T.S.J. Harling’s piece, ‘Where We’re From’, 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 do write fiction as well as CNF, and probably my creative impulses are equally divided between the two modes. The fiction tends to be contemporary gothic, and although my ‘real’ life is of course not characterised as such, there is certainly a sort of melancholy gothic tone even in my CNF. I think this is apparent in my piece for Epoch. I write CNF, I think, because I respond to the strange and difficult parts of my life through writing, and sometimes I want to write specifically about these experiences, rather than fictionalise them in order to tell the story. What I have found, now that some of my CNF have been published, is that exactly the things I find odd or unconventional about myself, seem to speak to readers the most. It’s quite gratifying and makes me feel less alone.
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?
Usually, my process is quite strict; I write the pieces I have to write, the way I want to write them, and then I try to find outlets for them. However, with the theme of ‘roots’, even though I had nothing that fit, and I don’t particularly feel rooted to the world, there was something about the theme that stayed with me. Still, I had nothing to contribute, until I was scrolling on Twitter the night before the deadline, saw a reminder from Epoch, and something triggered in my mind the word ‘Bohemia’. Once I had that concept, I fired out a draft and revised it swiftly before submitting. So, I wrote it specifically for Epoch.
What is the biggest challenge when writing CNF?
CNF is quite a natural mode for me, as I am a big journal writer (I’ve kept a journal – not daily – for over 25 years now) so first person comes easily. However, managing the balance between writing my own ‘truth’ and navigating the responses of the people in my life can be tricky. I tend to write about my own feelings, rather than specific events or people, but nevertheless people you know will always read meanings into your work that you might not at all have intended (both fiction and CNF). Furthermore, I am a firm believer that people have the right to not want to be written about! Navigating that is hard, because to respect that entirely might result in self-censorship.
What’s your favourite piece of art in your home?
I was once bought a Tracey Emin print, Birds, as a Valentine’s day gift. It takes pride of place in my living room and I adore it. It also has a 2012 Paralympics branding at the bottom, as this piece was dedicated to them. It reminds me of happier times, pre-Covid.