I have a special guest in the attic today, all the way from Norway where she’s just returned from a voyage to the Arctic: Robyn Mundy.
Robyn is the author of the novels Wildlight and The Nature of Ice, and is co-author of the young readers’ Epic Adventure: Epic Voyages. She lives in Hobart where she writes and teaches writing.
Robyn also likes travelling to cold places, and when she’s not in the Arctic, she’s on voyages to the Antarctic.
Although Robyn enjoys the cold, as a person she’s a warm and encouraging mentor to emerging writers, and not just those she teaches. Every now and then, a comment from Robyn pops up on my blog, always something thoughtful and complimentary, and that gives me a buzz to think that a published author would visit my blog.
I’m also wondering how she managed to hold a block of ice in her bare hands …
Here’s what she had to say about being a writer:
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A WRITER
Recently I spent a week in Tromsø, northern Norway, busy with research. One morning at breakfast a woman nearby piped up in an Australian accent. She asked a couple settling themselves down, ‘Are you two Australian?’
‘Yes,’ they answered, taken aback. They hadn’t spoken a word. ‘How could you know?’
The woman shrugged at that small understanding of identity.
Tomorrow I climb aboard a ship in the Arctic to guide two tourist voyages around Spitsbergen and East Greenland. It’s an occupation that fills several months of my year, distinct from the me I think of as a writer. For the most part I’m driving Zodiacs, walking over tundra that is turning with Autumn, on the lookout for Arctic blueberries, ever vigilant of that mightiest of Arctic predators: polar bear.
Back aboard I spend time with others on the bridge and bow. Then there’s the disjointed conversation with the Russian Bosun over something kaputsky that needs mending, accompanied, on my part, with theatrical gestures and a smattering of Russian words from my shamefully dismal vocabulary. Last thing at night I write and deliver the Puffin Post.
In conjunction with my writing life, I’ve been travelling to the Arctic and Antarctic for years. Of course I do it to make a living but I also count myself blessed. I cherish the experience of wild places aboard a small, non-luxury ship (which entices the nicest passengers in the world), and being able to share knowledge and wonder with fellow travellers. So much about ‘the wild’ inhabits my novels; indeed, the high Arctic is the setting for my new story and the focus of my current research.
In the course of ship work I do plenty of long-haul travel to and fro, and when I look around I fancy I can pinpoint the Australian, well before hearing our tell tale drawl. Perhaps the climate gives us a certain patina that is innately recognisable to a fellow countrywoman. Perhaps, as in my case, it’s an inbuilt scruffiness that sets me apart from the well-groomed American traveller.
Researching is a fantastic part of a big writing project. One reason I am here is to gain a stronger understanding of a Norwegian identity. Can such a thing be generalised, or even verbalised? The forging of identity, the struggle to find and take possession of the skin that fits us best as we move through life, is something that preoccupies my writing mind.
What of a writer’s identity?
It is not enough to simply write, to remain anonymous or have an identity gleaned by readers from the page. Once published, the role comes with demands to speak and present publicly, to share the writing journey from anonymity to success. Success. There’s a word. For those of us who write, success surely stands as a tenuous ride, punctuated by self-doubt and angst in the face of any new writing project (What’s it really about, this thing I want to write? Can I pull it off? Will it be published?), conscious of the many, many talented writers deserving of success. For the less extrovert writer, the public role may not come easily. For others, it stands as an opportunity to forge a highly public persona, one that garners a near-celebrity following. When I interact with social media I sometimes feel dismay at writers, those in a prime position to act as role models who model a role of relentless self-promotion and absorption. What of a larger world? What of kindness and encouragement? What might such insistent ME focus say to aspiring writers, to those still making themselves up?
This morning a small Arctic fox in his tawny summer coat trotted past my window. Two Svalbard reindeer grazed on grass at the edge of the road. That put me back in my box. I don’t suppose they have much time for my small concerns.
In Tromsø last week I met with Rune, a local hunter. I asked him about identity and he spoke of the allegiance he feels with nature, of the importance of spending time outdoors, summer and winter, of eating the meat he catches, of living in a modern city with its shift away from a traditional diet. ‘My wife still loves fish,’ he told me. She grew up on the islands where her family ate fish every day. ‘Except on Sunday.’ He edged toward a grin. ‘On Sunday they eat salmon.’
You can visit Robyn’s website, Writing the Wild, and buy her book ‘Wildlight‘ by clicking on the links.
If you’d like to write something for my ‘What it means to be a writer’ series, please drop me a line via the Contact page—I’d love to hear from you!
This invitation is open to all writers, published and unpublished, in any genre (fiction, non-fiction, blogging, even those who just privately journal). I want to hear from writers of different ages, genders, experience, and backgrounds. Tell me your inspirations and goals, the reasons you write, and the obstacles and battles you face. (If you’d prefer a Q&A, I can send some questions to answer.)
Most posts are 600-1200 words in length, but that’s not set in stone. I’m drawn towards personal writing that digs beyond the superficial, but only write what you are comfortable sharing. Pseudonyms are welcome, too.
I also need a photo, a concise bio, and a link to your website and publications.
If I publish your essay, I’ll send a $20 gift voucher from Booktopia (or Amazon if you’re overseas).
Gosh. That was the type of post to make me think all day. Wild Light looks lovely too.
I’m glad you liked this post, Lily, and that you found it thought-provoking! Wild Light does sound great—it’s set on Maatsuyker Island. It’s on my bedside table (along with Vineyard!) ready to read one day soon.
Wonderful post, Robyn. I think of two writers when I read of your interest in Norway, of the wonderful Siri Hustvedt and her Norwegian parents and how their influence on her colours her writing and of Favel Parret whose love of the Arctic and Antarctic is evident in her beautiful books .
Favel Parrett is actually quoted on the cover of Wild Light! And you’re right about Siri Hustvedt and her thoughtful writings on her ancestry and culture. Whenever I think of Norway, my mind goes straight to Grieg!
Gosh, what a beautiful post from our writing friend up in the Arctic! As I read this post from Robyn Mundy, I could almost feel the snow beneath my feet and my cheeks chilling with the cold. Thank-you Robyn for bringing your world to all of us in such glorious detail. I love Rune, and how his identify is aligned with the natural world and also his quip at the end about his wife’s family eating salmon on Sunday.
I felt cold reading it, too. And I enjoyed Rune’s story—I’ll have to tell my son, who won’t eat fish, that salmon isn’t one! 😉
Beautiful, thoughtful post from Robyn, and she makes some excellent points. (And takes great moose photos.)
Thank you, Amanda. That photo is incredible, especially as it’s something so alien to us Downunder!
Fascinating. I did laugh at being recognised as Australian because of her “inbuilt scruffiness”. It’s what I call my “inner dag”! I can relate to that, though, whatever, you call it, though I can’t relate to liking the cold. No way, jose, for me.
Oh and I did like her comments on the writer identity and public persona – on finding the balance between self-promotion which clearly writers have to do today and the importance of exuding/offering kindness and encouragement. I think you, Louise, are finding that balance beautifully through this blog, and particularly this series.
Thanks, Sue. Your comment is well timed—when I emerged from the attic to prepare dinner tonight, my daughter said, ‘Hmmm. Looking stylish today,’ as she looked me up and down in my long-sleeved top (because it had started to cool), shorts and ugg boots. Comfort trumps style, I say!
I’m not one for the cold either, Sue—that’s why we live in WA now and not Tassie!
Thanks for your kind words about my blog and this series. It’s really hard to find a balance, and the experts tell you to promote yourself shamelessly. I’ve tried to be everywhere all at once, but I couldn’t keep it up, so I’ve decided I’m better off to do it in my own way and at a less frenzied pace.
Thanks for visiting today! x
Lovely blog, thank you Louise and thank you Robyn. I’ll certainly be visiting Robyn’s website and may buy her book, as I have Norwegian heritage and have long longed to visit the Arctic. I’ll have to brush up my magic carpet.
Robyn’s first two books are set in Antarctica and Maatsuyker Island, but I think her third book will be set in Norway and the Arctic. She’s leaving for Maatsuyker again soon to write it, so keep your story corner and magic carpet ready! Thanks for visiting. x