When I came across online images and climate scientists writing about ‘The Garbage Patch’ I also discovered that the plastic particles polluting the oceans are labelled by them as ‘Mermaids Tears’. Further research endorsed that there is a commonality of creative experience that scientists share with storytellers. Both disciplines use imaginations to play with unlikely combinations and promote questions; in this process both work towards some kind of resolution. Therefore, it seems logical to bring creative writing and climate scientists together; we can learn from one another through utilising ‘stories’ in a variety of forms and thereby connect our work with more audiences. This, in turn, has the potential to underpin and motivate more diverse collaborations and advocate positive change.
As a writer, what is especially exciting and insightful about this NERC funded project is that arts practitioners and scientists are being provided space to gain insights into each other’s work. For my part I can’t wait to discover scientific ‘gems’ that will inspire some new innovative stories and poems! For three days in May we will experiment with ways of getting key and current climate messages across in differing narrative forms. This will add innovation, authenticity and weight to the community writing workshops that we will design and then facilitate collaboratively this coming summer.
Fiction writers and poets know to explore the senses. IE That adage of ‘show don’t tell’, using the peculiar and interesting details of what we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell grabs a reader and keeps them reading. Alongside this the writer Flannery O’Connor makes the interesting point: ‘Everyone knows what a short story is until they sit down to write one.’ Therefore it helps to understand that in a story something has to happen – something has to change – there has to be conflict of some kind – and it seems to me that topics within climate science are especially suited to this form. I’m sure that we will have fun plotting!
Across history, there are occasions when poets and scientists have been mutually supportive of each other’s work too. We will also be writing poems, investigating and editing narrative content, our aim being to achieve ‘the best words in the best order’ (Samuel Taylor Coleridge). As a lecturer in creative writing I’m aware that there is a growing body of ‘eco poetry’ and ‘cli-fi stories’. Therefore, the aim of the creative writing part of the project is to build on this and forge connections – we will design a blueprint for workshops that can be developed and utilised on a wider scale, and we plan to publish a booklet of the new stories and writing produced in workshops to raise awareness of the power of words and what’s happening, (and could potentially happen), in different environments. As Roland Barthes believes: ‘Narrative is international, transhistorical, transcultural: it is simply there, like life itself.’ Short stories and poems, often by focussing on small things, effectively reflect what’s going on in the wider world.
Of course as artists and scientists we’ll expect unexpected things to occur. Watch this space: we might make a mermaid smile.
Dr Sally Flint, Dept of English, University of Exeter. (February 2018)