Interview with Maria: Third Place Winner Q2 2020 CNF Essay Contest

Sunday, May 10, 2020
Maria’s Bio:

Maria began her writing career as a teenager in the UK, but took a sabbatical to pursue a decade-long stint in the military. Having left that behind and recently moved to Canada, where life seems so far to be a great deal colder, she has decided to take a tentative step back out into the creative writing world. At the very least, it’s a good excuse to postpone the moment when she will finally have to venture out into the snow.

Maria works as a translator specializing in Middle Eastern languages, and most days feels like she ended up in the job by accident. Last year she set off on a motorbike to ride to both Africa and the Arctic Circle, but ended up in Bosnia instead. She has grown to appreciate the unexpected and circuitous routes that life can sometimes take, and now realizes that, if nothing else, it can result in some darn good stories. She hopes one day to become adept enough to write them.

If you haven't done so already, check out Maria's award-winning essay "A Guide to DIY Amputation" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Q2 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?

Maria: In starting this piece I was conscious only of a desire to push myself out of my comfort zone in both my writing style and subject matter. The stuff I'd been writing throughout the previous year had started to feel stale and safe, and although writing this piece felt at times like I was ripping off a Band-Aid, I was pleasantly surprised at what ended up on the page. I was most conscious of the challenges of combining two layers of narrative without it becoming confusing, and I think I spent the most time tweaking how these layers fitted together. Then I got my sister to read it (along with a friend); she remembers the amputation incident well, and still gives me grief about it!

WOW: It’s surprising how ripping off a Band-Aid can somehow provide relief! Thank you for sharing your process with us. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?

Maria: The memory I wrote about was one I'd long since mentally filed away under "things to be dealt with later." I was only 23 when it happened, and looking back now I can see the effects of it rippling through the subsequent years. Creating this essay helped me deal with a lot of those repercussions, and perhaps understand them for the first time. It was probably the clearest reminder I've ever had that writing can be a great healer.

WOW: Yes, I fully agree on writing’s power to heal. Your motorbike ride last year sounds like an amazing adventure! Can you tell us more about that? What effect did your journeys have on your writing and creativity?

Maria: I set off with a passenger, on the same bike, and by the end of the first day he'd ditched me! I was left alone in a foreign country with an old 1980s motorbike that was too heavy for me, and had to decide there and then whether to go home or carry on. Thankfully I have an amazing family, who gave me the motivational speeches I needed to continue and even joined me for various sections of the journey. We changed the route and ended up doing a loop around the Adriatic Sea, the Pyrenees and then up through Germany and Belgium. It turned out to be entirely different from the original plan, with highs and lows that I hadn't anticipated, but the lessons I learned about strength of character and determination have been invaluable. And the places I went through were nothing short of spectacular!

WOW: Wonderful! I’m curious to see how you’ll draw on those experiences and inspiration to fuel your writing. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Maria: I'm new to the genre, so I'm not acquainted with many creative nonfiction writers as of yet. However, I'm finding the previous contest entries on WOW hugely inspiring and challenging – I read through the top ten for the autumn contest, and it opened my eyes to the 'creative' element in a piece of creative nonfiction. I'd never really appreciated how many different ways there are to tell a real story.

WOW: So glad to know you’ve found inspiration and guidance from other WOW contestants! If you could tell your younger-writing-self anything, what would it be?

Maria: That one day my older self with a decade more life experience will go back and read the stories I wrote as a teenager and cringe until my teeth nearly drop out. But despite that, those stories are worth writing. Every building needs a foundation, even if those that I was digging back then were more based on perseverance and passion than actual skill!

WOW: Haha, yes, I am sure most of us have something cringe-worthy buried in our desks, but I like your positive spin on it: remembering how it helped you build your foundation as a writer. Anything else you’d like to add?

Maria: To those who are wondering whether to enter a piece of writing into a contest or not, for reasons to do with confidence or anything else, I'd encourage you to go for it. Whatever happens, it can't be as bad as falling off your heavily-laden motorbike at a campsite in front of a load of Italian men on sun-loungers. It can't be more exposing than that...

WOW: Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. And thank you for sharing your writing with us!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.


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