Australian writer Drusilla Modjeska has written an insightful and thought-provoking article in Meanjin about writing her latest book, The Mountain.
I fear the excerpt below might make the article seem like hard work but it’s definitely not. The piece provides a fascinating glimpse into the decisions, difficulties and responsibilities of writing.
… it was, for me, a kind of liberation to come to understand that fiction stands on different ground from history. There is scope for play along the borderlines, but there is also a ravine, to use Inga Clendinnen’s word for it, or at least a rocky valley, which we should respect. From the point of view of writing, there is, I think, an epistemological necessity for even the most literary of nonfiction writers to act as the lens through which we can trust, or evaluate, or revisit for ourselves the selection, presentation and interpretation of the lives and events put before us. The nonfiction writer might use the techniques of fiction to bring lifeness to her lives and to conjure the paradox of difference. But her pact with the reader, and her subject, returns always to the record, however patchy, however interrupted, from which she works. Fiction makes a different pact. It might contain argument, but it is not an argument; it involves interpretation, but to make it depends not on reference to the sources (important though they might be) but on perspective and patterning, voice and language, metaphor and image.
Have a read and use the comments to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts.