. Her writing has appeared Meniscus, Visible Ink and TEXT. Jay’s debut novel, Carpathia, was released earlier this year by Hachette.

Carpathia is a dual narrative that follows the Carpathia‘s legendary rescue of the Titanic survivors in 1912 and the discovery of the ship’s wreck nearly 100 years later.

Jay and I met two years ago at a writing saloon on the Sunshine Coast. At the time, she was completing a Doctorate at USC and I was completing a Masters. Jay’s intelligence, talent, and enormous generosity are obvious. Hearing about her debut novel Carpathia, I knew I wanted to have Jay on the blog. Being the generous person that she is, she agreed.

What drew you to the story of the Carpathia?

Jay: I first heard about Carpathia while watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow, a British television program where people bring in artefacts to be appraised by an expert. The program featured a commemorative medal presented to a crew member who served aboard Carpathia during the rescue of the Titanic’s survivors. The expert told the story of how Captain Arthur Rostron diverted steam from the ship’s heating and lighting, sending it back into Carpathia’s engines. Then they sailed full speed through the black night, directly towards icebergs, desperately trying to reach the stricken ocean liner.

Carpathia’s rescue mission was brave and heroic, but few people know this story, despite its connection to the most famous maritime disaster of the twentieth century. I have never liked tragedy, but I have always been drawn to heroism and nobility and romanticism, and Carpathia brings these elements to the Titanic story — at least for me. Her rescue mission captured my heart.

This year marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the sinking of the Carpathia. Why do you think now is an important time for people to learn the story of the Carpathia?

Jay: We seem to have a fascination for centenary anniversaries — perhaps because so few humans reach this milestone. Carpathia was sunk by a U-boat while leading a convoy out of Liverpool during the final year of the First World War. Five men were killed that day — 17 July, 1918. In addition to the rescue of the Titanic’s survivors and her war service, Carpathia was built when the shipping industry was still transitioning from wind power to steam power, which coincided with a period of intense immigration from Europe to the United States. She was also one of Cunard’s first holiday cruisers, traversing the Mediterranean. In 2000, after several failed attempts, the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) located Carpathia’s wreck and she was subsequently dived by a group of amateur technical divers in 2001 and again in 2007 during an artefact salvage expedition, in one of the deepest ever UK wreck dives. Any one of these elements warrants mention in the historical record and their cumulative effect makes Carpathia a significant artefact of the twentieth century. So, the one-hundredth anniversary of her loss is the ideal time to commemorate her.

Carpathia_Paperback_eBook_Back-Cover

Your book alternates between the early 20th century and 2007 as you explore the history of the Carpathia and the recent discovery of her wreck. Was it difficult to construct a voice that could move between these two-time periods? Is that why you chose to use a narrative voice rather than a “standard” non-fiction voice?

Jay: I did have to contend with one significant issue of narrative voice while writing Carpathia. This was caused by using both an historical and contemporary timeline in alternating chapters. I felt that each timeline deserved a voice that accurately reflected the period and people within. For example, the historical chapters are written in a style that favours a lyrical voice, with a significant degree of detail and world building that gives verisimilitude to depictions of Edwardian society and life aboard steamships. However, the contemporary chapters dial back the lyricism, particularly since the protagonist here is a down-to-earth, plain-speaking firefighter from Manchester. It would have been a disservice (to him and to readers) to depict Ric Waring and the other men who dived Carpathia’s wreck with the lyrical voice used in the historical chapters — inauthentic to who they are and the way they speak. The key was to find a balance so that the two voices harmonised.

I used the genre of narrative nonfiction to write Carpathia because I wanted to tell people a story – albeit true. One that would captivate them. Too often, the ‘standard’ nonfiction voice to which you refer fails to engage a reader’s mind and emotions, because it focuses on recounting facts, figures and dates. That’s easy. Enlivening nonfiction is much harder.

Can you tell us about the research that was involved with this book? Both the historical research and your interactions with Ric Waring and his diving team.

Jay: So much research! Too much to list it all here, but among other things it involved reading

reference works (at first, with a dictionary in one hand to look up all the nautical terminology), locating primary sources, reading historical news accounts, contacting Titanic experts and maritime archaeologists, and interviewing the divers. I even visited Las Vegas specifically to attend a Titanic exhibition, and in New Zealand I went for a cruise on TSS Earnslaw, the only remaining coal-fired passenger ship in the southern hemisphere (where they allowed me into the normally restricted engine room and let me throw some coal in the boiler’s furnace, and to visit the bridge and steer the ship!)

I also went on a research trip to the United Kingdom, which was funded by the University of the Sunshine Coast. This involved visits to multiple information repositories. The major ones included, in London: The National Archives, and the National Maritime Museum; in Liverpool: the University of Liverpool, and the Merseyside Maritime Museum; in Newcastle: the Tyne and Wear Archives, and the Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum; and in Belfast: the Titanic Belfast Museum and Slipways. Because it was winter in England, the nights were long and it was always dark when I entered and exited the archives. For weeks, it was like living in perpetual night. While researching Carpathia, I remember missing the sun for the first time in my life.

In Manchester, I stayed with Ric Waring and interviewed him about his experiences diving Carpathia. Ric was very patient with me, because at that stage I knew next to nothing about any kind of diving, much less technical diving – the kind of deep diving required to dive Carpathia – which is highly specialised and very dangerous. The rest of the team also shared stories with me, but because they were spread over the UK, Italy and Germany, I focused on Ric, who was the 2007 expedition leader. I was quite nervous about meeting him, but he was welcoming and very forthright about his experiences — the good, the bad and the funny.

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What were some of the most interesting facts you uncovered during your research?

One of the most interesting archival documents I located was a letter written by Charles H. Marshall to Cunard, concerning the naming of Carpathia. This was quite extraordinary because Marshall was actually a passenger aboard Carpathia when she went to rescue the Titanic’s survivors, amongst whom were three of his grown nieces!

I also found records and photographs indicating that 2,000-year-old stones from Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO world-heritage listed Roman site, were displayed in a glass case aboard Carpathia. In the book, the stones are portrayed as her sunken treasure. Previously, I’d only ever seen brief mentions that the end of Hadrian’s Wall had been found in the shipyard while Carpathia was being built — never that the stones were placed aboard her.

Finally, after a great deal of time and effort, I uncovered the real name of the baby born on Carpathia’s maiden voyage and heretofore known only as ‘Carpathius’ —  but I’m not going to spoil that scene by revealing the name here!

What challenges did you encounter while writing a historical non-fiction narrative?

I love history and I wanted to tell the reader absolutely every interesting thing I discovered. And I thought everything was interesting! When I send an early draft to my supervisor, Dr Ross Watkins, he, very constructively, told me it was boring. I’d forsaken the story in favour of reciting facts — the antithesis of what I was trying to achieve when I chose narrative nonfiction as my genre. When I became aware of the problem, it was still incredibly difficult to resolve because I struggled against privileging my desires over the needs of the narrative. In the end, I had to reconcile myself to writing drafts that were factually overwritten. I could only resolve this kind of overwriting during the editing process, after giving myself time and distance so I could evaluate the text more objectively. Only then, could I ‘kill my darling’ extraneous facts.

Can you tell us a little bit about your routine? Are you a morning person or night person? Do you write every day? Do you research and write at the same time? Do you outline? 

Jay: I won’t start writing until I’m satisfied I’ve done enough preliminary research — that’s not to say all the research will be done before I put fingers to keyboard – far from it, but I’m a plotter and I need to know my organising structure (or at least the beginning, conflict, climax and ending) before I begin. This gives me direction. Once I start writing, I’m still always researching, but then I’m seeking the type of information needed to construct scenes and create verisimilitude. I work best during the day, which can be a little difficult since I’m also a night owl. When I’m at the writing stage of a project, I treat it like a job and do it every day.

There are two strategies I found particularly useful for writing historical nonfiction. During the research stage I created a detailed timeline of events relating to Carpathia. I compiled the information from the many sources I consulted, adding fact after fact to create a more comprehensive history of her than any single source offered. It was extraordinarily useful to have a chronological timeline that I could refer to, even though the book’s plot is not structured chronologically. The timeline was fully referenced so that I always knew from where the information came. Then, when writing the book, I used footnotes (always intending to remove them in the finished version) to continue to maintain that link with the original source. This was a huge help when my editor was fact checking, and I had to confirm the validity of something that was being queried.

I usually only do a written outline if I have a limited word count. I’ll note what I need to achieve per 500 or 1,000 words, so that I don’t hit my limit and discover that I’m only half done with no words left. If there is no word limit (or its several tens of thousands), most commonly, I just begin writing. This is because by the time I’m ready to begin I always have a mental plan and know where I’m going to start. Things usually flow organically from there, because of the mulling I’ve done beforehand. Then, at about the halfway mark, I’ll assess what I’ve done, make a list of scenes I still need to write (I have a better idea of them by this point) and continue. After completing a chapter I’ll often do a one-paragraph summary so that I don’t forget what I wrote in that chapter or what threads I’ve left hanging. Excepting major plot points, I usually work out the details of a scene during the act of writing. It’s part instinctual, but always informed by that preliminary research and mulling.

If you would like to find out more about Jay, all her contact details are below. Carpathia is available in bookstores now or can purchase directly here.

Dr Jay Ludowyke

Email: jay@jayludowyke.com

Website: www.jayludowyke.com

Twitter: @JayLudowyke

Facebook: JayLudowykeAuthor

 

 

 

 

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Why You Should Reread Books

I love re-watching movies. Well…to clarify, I love re-watching movies that I love. Unsurprisingly, I also love rereading books that I love. Though, to be honest, rereading a beloved book from start to finish is a rare event. I certainly have done this – ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ have both had three complete read-throughs –  but I am far more likely to reread a favourite scene or to follow a story thread through multiple chapters.

Similarly, I don’t always re-watch movies from start to finish, but since movies are typically 2-3 hours long whereas a novel can take 6-30 hours to read, depending on word count and complexity, the time required to watch a movie is far less.

Part of the value of re-watching a film is that you will notice things you missed the first time. Given that film is a visual medium, there is so much information contained within each and every shot. The first time you watch a movie, your attention will be on the foreground action, but by re-watching a film you can choose to pay closer attention to dialogue, character mannerism, the set, background action and so on. For example, a character may make a seemingly through-away comment and it is only through re-watching that you realise it was actually clever foreshadowing.

This is what re-watching offers, the ability to see all of the small details that the creators have both intentionally and perhaps unintentionally placed within the narrative. Of course, this same witnessing and pleasure also occurs when rereading, however, the effect is slightly different. There will inevitably be occasions when you zone out while reading or you miss a snippet of information, but when you’re reading, your attention is solely on the text itself. Of course, in the same way that film contains multiple levels of action, so do books. Beneath the foreground action and story beats lie layers of foreshadowing, theme, double meanings, concealed information and character motivations.

You don’t have to look beneath the hood, you can enjoy the trip from A to B, but it is through the process of close reading and critical thinking that a book will ignite. If you give a book the attention and consideration it deserves, then it will last you a lifetime.

You may not realise this, but books and films are time travel devices.

Temporal narratives are a genre all their own, but I would argue that all books and films are time machines. Whether you consume this content for the second, third or umpteenth time, the story remains the same. As you may be aware, time travel is not possible – yet! – but revisiting a beloved movie or book is a type of time travel.

I can never go back and re-experience the first time I met my partner, but I can read about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s first encounter whenever I want.

I will never again pass through the chain-link fence of my high school (not that I’d want to…), but I can reread the prom scene from ‘Carrie’.

There are two ways in which movies and books act as time travel devices.

The first is that they can transport you to times and places you would otherwise not be able to access. I can cross the Tudor court while reading ‘Wolf Hall’ or dive into a WWI trench while reading ‘Fall of Giants’. Historical novels allow me to travel into the past and to access the knowledge that only comes with personally lived experience. I can travel into the far future by reading science fiction or travel to another dimension or world by reading fantasy.

Books and movies have the power to turn your couch into a time machine. They allow you to step out of linear time and into other spaces and places, but they also provide the opportunity to re-experience a moment, in real time, exactly as it first occurred.

There are a handful of days in my own life that I’d do just about anything to re-live. Yes, it’s true that you can attempt to re-experience a memory but returning to the physical place with the same people, but time has passed and you aren’t the same. You can close your eyes and recall the memory. You can pretend to feel the Californian sun, to hear the crackle of leaves and to smell the Malibu spray mingling with fresh cut chips and chardonnay, but it’s not real. You can never authentically re-experience a moment from your past, but books and movies are different. The way a character’s life unfolds, the adventures they go on and how they feel about those experiences never changes.

Though your opinion of the art may change over time, though you may sometimes feel disconnected from the story or bored by its familiarity, the story itself hasn’t changed. Sometimes though, when the stars aligned and you are in the exact right mood and the craving for a particular experience hits, you can crack back the cover of a book or hit the play button and know that the story will meet your expectations exactly. And that feeling is pretty sublime.

It is true that you can only read a book for the first time once, but you can re-experience the story again and again, whenever you want and for as long as you want. It’s a small, humble pleasure yes, but it’s a relief to know that while I cannot go back to that Californian day, I can cross the moorlands and visit Wuthering Heights, I can feel the weight of stone in Jack Builders hand, and the sting of Alma Whittaker’s heartbreak. I can experience these memories in all their authenticity, any damn time I please.