"Writing truthfully about being alive" is how Arena host Sean Rocks described Notes to Self, a 6-part collection of essays by Emilie Pine, newly published by Tramp Press.
The essays address addiction, fertility, feminism, sexual violence and depression – subjects often considered "off-limits". Emilie Pine joined Sean to talk about the catharsis of candour.
Emilie is a lecturer in Drama at UCD. How do you go from a world of academic writing, where involving yourself in your writing is discouraged, to writing about some of the most personal experiences of your life? Emilie puts it down to a supportive creative environment in the form of Dublin’s Tramp Press.
"They gave me permission to write, first of all, as ‘I’ and to talk about my experience and then also permission to talk about subjects that I talk about."
These subjects include her father’s alcoholism, fertility and sexual violence. Emilie told Sean that she asked herself a set of questions before approaching each piece.
"What would you say if you weren’t afraid to say it? What do you really want to say?"
Emilie dealt with any doubt or anxiety she felt about opening up in the work itself.
"I talk about how difficult it is to expose some of the things I’ve kept secret or private or in fact, haven’t wanted to face myself."
Though difficult at times, Emilie told Sean that was determined to be as candid as possible.
"You feel embarrassed or you feel scared or you feel, you know, that you’ve failed somehow. I thought it was really important to be as honest as possible."
Emilie shrugged off the idea that it takes bravery to be so vulnerable in your work.
"If I had thought I was being brave, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I just wanted to have that out on the page. And I talk about how you can make yourself vulnerable but also feel powerful in doing that. You claim a power over your own story in telling it."
From the Baby Years is one of the most difficult and searing of the essays. Though Emilie calls it "a couple of stories nested within each other", it primarily deals with the issue of fertility and miscarriage. Emilie described finding out she was having a miscarriage 10 weeks into a pregnancy.
"They said they couldn’t tell us anything. They said there was no heartbeat but they couldn’t tell us anything more. And they looked at the floor… Legally they were bound to, you know, they didn’t have a choice. They weren’t allowed to say that the pregnancy was over. Those are the kinds of silences that women like me have faced for a very long time."
Listen back to the full interview on Arena here.