Dr Emma Briant has written here before about the different experiences she’s had as a writer of academic literature [for example, Bad News For Refugees with Gregg Philo, out now from Pluto Press – http://www.plutobooks.com/display.asp?K=9780745334325&], a spoken word performer at Glasgow’s much-loved Little Bit of Theatre, and a creative writer. I’m curious to know how the different modes of writing affect her and whether working in these different ways energises or exhausts her. Since the internet hasn’t (yet) joined with its users minds in such a way as to let me google for the answer, I’m asking her instead.
God forbid it ever should!!! I’m not sure what scary things you’d uncover lost in the recesses. As for your question, about ‘different modes of writing’, I write social and political commentary, and media critique as well as creative writing, and I feel I need the two to feel whole. I also believe that communicating ideas in creative ways, beyond academic papers, can bring different ideas about society to life and sometimes show us the stories or perspectives that are lost from the media we consume. Creative writing and academic writing, for me, seem not worlds apart. I want my academic writing to be relevant to people and engaging, and I want my creative writing to respond to and comment on the world around me. So with some of my creative writing I hope to provoke the reader to think about a particular human experience differently and to challenge conventional understandings or expectations. My writing (and teaching) on communication and media does a similar thing, in trying to challenge assumptions, misrepresentations and ask us to think about other perspectives that may be forgotten from the mainstream media but of course is empirical analysis.
Do you find it difficult to change from creative writing to academic writing and vice versa, or are you used to switching tracks by now? Do you have any methods that make this easier for you?
I find it hard at first to switch between the two, to some degree this is just because I am using a different part of the brain! Freewrites, music, art, nature all help jolt me back to a creative mindset. But also, I used to find when I focussed on my academic work, and had a break in creative writing, I lost confidence in myself creatively. I would develop a fear of the ‘blank page’ and my work not being ‘good enough’. My very supportive personal networks and writers’ group (Glasgow Writers’ Group) where I met Gill 🙂 and an online facebook group I use, were hugely important in my overcoming this and building my confidence in my work. I find it much easier now to put-down and pick-up, which is essential for me as sometimes I need to spend months absorbed in academic writing and can’t get the time to work creatively. So I need to BELIEVE I can pick it up again when I have time! If you believe you can do it, you can!
Do you think you would ever marry the two forms and write narrative nonfiction, like Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea (but perhaps without the cannibalism and whale)? If so, do you think you would tackle social injustice, travel, cultural variations … what?
I would love to – But I don’t have a particular project in mind. A lot of my creative work actually draws on real-life already. Some of it autobiographical. I am particularly interested in doing more feminist writing.
What’s next for you? What are your aspirations for the year ahead?
Well my new book ‘Bad News for Refugees’ co-authored with Greg Philo and Pauline Donald is coming out this month, and we’re planning to write two articles to accompany publication of that. I’ll also be speaking at conferences and we’ll be having a launch in London. The book is a political, economic and environmental look at how migrants and, in particular, asylum seekers fleeing conflict, have been stigmatised in political rhetoric and media coverage. We have a number of events coming up in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, the first of which is on 3rd October at the Institute for Race Relations (http://www.irr.org.uk/events/bad-news-for-refugees/). All events will be tweeted far and wide from @emmalbriant so please follow and come along! It would be great to speak to anyone who’s interested in hearing more 🙂
I am just starting a new job at Sheffield University as a Lecturer in Journalism Studies, which I am very excited about and have a ton of publications planned! One will be an academic book chapter for January, looking at the work of the Behavioural Insights Team at the UK Cabinet Office so I’m doing a lot of research for that! I am also very busy working with my publisher on final edits for my book on Anglo-American Counter-Terrorism propaganda, which will be out next year. I’ll be doing more publications to accompany it.
I would really like to get some acknowledgement in the popular press so that’ll be one of my biggest challenges. All that’s likely to keep me very busy in the coming months, but I get more time in the summer to focus on creative work. I have several ideas for short stories and will find time somewhere! I also have a feminist novelette I am trying to find a home for!