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6 September 2022
National Book Week 2022: Prof Julia Martin on her writing journey
During National Book Week (5 to 11 September), the University of the Western Cape (UWC) focuses on writing - the process of getting words on paper and out into the world.

To celebrate this year, it featured an established non-fiction writer and lecturer in the English department, Professor Julia Martin.

Prof Martin has published widely in literature and ecology and experiments with creative non-fiction. 

Her forthcoming book, Syntax of the River: The Pattern Which Connects (2022), was co-authored with the late American writer Barry Lopez. It documents and reflects on an extended conversation with Lopez about the practice of writing in the face of the present environmental catastrophe.

She said about the book’s title, “It refers to the fact that over decades he developed a practice of attention that was endlessly curious and enthralled by the patterns of the living world, which he calls its pattern or syntax. This meant too, that he was consequently terrified by the portents of its destruction. As a writer, his task was to put this combination of wonder and terror to work.”

Prof Martin is the well-respected author of Writing Home (2002), A Millimetre of Dust: Visiting Ancestral Sites (2008), and The Blackridge House: A Memoir (2019). She also collaborated with Gary Snyder - a former Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry - on the publication of Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism, and Living in Places (2014), a collection of their conversations and letters. 

She answered a few questions about writing and being a writer:

What’s the hardest/best/most interesting part of writing a book?
The hardest and also best and most interesting part for me is bringing the myriad threads of a narrative together: finding the words.
What’s your writing process like? What helps you do your best work?
During the teaching term, I find it helpful to work on a writing project for an hour every morning before the admin and teaching work begin. But to bring a book together really does require for me an extended period of sustained and uninterrupted time. 
What inspires you as a writer?
Being alive, visiting extraordinary places, meeting other human beings, reading glorious writing... all of it. 
What made you decide to become an author? What do you love most about it?
I never really decided. But gradually over the years, my academic writing has glided towards including more of a creative, narrative voice. I wanted story, metaphor, lyricism, irony. I also wanted to write for more people than the readership of my journal articles.

What advice would you give yourself today if you were to be a young writer starting out?
It’s difficult. It can be truly exhilarating and real in a way that is different from anything else, but it’s also mostly really difficult. To be working right there at the edge of what feels impossible, at the very place where you want to give up … That’s it.