Emma Forrest is not a new writer. She had her first article published in London’s Evening Standard when she was 15, and at 33, she’s already published three novels (Namedropper, Thin Skin, and Cherries in the Snow) and written a number of screenplays. But for many in the audience of this discussion between Forrest and Gabrielle Carey, their introduction to be Emma Forrest has been her memoir, Your Voice in my Head.
This frank and brave exploration of mental illness and grief is really a tribute to Forrest’s psychiatrist, Dr R, who died unexpectedly during her treatment. In her book, Forrest openly discusses her illness, talking about the manic episodes that eventually saw her attempt suicide.
The healing power of writing Carey led a discussion moved from the impact and treatment of a mental illness to the healing power of writing. Forrest spoke about writing mania for an audience that may not have any direct experience of this themselves. She says that for this reason, she waited until she was well to write the book. Doing that gave her a focus and clarity to write something she hopes others can relate to or lean from.
She also spoke beautifully about the rituals in her life that have become part of her treatment – particularly the ritual of writing. Speaking about Dr R’s death she said she dealt with the grief by “writing. I wrote it all down because I was scared. Writing [this memoir] was my ritual to keep him.”
Making sense of your writing
For someone who has carved her life as a writer from a very young age, her response to Carey’s question, “did the success make your illness worse?” was a little surprising: “Yes because I didn’t learn how to write (she left school at 15) so the writing that was appearing in public wasn’t that good.”
If that’s the case it’s testament to her talent that her writing has brought her so much success. But it also says a lot about the importance of learning your craft.
Finally, she gave this advice to anyone who fears writing, anyone whose inner critic won’t allow them to write anything less than perfect: “The first day you write it will be nonsense. The next day you’ll make sense of it.”
By Danielle Williams
Course manager, Sydney Writers' Centre
Sydney Writers' Centre interviews British journalist and novelist Emma Forrest. Her recent memoir is Your Voice in My Head published in 2011, about the death of her psychiatrist and her subsequent breakup with her partner. She is also author of the novels Namedropper, Thin Skin and Cherries in the Snow, and editor of the non-fiction anthology Damage Control.
Emma was born in Britain but lives in Los Angeles and is also carving out a career as a screenwriter. She famously dated movie star Colin Farrell for a year but it's her writing that has put her on the map. She has been writing since her teens when she first wrote a story on Madonna for the London Evening Standard.
She has been diagnosed with bipolar and told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper: “I wrote the book to stay afloat,” she says of her just-published memoir Your Voice in My Head,
which comes out in Canada this week. “I said okay I’ll write this and
I’ll publish this and by the time it gets published I’ll be out of it
and I’ll be all right.”