One Question: Dr. Eileen Herbert-Goodall

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Hypertext magazine asked Dr. Eileen Herbert-Goodall, Author of The Sherbrooke Brothers, “What question do you wish you’d been asked about your work?”

QUESTION: Is it kosher for a married woman with two children to write a novella featuring a gay, male relationship?

ANSWER: This is a really interesting question because it raises a couple of issues about supposedly forbidden topics (not only in terms of content, but in relation to who is allowed to write what). It also relates back to the actual writing process, as well as the formation and distillation of creative ideas.

In terms of ‘writing the forbidden,’ I oppose the claim that people of a particular gender, racial background, or sexual orientation should not be able to write about characters belonging to a different so-called ‘category.’ The main reason I hold this view (a position with which many people would undoubtedly disagree) is because I don’t believe there should be any ‘access rights’ when it comes to exploring a fictional character’s psyche, along with their experiences, struggles, goals, etc. If a writer wants to write about the experiences of a fictional character of another race, why shouldn’t she be able to do so? Similarly, I’ve written stories about male criminals — but, given I don’t fit into that ‘category’, does this mean that story material should be off limits to me? I’m certain many people would answer in the affirmative, but I would have to disagree. Ultimately, if the writing is disingenuous or lacks verisimilitude/believability because a writer has failed to adequately connect with a character and explore their internal landscape, then this will come through in the work, meaning it most likely won’t be published in the first place.

Another reason why I don’t think people should be able to put ‘dibs’ on writing about certain characters and topics comes down to my personal approach to the craft. I don’t choose my characters (certainly not consciously) — instead, they choose me. That may sound a little strange, but characters (along with their stories), tend to enter my mind and I mentally observe them in an effort to gain insights into their imaginary existence. In the case of The Sherbrooke Brothers, I initially became familiar with the younger brother, Alex. In doing so, I discovered he had an older sibling who happened to be gay (I also discovered many other details regarding Alex’s relationships and family dynamics/interactions in this way). To my mind, the fact that one of the main characters turned out to be gay somehow added another thread of ‘otherness’ to the story, which is a thematic constant running throughout the narrative — that’s also where the supernatural elements come into play…the whole novella is really about exploring liminal places, along with notions related to inhabiting the ‘in between.’

At the end of the day, we’re all human and I strive to be to a humanistic, character-based writer. Having said that, who knows…maybe my next story will be written from the perspective of a rebellious android stationed on Mars in the year 2050? I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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Eileen Herbert-Goodall holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts, which she earned at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), Queensland, Australia. Her academic research investigates the blurring boundaries between print and electronic media, along with the impact such changes continue to have upon both readers and writers. Eileen teaches high school students through USC’s Creative Writing Excellence Program. She is also Director of Field of Words, an organisation dedicated to helping writers grow. Field of Words runs a variety of writing competitions across the year. Eileen is the author of The Sherbrooke Brothers. She has had many pieces of non-fiction and short fiction published, and is presently working on a collection of short stories. Buy The Sherbrooke Brothers HERE.

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