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Elizabeth Knox – why do you write?

May 5, 2015

In answer to they question, ‘But why do you write, specifically? There are other ways to tell stories. Though you obviously love words.‘ (posed by David Larsen in an interview), Elizabeth Knox explained:

“The first thing I’m doing is inventing things. I don’t just mean writing non-realist fiction. I mean inventing psychologically real people with problems and desires – people who haven’t existed before. That’s what I’m in it for. My father said to me once that art is inner order. And I do sometimes feel like the work is me doing my bit against entropy. Writing just creates that sense of inner order, you’re housekeeping inside yourself somehow, by making something outside yourself. It’s a habit now, but what the hell would I do otherwise? I’d be demonic! I’m constantly being persecuted by ideas and scenes and characters. But – yes – I love words, true. I thin it’s partly that I love rhetoric. I love persuasion, and I love the way that people can become very visible and beautiful when they speak well. Writing is a way of incarnating experience, and incarnating the people having the experience. The better the words, the more real the incarnation. But actually I love the sound of words too.” (pp.111-112)

Later in the interview, but connected still to this question, Knox distinguishes The Vintner’s Luck, The Angel’s Cut, and The Angel’s Reserve (the third one she’s planning) from the Dreamhunter Duet, saying “What they are about is experience, and sensation, and story. Story, not plot.” (p.114) When asked to expand on this distinction, Knox explains (OH what an eye-opener):

Plots are just plots. Story is about our attempts – our, and therefore the characters, being our surrogate – to understand our lives by narrative. Human beings exist inside material realities, and in stories. When you write a novel, part of what you’re doing is trying to say, from inside someone – a character – how it feels to be alive. It’s as if these characters are their own biographers. Flora’s last words to Xas are “Pretend you’re in the story.” She says, “It’s all right Xas, sweetheart. Pretend you’re in the story.” That’s what I intended the book to be about. The thing above all the other things it’s about. Vintner’s is – how beautiful life is. How beautiful and brief. The Angel’s Cut is about having one life and having to do something with it – or not. The question, with no guarantees. And no homilies.” (p.115)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) ‘Elizabeth Knox: Interviewed by David Larsen’ in Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion pp.108-133, Ed. Siobhan Harvey. Cape Catley Ltd: Auckland 2010

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