Alright already, I know it’s been awhile…
In fact, I’m acutely aware of it. With the monumental elephant-in-the-room distraction of school, it’s been a slim couple of months in terms of my personal writing and author mental health.
You know what I’m talking about, right?
When I don’t carve out a space for myself to be detached and just write, I get a sensation of bugs crawling beneath my skin, as if the cold, sharp edges of little serif crawlers were poking me and prompting me to knock off whatever I think I’m doing that’s so important and just write dammit!
With this in mind, yesterday I made my way to CBC studios in downtown Vancouver to participate in CBC Radio One’s Book Club , featuring author Eva Stachniak . From the get-go, Stachniak’s talk promised to be a good’er. She opened with a reading from her new novel The Winter Palace , which was rich in the texture of the Russian Court and the towering historical figure of Catherine the Great. The narrator of the story is a servant, who will later become a wily spy. Hearing Stachniak discuss the character of Catherine was inspiring to say the least. Catherine is an outsider in every sense of the word: culture, language, and class, haunting themes to probe.
Stachniak had a tendency to talk in lovely and captivating ways about the craft of writing, so much so that I had to stop halfway through the talk to work out the cramp in my hand from scribbling down the nuggets of advice. Here are a couple of my favourites, which I have continued to dwell on today and hope to apply to my own writing:
- In response to a question re: how does she distinguish between fact and fiction in a work of historical fiction?
“How do we know history? It’s a collection of stories. What we hold as truth/facts are in themselves just stories.” Stachniak jokingly referred to her line of historical fiction as “archival fantasy.”
- Stachniak described the white nights of St. Petersburg, in which the sun remains visible for twenty-four hours due to latitudinal position of the region. She referred to the emotional and physical ramifications of a person in such a circumstance, and the impact of temporal space on the sensations.
I was fascinated by this—often there is a tendency to describe the weather (“It was sunny,” “It was rainy”) in straightforward no-nonsense tones. But how does the weather affect the psyche? How does space, and one’s relation to that physical space, impact a person’s actions? They are questions that we are so immune to as a result of simply getting up and breathing everyday that taking a concentrated look reveals some truly interesting things.
Writing muscles recharged, I’m off to put them to good use!
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
Published: Jan 03, 2012 by Doubleday Canada