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Virtual Writer In Residence: Rebecca Ferrier

In partnership with the Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office, EWF is proud to host Rebecca Ferrier for a virtual residency for the month of November. To kick off her residency, we asked Rebecca a few questions about her work, the lit scene in Edinburgh and what she hopes to work on during her residency. 

Hi Rebecca! Tell us a bit about yourself! Who are you, where are you, what do you do, etc.

I’m Rebecca, a writer based in Edinburgh, UK. I’m one of ten writers chosen for the UNESCO City of Literature virtual residencies, where I’m hosted by EWF. After six years ghost-writing and working as a biographer, I’ve finally had the opportunity to cultivate my own tales. I pen short stories and I’m currently drafting a longer, full-length novel. Recently, I’ve begun dabbling in nature poetry, which has been a new – and enjoyable – challenge. 

How would you describe your current writing practice? 

I’m disciplined and I like routine. (I realise this makes me sound like a wholesome Labrador.) Usually, I have a minimum word-count I reach each day. This doesn’t always work. On occasion, there are structural edits that take priority, which need to be fixed to aid the work’s progression. I think it’s important to set out with a strong backbone to a story. Before I write, I like to know the beginning, middle and end, vital scenes and where (I hope) the characters’ emotions will resonate with the reader. That being said, I allow space for character moments and feel them as I write. I like a little flexibility, a little creativity, a little fun (like, perhaps, an unwholesome Labrador). 

What made you want to apply to the virtual residency and why did you choose EWF for your residency?

EWF is such a vital stepping stone for emerging writers and instantly appealed to me. Walking into this space (or logging on) is a chance for new writers – not young, I hasten to add – to feel like writers. When I was starting out, I was a hot mess. Over-enthusiastic, I stumbled into ridiculous situations and endlessly put my foot in it (and then jiggled it about a bit). Where better to do that than with other emerging writers who are also fine-tuning their craft? From all I’ve heard, read and experienced, EWF is a safe place, somewhere to play and think and feel – and be passionate – without judgement. 

Can you give us a bit of a lay of the literary land over there in Edinburgh?

We’re a welcoming lot, with indie bookshops, festivals, panels and fairs. A real glimpse into Edinburgh’s writing scene can be found through our literary magazines, such as Gutter and Extra Teeth. Many journals and venues produce high-quality content, while remaining accessible to new writers still finding their footing. At its tartan heart, Edinburgh is about conversation, about ideas and how to communicate them, and we’ve found a hundred different ways to do that. If anything, it distracts us from the endless, endless rain. 

You’ve previously worked as a journalist – what are you interested in, with your writing, now and how does that past life of sorts inform your current work?

I rarely entertained the notion that I’d be allowed to be a ‘proper’ writer. Journalism was a way to scratch an itch. It didn’t work. For numerous years I reported on developments in the oil and gas industry. I was young, it was eye-opening. No matter how many green solutions I peddled, no one cared about ‘cleaning up’ their act unless there was money in it. Corruption, nepotism, classism and sexism ruled. There’s nothing like seeing behind the curtain to encourage radical thinking (and a desire to shred said curtain). I remember meetings in Scandinavian offices where polar-bear skins were tacked to the walls and whale served at dinner, the last course being beer-fuelled male bravado and over-stuffed egos. 

Overall, that previous career gave me a wealth of characters to draw from and a lot to think about, which I’m slowly channelling into a short story collection. 

What are you working on during your residency?

An atmospheric novel set in a coastal town, which touches on themes of illness, sacrifice and women’s labour. I’ve recently been given funding by Creative Scotland, a developmental body for the arts, which will further support the novel’s progress. I’m also being mentored through a programme called All Stories, with guidance from editor Tilda Johnson. 

What have you been reading, watching and listening to lately?

I’ve been watching Midnight Mass, a horror-fuelled miniseries with dark and religious undertones. It’s monologue-heavy and beautifully intense, creating real atmosphere. Another series I’ve enjoyed is Arcane, which is based on a video-game. In regards to the latter, it’s rare to find media that suits its medium. Often, a series can be formulaic, with filler episodes that sacrifice storytelling. Arcane doesn’t do that (at least, hasn’t thus far). Its animation gives a nod to gameplay, spins scenes as an illustrator might, and no frame, no word, no character is unnecessary. 

Reading-wise, I’m in love with Moder Dy by Roseanne Watt. The poetry collection is written in English and threaded with Shetlandic dialect. I dip into it sparingly, infrequently, so I can be startled anew by Watt’s salt-shelled language; I want to draw it out for as long as I can and make each poem last. 

In regards to music, I’m listening to Matthew and the Atlas on repeat, endlessly. It blends folk-gothic banjos with wistful song lyrics. I’m eclectic in my podcast tastes and I occasionally dip into Brett Goldstein’s (of Ted Lasso fame) Films To Be Buried With and The Adam Buxton Podcast. One recent discovery was Kirsty Logan’s A History of Ghosts on BBC Radio 4, which is delightfully spooky.  

Who are some writers you’re really excited by at the moment, emerging or otherwise?

Harry Josephine Giles is a writer whose work I’m eager to explore. I am fourth in line on the library-loan list for her latest work, Deep Wheel Orcadia. It’s a science-fiction verse-novel written in Orkney dialect and has recently been longlisted for the Highland Book Prize. Eventually, I’ll crack and order it from a local independent book store: the cover alone is impossible to resist. 

In regards to emerging writers, this year’s Nan Shepherd Prize longlist is exceptional. I cannot wait to see the individual journeys each writer goes on. For context, the biannual prize seeks to find the next voice in nature writing, with a focus on under-represented voices. As an outdoor-lover, prone to rolling in mud and collecting haunted pebbles, it’s refreshing to see how nature writing can be more than middle-class white men in tweed moaning about their private-school education. 

Lastly, after reading A Spell in the Wild by Alice Tarbuck, I’m keen to see her next work. In the aforementioned book, Tarbuck explores a magical year, with personal essays, historical notes and a touch of the almanac about it. Their authorial voice is enchanting, summer-rain soft with a chalk-bite undertow. Full disclosure, if Tarbuck wheeled up in full Snow Queen regalia and offered me Turkish Delight, I would 100% accept. 

Finally, where can we find you online? 

I tweet (too much) at @rmlferrier and use the same handle over on Instagram. I also have a portfolio available online, which is semi-regularly updated with new works. 

Virtual Writers in Residence is partnership between Emerging Writers’ Fetsival and the Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office..