Catherine Airy’s piece, ‘Dusk’, can be found in EPOCH Issue 03: Roots, available to purchase here.
Why do you write CNF, and do you explore other genres in your work?
I’ve kept a journal since I was seven. I can’t quite tell you why I started then, but as I became a teenager I began to get anxious about things being forgotten (no doubt because my grandma was forgetting things herself). I don’t write everything down in the same way now, but I like looking back to see how my diaries have changed over time, how I’ve experimented with form, and found new ways to write. I also write fiction – though I’ll admit I still steal a lot from my own life (and others) no matter what genre I write in.
Did you have a piece already written when you learned about Epoch’s theme, or did you write a new piece? If so, how did you approach the theme of Roots in the creation of your work?
I never write to fit a theme or think about submission when I’m writing. But I find my best writing is done when I self-impose some kind of frame to contain it. With fiction, I often think about the ending first, for example. ‘Dusk’ originally started as an email to a friend who had moved abroad. I didn’t know what I was going to write about, and had no idea it was going to turn into something so obviously about my family’s roots. But writing the original draft straight into an email window took the pressure off it needing to be any kind of coherent story. It wasn’t a very coherent email either, but it helped me realise what it was I really needed to get out of my head and onto the page.
What is the biggest challenge when writing CNF?
If I’m honest, writing creative non-fiction has always felt – not exactly easy, but fairly intuitive. Probably because it’s a skill I’ve been honing for most of my life. I’ve always written without any expectation of being published, so the real challenge was worrying about how my family would respond to reading the piece – both because of the biographical information about my parents and grandparents and because of the addiction confession I was making of my own (which they knew nothing about at the time). My Dad called me after I sent the piece over. ‘You’re as brave as she was,’ he said. ‘There are a few bits that aren’t quite factually accurate, but I wouldn’t change a word.’
What’s your favourite piece of art in your home?
I’m not sure if this counts as ‘art’, but when my parents were moving house and going through my grandparents’ things I found an egg cup that’s a donkey pulling a cart. So you put your egg in the cart part. It’s bright and colourful and not at all realistic in the best way. My dad thinks it was bought on a family holiday in Malta for my aunt. But I loved it so much I couldn’t bear to part with it, or tell her that I now have it. I’m too worried about it breaking to actually use it for boiled eggs. I have it on my bookshelf and look at it every day.