When it makes sense to be foolish

When it makes sense to be foolish

"I started using creative non-fiction to share my academic research. Yes, it’s been scary as hell"

18-10-2022 · Column

I blame Roald Dahl.

By the time he shuffled out of his celebrated backyard writing shed into the great beyond, the children’s author had stuffed my ten-year-old head with a world of people and pictures. Bookish Matilda, quietly observant Charlie, resourceful Sophie: the perfect friends for a child who found herself cast adrift into a new school every two years. And such pictures: a house-sized peach carried over the sea by gulls; a pretty woman peeling off her face to reveal something that “looked as though it had been picked in vinegar”; a giant with ears the size of small cars blowing dreams into sleeping children’s bedrooms.

There were other authors, sure, but Dahl planted those first seeds. Seeds that would sprout more than thirty years later, when I found my desperation to write more creatively finally blooming into action. Like everyone and their mother, I found myself writing a novel during the pandemic. I started using creative non-fiction to share my academic research. I even dabbled in poetry (not my strong suit, as it turns out).

Yes, it’s been scary as hell. And humbling, to put myself in the role of amateur after working so hard to establish my expertise in my field. It’s not imposter syndrome if you really don’t know what you’re doing! But it’s also proven exhilarating, and one of the nicest surprises has been discovering people whose yearnings echo my own. Colleagues and I have established a “Creative Writers of UM” mailing list, and we’re putting together an anthology of creative non-fiction featuring research from across the university. Members of our community long to write differently, many tell me, but they’re nervous of getting it wrong.

So let’s return to Dahl - this time to his memoir. “A person is a fool to become a writer”, he wrote. “His only compensation is absolute freedom.” Those who work or study at a university can never have absolute freedom; most of us probably wouldn’t even want it. But for some of us, being just that bit more foolish may be worth it just to be that bit more free.

Elsje Fourie, Assistant Professor of Globalisation & Development Studies


Author: Redactie

Photo: Archive EF

Tags: column,elsje fourie,roald dahl,creative writing

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