What an enjoyable day with the department of Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire exploring how research meets the imagination.
There were girls that starved themselves into eels, absinthe fairies, literati suicide notes, invisible sci-fi towers and ancient Roman recipes. Rufius had on his favourite toga!
I’d been invited by the brilliant writer of one of my favourite novels (The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub), D.D. Johnstone and also Course Leader for the MA Creative & Critical Writing.
The University of Gloucestershire is on Campus at Cheltenham Spa. It’s a beautiful leafy campus part of which is a converted convent. Lania Knight (author of Three Cubic Feet) greeted myself and the other two writers on the panel in reception. Daisy Johnson is a short story writer whose debut short story collection, Fen has completely enraptured me and Lesley Ingram is author of ‘Scumbled’, a poetry anthology which has me equally enchanted.
The lovely Libby McIvor kicked off the questions:
“was it challenging to find the right balance between fact and fiction?”
It was fascinating to listen to the range of approaches we had each taken to our research and how we integrated research into our creative work in a variety of different ways. The question that was most interesting for me was: “Did the PhD process hinder your creative process in anyway?” I would say that if I had not undertaken the rigorous research required by the PhD Rufius would be a very different novel. The PhD gave me a ticket into Classics conferences and the classics community, which I became a part of and meant I had far easier access to some of the most recent research and thinking on Ancient Roman sexuality. Add to that that my second supervisor is an expert in Theology of the fourth century and my thesis developed a theory about a fiction writer’s point of departure from history, which I coined, ‘the pivot of authenticity’, I feel that my creative work only benefitted. The rigour of undertaking my historical research for the novel through the academic process resulted, in my view with a far better end product. So I would say the PhD process was a help, not a hindrance.
After questions from the audience, the three of us were asked to read a short passage from our work. I chose the section in chapter 1 where Rufius disembarks from the boat for the first time in Alexandria. The amount of historical research I undertook to recreate the ancient port of Alexandria (much of which is now underwater due to earthquakes and tidal waves) was extensive and the short excerpt demonstrated how writers use research to build the imaginary worlds they create.
Then off we all marched for a delicious Chinese dinner with the lecturers and students, followed by a fantastic evening event in The Frog and Fiddle pub which had a huge room with an even larger stage dedicated to events where we all read another passage from our books – and were joined by the students. The standard of the students’ work was very impressive. And we all had great fun. Thank you to everyone
Here’s an except from Lesley’s wonderful poem, Absinthe
You anchor the evening
To the stem of your glass
Aware that the whore in me
Will steal your night and leave
A slack morning.