Q and A with David Carlin about Contemporary Creative Nonfiction (in which he does both the Q and the A)
Q: So what exactly is creative nonfiction, David?
A: Creative nonfiction is a relatively new term for something that has a long tradition: nonfiction that is beautiful and artful and powerfully engaging for readers, just like the best fiction is. Some people find the term confusing in some ways because they equate being ‘creative’ with ‘making things up’, but this is not what its about. It just means that the writer seeks to write something nonfictional that is not just a collection of ‘facts’ – like a Wikipedia entry! – but pays careful attention to literary art and craft: use of language, form, voice, character, narration and structure. In creative nonfiction it is often the voice of the narrator that is important because we are seeing a view of the world through his or her eyes. And there are always interesting things to negotiate around the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, which aren’t as simple as we might think.
Q: And – ‘contemporary’?
A: This is a very vibrant and exciting time for readers and writers of (creative) nonfiction, with lots of formally inventive work being done in different parts of the world, including Australia. Great Australian writers in this field include Helen Garner, Chloe Hooper and Catherine Therese. Overseas, some of my current favourites include Geoff Dyer, Eula Biss, Ander Monson and Rebecca Solnit.
Q: You also seem to be into the ‘personal essay’ – how does that fit into all of this?
A: The personal essay tradition dates back to the strange and wonderful writing of Montaigne and, some say, further. Personal essays are quite closely connected to memoirs, although not driven so much by narrative – one good way to think of the distinction is that personal essay are about something in the world to which you bring yourself; whereas memoirs are about something about yourself to which you bring the world. (I have stolen that from somewhere, I think from my friend, the writer Robin Hemley.)
Q: Can I also put in a pitch for my own books that fit into the category of ‘creative nonfiction’, the memoir/biography The Abyssinian Contortionist(UWAP, 2015) and the memoir Our Father Who Wasn’t There (Scribe, 2010)?
A: No, that would be unseemly and inappropriate.
Q: Oh, alright then. By the way, could a fake interview qualify as creative nonfiction?
A: Of course it could! Might need to be a bit more substantial than this one, though!