Friday, 28 February 2014

Filled with awe...

On Tuesday, my writing friend, Andrea, presented her Final Seminar for her PhD in creative writing, and I was invited to attend. Her PhD is on The Role of the Nonhuman Natural World in Recovery from Psychological Trauma. 70% of it comprises a creative work, in this case a novel called The Child Pose, and the other 30% is the exegesis.

The presentation was stimulating, inspiring and thought-provoking. The thesis posed a central question and three sub-questions. The central question was this: How can a novel embody a narrative of recovery from psychological trauma, in which recovery is primarily a function of the character’s subjective interaction with nature?

I think to understand this better, it is helpful to give some examples of novels where the protagonist is suffering some kind of trauma and is made whole (or is on the way to being made whole) by communing with nature. One that came to mind is The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles. Here, the female protagonist, Sarah Woodruff, rambles through the countryside and paces the sea wall at Lyme Regis, gaining some kind of succour from nature. Another I thought of is The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman. The central character, Tom Sherbourne, suffering the horrors of the trenches of WW1, undertakes to look after a lighthouse on Janus Rock, and the experience helps him to find himself again.

There were three sub-questions to the central one, and the one I found most interesting was: What specific techniques of fiction writing, in the context of contemporary ecocriticism and ecowriting, help to create and illuminate a narrative of recovery from trauma? Here the fact that Andrea has transposed her novel from first person to third person, to second person, and back again to third person, gives you an indication of what she discovered in doing so: that only by using the third person POV was she able to “illuminate” the recovery from trauma.

I have read the novel in an early draft, and I can tell you now that the sea plays a big part in it - hence my pictures of the ocean. Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to reading it again. Preferably as a book in my hand, of course.

There was a panel of five in the lecture room, to give feedback before submission, plus a couple of invited guests (myself and Andrea’s husband), and a handful of other PhD students. Andrea gave a power point presentation and talked for about forty minutes. What struck me the most was how much work was involved. Well, duh, you might say, it is a PhD, but still. It is an enormous amount of work, at an high intellectual level. 

I’m in awe of her. I’m proud to be her friend, and her writing buddy.

I would’ve liked to have blogged in more detail on this, but this is not my PhD. Hopefully, the little I’ve put down here will make interesting reading, and will inspire Andrea to blog on the subject in the near future…

Monday, 10 February 2014

Old writing made new

I was searching for something today, and I found a piece of writing I did a long time ago. It belongs to a larger work of some 8,500 words, which never went anywhere simply because the project was too ambitious. It's on the backburner until I am smarter and more experienced. But I am glad I found it because it will help me get a handle on something I am writing right now... 
For want of anything better, I've called it The Photograph. 

Anna looks at the photograph for a long time.
            She thinks it has been taken during the middle of the day because the shadows of the two people are barely evident and neither of them is squinting. The sunlight bears down on them like a bright spotlight on a stage, as if on the other side of the world she is shrouded in darkness. Breathless. Waiting.   
There’s a small triangle of cloud—a white flag in an impossibly blue sky, fluttering and stuttering in the breeze—and Theron’s fringe is lifting slightly from his forehead. To the right and rear of the slate-covered verandah is a rectangle of open veldt sloping upwards. The quality of the photograph is sharp. She wants to reach out and touch the swaying feathery ends of the mountain grasses. Her brother is a good photographer.
            He has legs like a grasshopper and nowhere is this more evident than in this picture. Jeremy’s sitting on the stone parapet with his bony knees hunched against his chest as if he’s about to spring into the air at any minute. He has straight blonde hair combed back from his smooth forehead and hooded green eyes which lend to the grasshopper image. A handsome grasshopper.
            She knows why he has chosen to sit down—and it startles her to discover how well she knows her brother—he’s made himself the lesser man. Theron, standing upright with the backs of his strong brown legs against the stonework, looks tall, which he isn’t. And impressive. Jeremy grins affectedly, looking uncomfortable. Her guess is that nobody is on the other side of the camera. He’s using the timer.
            The other man is not smiling at all, but looking with dark, intense eyes directly into the lens. Into her own eyes, here in her small study with the blank white walls and her small wooden desk. As if halfway across the world he is trying to tell her something.
His expression is solemn, but not serious. When she quickly steals a glance at him as if, somehow, she can catch him by surprise, she senses expectation in his expression. And something else...Hope, perhaps. But perhaps she imagines too much. She knows she expects too much.
            Theron’s hair is tucked behind his ears, curling onto his collar, as if with this early retirement he has let go a little bit. That pleases her. That and the fact that his skin is sun-tanned, indicating time spent outdoors. He is wearing an open necked white polo shirt over his khaki shorts, and his feet are in heavy leather sandals. His arms hang straight at his sides, his hands clenched as if posing like this has been an enormous ordeal.  
            Her finger moves over the photograph, traces the outline of the man called Theron, touches the browned feet and sturdy legs, inches up the chest and glides across the shoulders and neck, touching his lips and lingering on his mouth.