Writing is blending one's experience into craft

You should write about yourself the way you are writing about the world, says Helen Macdonald.
You should write about yourself the way you are writing about the world, says Helen Macdonald.

Dubai - Helen Macdonald speaks on penning the success of H is for Hawk.

By Angel Tesorero

Published: Fri 11 Mar 2016, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 12 Mar 2016, 8:21 AM

English writer, naturalist and academician Helen Macdonald, known for her best-selling book H is for Hawk, believes writing is about "blending one's experience" into your craft.
"My book is a memoir but it's not just a memoir," Macdonald tells Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the eighth Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. "If you think about what anthropologists have been doing for years, when they write about other places or cultures, they now tend to put themselves into the narrative.
"Because if they do that they can show to the readers their own biases; their own take on the subject which makes it fairer," Macdonald underlines.
"I think that is how you showed approach a memoir, you should write about yourself the way you are writing about the world, and making it plain to the readers where you're coming from," she adds.
In her book, Macdonald shares her transformative experience as a writer and how she coped up with the death of her father, renowned Fleet Street photographer Alisdair Macdonald, in 2007.
Writing was emotionally taxing for Macdonald but the experience also gave her solace and later on international success which MacDonald describes as "very humbling and life-changing."
Her book challenged conventional classification - it's a blend of nature-writing and mini-biography. Macdonald explains: "We all see nature through the lens of our own world, our own cultures. One of the themes of the book (H is for Hawk) is that I used the hawk as a mirror of myself and this is something we all unconsciously do - when we write, we write about ourselves too.
"There's a lot of interesting memoirs coming out now that are hybrids of fiction and literature and history and personal experience and it's a really fertile way of writing."
Prior to her success, Macdonald experienced what most writers fear: "Sitting at your desk alone not knowing whether what you've written is good or bad."
But one of the strange things about her unexpected success, she says, is that "I've spent the  last two years racing around the world,  meeting a lot of people, I guess, has changed me. It made me realised I'm more an extrovert person than I thought I was."
Also meeting people who've read about my book which is about grief, dark times and depression in many respects. the last few years, has made me realise we all go through the same phase. Every single one of us has had bad times. And it made me feel that we are all part of the same at heart. And it's nice experience, I feel a lot more part of the world, part of society. I used to be a loner but not anymore."
And her advice to budding writers? "Be brave. The main thing that always stopped me writing in the past is fear. The simple fear that I can't do it; that I was not good enough."
"So now I can say:  Be brave; give it a go. Just try it (writing) and read as much as you can. Read as many different genres; read everything from the backs of cereal packets to mystery novels to great novels.  Everything can be an inspiration.
Macdonald also attributes her success not only to her own talent but to everyone who supported her. "I've been lucky it's not just about me. It never is. My book is like a ship. You can build a ship but you need a crew you sail it. And my publishers  have been so extraordinary both in America and UK.

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