How do you write bodies? Why use science in the writing?
Now and then, there’s a book with beautiful words and a ticking-bomb plot that I just can’t push through, and it’s almost always related to body. When I read, I want to immerse myself in other people’s lives—and lives are bodies moving through time and space. I don’t want to skim along on the outside of a character’s body but inhabit it, feel for myself how their body senses, interprets, and records the world.
You know that saying: “show, don’t tell”? Body is show with a capital-S.
Through science, we gain an awareness of our bodies that we can use literally or metaphorically to inform, inspire, and deepen our writing. And right now—with our world held ransom by virus—connecting with and writing bodies is vital.
What are you working on at the moment?
It’s been hard adjusting to this new, isolated lifestyle. So though it feels like there’s so much time to write now, I’ve been too distracted and anxious to be very productive. I am finding, though, that doing some plot and character work on my next novel has really been helpful. I’m slowly moving back into my characters’ bodies that way.
What books have you enjoyed recently?
I just finished the novel American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. I read it because I was curious about all the controversy—I wondered whether the author was criticised in part because the writing was shallow or careless. But it wasn’t at all. This book was entirely immersive, tense, and corporeal, and now after reading it I want to learn so much more about Mexico and its cultures, cities, and people. I want to hear more stories. American Dirt inspires empathy and curiosity, and isn’t that what we want our writing to do?
Amanda Niehaus is a biologist and writer living in Brisbane. Her work uses science as metaphor to inspire new perspectives and empathy. Her essays and stories have appeared in Overland, Griffith Review, Creative Nonfiction and Best Australian Essays, among others; won the 2017 VU Short Story Prize; and were twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her first novel, The Breeding Season, was published in 2019.
Join award-winning author Amanda Niehaus for her online course Writing Bodies starting on Monday 11 May.
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