Wellington-based writer, teacher and podcast curator Pip Adam answers three quick questions in the lead up to her workshop ‘Weather the Weather’ at our upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.
1. What attracts you to writing about the contemporary or the immediate?
I am quite interested in the lack of hindsight in writing the immediate. I like the way it hasn’t quite settled yet. I realised, actually today while I was talking to someone, that the scariest thing for me is to be asked my opinion on something that I don’t know the general consensus to yet. And I think this is part of why I like to write the contemporary because it is a scary place, it’s a place under construction. I love having to take a stand on that. Even pragmatic things like, Snapchat or Instagram Stories? Which will people be using by the time the book is read by anyone? The New Animals is based on a day in September 2016. I was still hopeful, it still felt like, there wouldn’t be a Trump presidency. So yeah, the book to me feels like it has this gaping hole which I love – it’s a scar of writing it so close to the election. I could have, and was tempted to, go back and insert some knowing authorial observations but I didn’t because I like how completely mis-footed that now seems in a book set in 2016.
2. You often seem to create complex writing constraints or agendas to guide your work. Has this always been part of your writing practice?
Yes. I think it has. I started writing poetry. I loved form. I still love it. And I think I’ve carried this love of constraint into my fiction writing. I think it comes from not being very naturally gifted or artistic. I like to build ‘rules’ – rules make me feel creative because I have to problem-solve my way out of them. I also think I am often building rules that help me break conventional narrative. Like narrative is a rule, well a set of rules and it is hard to break those rules in a vacuum but if I am replacing them with other rules I find it more productive. I often say ‘rules’ and ‘constraints’ but they are not ever a list of rules, they are usually things like a sound – all the words need to make this sound. I usually have a touch stone and everything has to fall in line with that. Like for The New Animals it was a song by The Cake Kitchen called Tomorrow Came Today and I listened to that while I wrote (nothing but that) and everything had to be in that mood. The mood it called up in me – from that time in my life, which was a very desperate time. So yeah, that was the rule – despair.
3. This year your workshop is all about the weather. What motivated you to focus on this element specifically?
I am really interested in how ubiquitous and at the same time politically charged the weather is. We have had a hot summer – a terrifyingly hot summer. We were always told when I was hairdressing and working in retail that the weather was a ‘safe’ thing to make small-talk about but this summer has just shown how it isn’t like that at all. Like when someone says to me, ‘It’s been hot, eh?’ I’m meant to say, ‘Oh. Yeah.’ But this year, when people have said this I’ve wanted to hold them and cower and cry. And apart from my dramatic response there is this weird sort of elephant in the room when someone says this, like if someone says, ‘Oh remember when summers were always like this?’ that has new political weight.
Also, I love the sensual element of weather. The way it runs over us and we live in it, in our senses. I like the idea of stopping and noticing and then trying to put that noticing into words.
Photo by Victoria Birkinshaw