Interview with a Tree

Dead Sisal Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

This was going to be an episode for a podcast I set up for a Green Group (you know, one with members that are into ecologically friendly living) but one of the member told me, in no uncertain terms that she didn’t like the way that I do podcast episodes. So, long and short of it is that I took all my episodes so far (two of them) off the podcast and replaced them with some other stuff that some other member of the Green Group had sent to me. Ironic really, because one of the episodes I took down still has the most listens off all time even though it’s not even been there for the past several weeks. Not that I’m bitter and twisted about it you understand. I’m just saying. Anyway, this is what I would have recorded next. It would have been an episode where someone interviews me. And I’d be posing as a thing that green people are interested in not destroying; you know, like the sky or a tree or the ocean or the climate or the weather or something like that. Let’s say that I chose to be a tree. It’d go something like this:

Interviewer: So, Mister .. ah .. Tree …

Me (as a tree): Call me Sisal.

Interviewer: Okay, Cecil. This …

Me (as a tree): Nah, not Cecil. It’s Sisal. As in, the tree. Not the person. I’m not a person, remember?

Interviewer: Okay. Sorry. Erm – so, Mr .. um. sorry .. Sisal. Did I get that right?

Me (as a tree): You did.

Interviewer: Good. So, Sisal, this is an interview designed to discover your preferences when it comes to how you like people to treat you. As a tree. Like, if you were a tree .. em .. sorry .. you’re a tree, Sisal and I’d like to ask you .. stuff.

Me (as a tree): First time doing an interview?

Interviewer: Ah, no, I did a whole bunch of them before. At college. But those were with humans, y’know?

Me (as a tree): So this is your first one with a tree.

Interviewer: Yup.

Me (as a tree): Okay, so let me give you a tip that I think’ll help you out here.

Interviewer: Okay.

Me (as a tree): Okay. Here we go: just be yourself.

Interviewer: That’s it?

Me (as a tree): Yup. That’s it.

Interviewer: Kinda ironic don’t you think?

Me (as a tree): Why’s that now?

Interviewer: Well, you .. erm .. that is, you’re pretending to be a tree.

Me (as a tree): Pretending? No, man; I am a tree.

Interviewer: Ah, look, I know that for this interview and all that I’ve got to interview you as if you were a tree, but, truth be known, you’re not even green.

Me (as a tree): I am so. I recycle everything!

Interviewer: Like, how?

Me (as a tree): I put them in the correct container and I put them our for the the council to collect.

Interviewer: And what kind of a tree do you think does that every single week?

Me (as a tree): It’s bi-weekly.

Interviewer: Whatever. My point is that trees don’t do that. They usually just stand in the garden and, you know, like, wave their branches about in the breeze and rustle their green leaves. You don’t have any of those things.

Me (as a tree): Well that’s not my fault is it. I’m doing this without a budget! Like, no money at all. You don’t get much for no money, you know!

Interviewer: Pssh, not my department.

Me (as a tree): Yeah, sure, granted, but that’s why.

Interviewer: Why what?

Me (as a tree): Why I’m not green in the sense that you mean when you tell me I’m not green.

Interviewer: Okay, tell you what, let’s just do the best we can, okay.

Me (as a tree): Ahem. Okay. Go for it. But let’s pretend a bit better than you have been doing that I’m a tree. Okay?

Interviewer: Okay.

Me (as a tree): So …

Interviewer: Oh, yeah. So, as a tree, what do you want people to do differently?

Me (as a tree): Good question. I want them to stop doing stuff that hurts the soil. Not bothered about the air. They can pump as much carbon into it as they want. Hell, I eat that stuff up for dinner.

Interviewer: Midnight snack.

Me (as a tree): What?

Interviewer: You would eat it for midnight snacks. In the daytime you eat oxygen, remember?

Me (as a tree): Oh, yeah. Nice catch.

Interviewer: Thanks. So, that’s all we have time for now. Sisal wants you to stop doing things that hurt the soil, right?

Me (as a tree): Yup

Interviewer: Cool. Well, that’s it then. Thanks, Sisal.

Me (as a tree): It’s cool. Have a good one.

Interviewer: You too

Me (as a tree): Dick,

Interviewer: Yep?

Me (as a tree): Oh, is that your name? I kinda meant ..

Interviewer: I know what you meant. We’re done here.

Me (as a tree): Yup.

Interviewer: So done.

Me (as a tree): Hmm. Okay.

Interviewer: So very, very done.

Me (as a tree): Okay, got it. Very, very, very.

Interviewer: Done.

Interview with Robert about Experimental Fiction

Q. So, Robert, now that you’ve come to the end of the experimental fiction chapter and completed all the exercises, I wonder if you’d mind answering a few questions?

R. Surely.

Q. Here we go then: has your attitude to your work changed?

R. This chapter has taught me that, although it’s fine to push back the frontiers of literature, it’s also worth bearing a few things in mind. The first thing is that if you’re going to experiment it’s good to equip your reader with the ability to make the journey with you. The best experiments don’t just blindly go where no writer has gone before and expect others to follow, they lay a trail of breadcrumbs so that they can both be followed (in terms of being read and being emulated) and be able to make their way back home. There’s nothing worse than going out on a limb only to find that it is too thin to support you. It’s necessary to know what path you have taken and be able to make your way back home afterwards. This can take the form of being able to experiment one day and write a conventional story the next day. Or it can be in terms of knowing the methodology of your experiment so that you can repeat it in the future and, more importantly, other writers can too. (in experimental methodology, reproducibility means an independent researcher should be able to replicate the experiment, under the same conditions, and achieve the same results) A second thing I have learned is that it’s good not to tick too many people off with your experiments. For example, I spent a couple of hours this afternoon writing an experimental piece about the Hillsborough Disaster. I made the mistake of treating the subject flippantly. This doesn’t work unless you can show that the humour has some purpose; something that helps heals or transforms the situation.

Q. Hmm; deep. Thanks for that. Will you incorporate any of the experimental approaches you’ve tried out into your work in future?

R. I think that I already incorporate experimental approaches into my work. It’s just that I do it so inexpertly that they’re indistinguishable from the ravings of a madman. Not that I have anything against madmen, mind, it’s just that I need to learn more about the art and craft of experimenting than this chapter has taught me. Still, I have some avenues that I can explore. Practising is one. Reading more contemporary experimental fiction is another. I have a long way to go here before I practice with any kind of competence.

Q. Appreciate your thoughts. What have you learned from reading and critiquing your fellow students’ experiments?

R. There’s a great mix of talent here on this course and this is brought sharply into focus for me by this chapter. Some, like me, need more practice, but others have mastered the art of experimental fiction. It’s actually quite illuminating to critique someone’s work. It shows me how well I’ve absorbed the teachings and it allows me to see more clearly what I need to do to improve. Exemplars are very useful, whether they follow the criteria in the teachings or not. I specifically have learned that it’s important to follow instructions closely when completing exercises and that punctuation, sentence length and even genre style make big differences in how a piece of writing is interpreted/perceived.

Q. And finally: how might this feed into your critical and reflective writing?

R. I find that the more critiques I do, the easier they get. The more I reflect on any kind of writing, whether it be that of established authors, that of fellow students and even my own work, the more insight I get into the process of writing. TMA03, in particular, was a huge learning experience for me. For perhaps the first time in my life I read (and reread) books whilst thinking consciously how specific effects were achieved. I don’t think I did a particularly good job of the TMA, but I still took a lot of benefit from doing it. It’s strange, but I find that I can either read a story for the enjoyment of it, or reading it whilst thinking how it works, but I can’t do both at the same time. I would like to know how to do both simultaneously. Any tips? Anyone?

Q. Well, thank you, Robert, for your thoughtful and illuminating replies to my questions. I’m sure our readers will join me in saying that it truly is worth reflecting on the things we have learned.

R. Thank you; I’m sure you’re right.