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  • Writer's pictureH. M. L. Swann

#5 PATHS: Creative Writing with Alienor

Alienor graduated with First Class Honors from the University of Manchester before pursuing her writing career even further. She is currently studying creative writing at the postgraduate level at the University of Manchester. As a student, she has the opportunity to read and critique work; ever expanding her knowledge of literature and making connections with like minded people. Alienor is now spearheading the Centre for New Writing podcast, where she will focus on writers who read!

1. What first inspired you to start writing?

I was probably around nine. I was a very self-righteous nine year old. I had ideas and stories but wanted people to read them in their own voice.

Voice affects how people judge the idea itself, I think. Who you are gives or takes away value. One person might say something in a group setting and be dismissed. Then someone else might repeat the idea and everyone would think it was genius.

So, I wanted my ideas written, and I wanted to be a writer, so that people could read the stories and the ideas and think “that’s brilliant!” before realising whose they were.

2. What made you want to pursue a masters degree in creative writing?

I wanted to learn to write. I don’t write to be heard, anymore, I write for selfish reasons. Because it’s enjoyable. Because it nourishes my interest in life, in experiences, in people. It’s also my main form of procrastination.

That doesn’t mean I do it well.

My theory was, since I would continue doing what I loved anyway, I may as well devote a couple of years to figuring out how to do it a little bit better.

3. Do you write everyday or when inspiration strikes?

I try, I really try, to write every day, but there are some days where nothing comes. I try to write anyway.

I have noticed I write better if I give myself a break. I don’t think there’s any kind of magic formula. You have to listen to yourself and get to know your own mind, and know how it works best.

4. When did you start reading and what was your favorite book then and now?

I actually really struggled to learn to read. I told my mother I’d remain illiterate till the day I died. Not in so many words, I was six.

Mum is a very hopeful person. She just kept reading us stories. The first fairy tale I adored was Snow White and Rose Red. A lovely selection of children’s short stories is The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon.

The first grown-up book I read was Phillipa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, which I stole off my parents’ book shelf. I was eleven, my Mum found out and made me read Jane Eyre.

I was very underwhelmed by Jane, and couldn’t understand what she saw in Mr. Rochester. I much preferred Mary Boleyn running around with attractive men.

I most recently read Sarah Wallis’ Medusa Retold, which is a book of long-form poetry, centred around the myth of Medusa. I highly recommend, if you’re into contemporary poetry and feminist re-tellings of male centric myths.

The last fiction I was mesmerised by was Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. It’s beautiful, I loved every word.

5. How does your cultural background influence your writing?

It’s difficult to say. I read less Anglophone fiction, perhaps. I always want to combine minimalism with passion, which might be a third culture inheritance.

I see the world as interconnected, as a whole, where we all have so much to offer one another. I would say my cultural background encourages me to be curious, to try and gain insight from other people’s experiences of humanity. I consider it a privilege to be able to inform myself on others, their perspectives, what they have seen.

Different aspects of our humanity are translated differently by everyone. Countries uncover suffering and joy in unexpected ways, narratives unpredictably rejected or embraced. All of this helps to understand what life might mean to people.

This has allowed me to relax: I only have one narrative, of many, to tell. I will never do the world justice. It also tells me that my humanity is equal to everyone else’s. People are always just people. We’re all more or less literate, more or less multicultural, and all of that means we’ll all write different works.

6. How has COVID affected your writing?

COVID and life in general has been a source of intense stress, instability and tragedy for so many of my loved ones and myself. It has affected far more than just my writing.

I don’t really think any suffering will stay contained inside of this year. I know many of my friends are translating this era already into their fiction. I’m hesitant to write about COVID. I would rather read and write to escape from it.

It has reminded me of the value of being kind. It has strengthened my baseline love and acceptance for others. I feel compassionate and grateful, and I often find myself writing out of love for people—no one specific, just people.

But I think it has also made me more selfish.

I’ve learnt that it’s okay to be overwhelmed, to not answer texts, to shut things down. To carve out space and time for yourself.

7. What is your current work in progress that you're most excited about?

I have a few! My problem is I dream too big and then get cold feet. I want to write it all, every detached thought, every conversation, the fields and the forests and the cities and the mountains in-between, the fat motorways and the people sleeping beneath, weave in capitalism, patriotism, ethnicities and prejudice, feminism in waves and gender deconstruction, the personal and the political, and the way butter melts on toast.

It’s terrible, don’t be like me. If you can, have one or two projects and stick to it.

8. What advice do you have to other aspiring writers out there?

Don’t be scared to do what makes sense to you.

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