Sunday, March 01, 2020
Interview with Julia Kirby, Runner-Up in the Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest
Julia has enjoyed writing and journaling from a young age, but it was the death of her wonderful husband that catapulted her into a new life that has lead to writing as an unexpected and exciting path. Julia has been building a new life for herself and her two year old son, Max, which involves travel, quality time spent with family and friends, exercise, meditation, volunteering, studying and indulging in various writing courses. She is currently writing her first novel as well as a memoir based on her experiences as a young widow with a new-born. Julia is looking forward to seeing where her passion for writing will take her!
Read Julia's entry, "Wonder-Full," and then return here for an interview with the author.
----------Interview by Renee Roberson
WOW: Julia, congratulations again and welcome! I truly savored every moment of your piece. In my opinion, the opening sentence of “Wonder-Full” is the most captivating of opening sentences. Was this an opening that easily came out during the writing process, or did the rest of the piece come before the opening?
Julia: In an ongoing attempt to not become bitter, I have been working very hard to maintain a curiosity and trust in the unexplainable workings of the universe! Death is often only seen as sad, but I found a way to see the awe and wonder out on the water that day. I was on a high. I was doing something special for him, for us, for our son. I decided that if I could do that, then I could do anything. I had never experienced such a contrast, feeling so empowered after complete helplessness. The opening sentence is what came to mind first when writing the piece. I started from there and indulged in the strangeness and beauty of the event. How we feel depends on how we choose to look at what happens. There can be magic and beauty within the tortures of suffering and loss if we choose to see it. Sometimes I can. So many layers. I took something tragic and put my own spin on a moment in time.
WOW: You mention you’ve loved journaling from a young age. Do you still journal as a daily practice and how has it helped you both spiritually and in your own writing?
Julia: I have been journaling since I was seven years old and have kept all of my journals since then. I have always felt, spiritually, that I would one day have a story that would need telling and I have always felt compelled to keep track of my life in case I later realised the story was there all along and I hadn’t noticed and wouldn’t have any references. Journaling has taken on so many different forms since having my son, but it is still at the core of my daily practise. Even if I don’t journal for a while, when I write, my style comes from a place that has been evolving since I was that seven-year-old. I always feel connected to that. I find it easy to sit down and write now because I have finally figured out my own process. I used to think there was probably a correct way to be a writer. What a waste of my time.
WOW: Amen to that! Given that you've been journaling all this time and working through painful experiences on paper, do you have any tips for writers about these types of topics in creative nonfiction?
Julia: Early on, I was convinced that I would need to vividly write out the experience of the panic and chaos of getting to my husband just in time to be with him when he died. I had this belief that if I could get it down on paper that it would help rid me of some of the trauma. I had this crazy thought that if it was down on paper then it would be out of my head. The idea of writing about those final hours made me so anxious. I kept putting it off but finally attempted it one day and it made me feel nauseous, so I stopped. I have never returned to it and I no longer feel I need to.
My biggest tip would be to take smaller aspects of the painful experience that you can come at from an angle that makes writing about it feel right. There are so many stories within stories. There is a whole before, a whole beginning, during, after, and then after it’s all over. And then there is an ongoing story after that. The possibilities are endless, and writing can reveal or disguise as much as you want it to. We are the storytellers when there is a story to tell, but we are also the storytellers for those who need to read about it because they are in the middle of living theirs.
WOW: That makes so much sense--thank you for sharing your wisdom on writing from whatever perspective feels more comfortable to the writer. Traveling with your son has prove to be therapeutic for you. What have been some of your favorite places to travel with your young son and why?
Julia: Travelling was about heading to places where I knew people so I could feel safe and comfortable as a new mother with a young baby, who was also in very early days of grief. It was so stressful, but so rewarding. My favourite experience was at the end of the first year. I did a 12-hour flight with my son to Thailand to stay with my brother and his wife. It was the most incredibly healing month. I stayed with them in the suburbs of Bangkok and I had a month of full-time help. Warm weather, sleep, home cooked meals, and time alone. I started getting tingling sensations all over me as if bugs were crawling on me. I wondered if it was my husband’s energy. A wise woman I asked suggested that my nervous system was likely “thawing." It was after that trip I really started to feel what had happened.
WOW: Oh, wow. That sounds like a powerful way to begin the healing process. Fast forward to now. You are currently working on both a novel and a memoir. Has it been difficult to go back and forth between two genres?
Julia: Going back and forth between two genres has made writing more enjoyable than ever. I follow my mood and intuition and let it land on whatever it wants to give attention to that day, so I never feel confined. I often scroll through pages and stop when I feel I want to bring something in. My writing is not at all linear and the characters in my novel have surprised me, which has been exciting. Interesting that my fiction writing has felt more spiritual than my memoir writing. Being able to jump into scenes using my imagination but grounding it in something that still feels true to me has made me feel the most in touch with who I am than I have ever known in my entire life. The world gets to be the way I want it to be.
WOW: Julia, thank you so much again for sharing your tips and story with us today. We hope to see more of your writing soon!