Colonised writing


After inhabiting the polar south with my 1914 horror noveletta, The Crate, I’m up in the north, sucked into the 1845 ill-fated Franklin expedition to find the North-West Passage by way of horror fictionalisation The Terror, by Dan Simmons.

Anyway, Google meanderings through the historical background found this in The Conversation, by a Canadian Inuit writer, Norma Dunning:

She says, about becoming a writer, ‘I didn’t want my work re-colonized.’

Inuit people have a strong oral tradition, and have been, at best, ignored, at worst, treated as animalistic savages. So setting down stories in a written format is a challenge both in conveying syntax and resisting the straitjacket of accepted Westernised creative style and grammar.

Without wishing to minimise the Inuit experience of colonialism, as writers we can all be colonised (and colon-ised!). I think one of the biggest challenges as a writer is taking that story in your head and making the written words do it justice, without it being terrible, unintelligible or identikit style.

And there’s the importance of finding an editor/friend/muse who doesn’t seek the quick fix, but who understands your style and brings out the true potential of your ‘voice’.

And why is it important to foster our own voice? To enjoy different voices?

Well it took 156 years for the British to learn of the resting place of the first of the lost Franklin ships (HMS Erebus, then in 2017, HMS Terror), when the Inuits knew all along what had happened to the ships and the last sightings of the crew. In fact, it wasn’t until the modern expeditions began to listen to the Inuits that they found the vessels. But, in the 19th century, their knowledge was treated as worthless by the British. Even enlightened social reformers like Dickens called them ‘savages.

But, history aside, different voices are more interesting, more fun. They take us down different paths. They open up different parts of our brain. Different ways of looking at the world. Discovering new stories. Whilst at the same time helping us understand that we all need to eat, be warm, be loved and love, feel safe yet be challenged. Appreciated and heard.

Pictured above, left, Louis Kamookak, the Inuit oral historian who died earlier this year (2018), compared Inuit stories with explorers logbooks and journals to determine the position of the two Franklin expedition ships.

Written by Louisa

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