I am inspired after attending a workshop today with Brisbane author, Sally Piper. She is recognised for her unique ability to translate the natural environment into a visceral and sensory narrative for her readers.
While I have always understood the function of Setting to root a Scene in time and place, Sally has stretched my comprehension and imagination and I cannot wait to experiment further.
I have met avid readers who tell me they won’t go near memoir and personal essay, perceiving it a self-absorbed genre full of trauma or egoistic navel gazing. It’s hard to hear because I mostly write about myself and my world, hoping to at least tap into a universal human experience for readers to relate to in some shape or form. It never occurred to me that the missing ingredient to that relatability might be a rich setting or sympathetic environment.
Sally designed the workshop to be experienced in layers, like an onion, beginning by writing a purely visual description, then tuning into our other senses, then finally ‘beyond the senses’ using metaphysical or spiritual concepts to exploit metaphor, mood, theme or meaning from a different level of perception; what she refers to as ‘bodily writing’. After reading carefully researched excerpts from a variety of eminent nature writers to demonstrate the task, she challenged us to overcome our inhibitions and write to a time limit, then share our work with the group, no-matter where it lead us. Despite my initial fear of this exercise, I found my voice and was surprised by the results
Sally’s goal in teaching this workshop, aside from us all becoming better, more enriched writers, is to inspire us to make our readers fall in love, so they might better appreciate, and work to conserve, our natural environment. A call to action, she says, is a didactic approach bound to polarise readers and lose their sympathy. The secret is to make them feel.
There is no silver bullet that will convince humans and corporations on this blue planet to urgently change our trajectory. It’s too great a task for one writer. But if many writers flood media with beautifully crafted observations about the the natural world, and wry observations about our human connection to it, or our compulsion to possess and conquer it, might that be the ‘silver buckshot’ that could very well change reader’s minds, and eventually, the world?
Sally Piper holds a Master of Arts (Research) in Creative Writing from Queensland University of Technology. She has published short fiction and non-fiction in assorted Australian publications. During her post-graduate studies she also tutored on the QUT Creative Writing program. Sally has three books published by University of Queensland Press. Her debut Grace’s Table was shortlisted for the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for which she was awarded a Varuna Fellowship. Her second novel The Geography of Friendship was shortlisted for the 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards and is to be developed into a limited series for the streaming service Stan in Australia. Her third novel, Bone Memories was published in June this year and is attracting positive reviews.