This fall semester, National Book Award-winning author and professor of English here at Fairfield University, Phil Klay has been leading the MFA Creative Writing program’s “Inspired Writers Series.” A series of free virtual author talks, this series is meant to provide encouragement and inspire young writers as well as to entertain, inform and provide lively discussion for writers to engage in.
On Thursday Oct. 27, Klay welcomed British novelist and short story writer, Helen Oyeyemi, in the most recent Inspired Writers talk. Author of seven novels and a short story collection, Oyeyemi sat down to talk with Klay about one of her novels – her inspiration, her writing process, etc. Klay calls Oyeyemi an “utterly bewitching writer,” discussing her newest novel “Peaces,” which is full of magical realism.
Released in March of 2021, “Peaces” follows a couple as they embark on a journey on a former tea-smuggling train in which the rules of physics do not quite apply. Full of mysteries, connections to the past and themes of love, this novel takes the idea of train journey to the next level.
When asked by Klay how she constructed this book, she explains that she took a lot of train rides as inspiration. She discussed one of the most famous train mystery novels, Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” Oyeyemi explained that she was shocked by the resolution and thought that maybe some things can only happen on a train.
Oyeyemi further explained her fascination with trains, claiming it is an “incubator for intense experience.” The concept of time is skewed on a train – it makes people act differently and talk differently to each other. Oyeyemi explained that she was excited at the opportunity to create a relationship story set on a train, full of mysterious twists and turns.
The notion of “truth” was greatly discussed between Oyeyemi and Klay as well. “Peaces” is an accumulation of many mysteries, and Klay claims part of the fun in this novel is finding out pieces of information as the story progresses.
In terms of truth, Oyeyemi claims she is less interested in aiming directly for it. Rather, she believes that the truth is something you can arrive at by “aiming your arrow in multiple directions.” She explains that she cannot imagine starting her novels with the “truth” and writing to work toward it.
In the questions and answer portion of this lecture, Oyeyemi was asked about her daily writing process – something that I believe to be very intriguing for all aspiring writers. She explained that she writes two days on, one day off, taking a break to complete everyday chores like laundry and grocery shopping. Interestingly, she explained that she has a uniform which she wears to write each book. For one book, it was a unicorn onesie. For “Peaces,” it was a white dress and red lipstick, as she claimed it mirrored the setting and formality of her plotline.
Oyeyemi also claimed that in writing she has a number of words that she would like to reach each day. If not a number of words, she has a point in the plot which she would like to reach – a point in the plot that she will be excited to return to the next day, excited to see what comes next for her characters. She said she was very disciplined in reaching her writing goals, even using a program that would delete all of her writing at times if she did not reach her daily goal.
After hearing Oyeyemi talk all about her new book “Peaces” and her writing process, I am inspired to read her work and I am looking forward to attending more of these author talks. Klay has done an excellent job in engaging authors in discussions so far and I look forward to seeing where else he will take this “Inspired Writers Series.”
Aspiring writers can look forward to more of these “Inspired Writer Series” author talks in the near future. With Kaitlyn Greenidge joining Klay on Nov. 1, and Megha Majumdar on Nov. 18, there are exciting opportunities coming up to engage in discussion surrounding writing. Be sure to check out the Regina A. Quick Center’s website for more information.