I would like to welcome Paul E. Hardisty to my blog today. Paul's book The Abrupt Physics of Dying was published in paperback by Orenda Books on 8 March 2015. His next book - The Evolution of Fear - will be published in early 2016.
It was Mark Twain who said: write what you know. Decades later, Hemingway, searching for the truest sentence he knew, bettered it. To EH, the essential question for a writer was: ‘What do I know about and truly care for the most?’
It took me ten years to write my debut novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying. Rather, I wrote it over a period of ten years. The vast majority of that time wasn't spent writing, but working all over the world as an environmental and water resources engineer. Like most of us, I was exchanging time for money, so I could feed and clothe my family, pay the mortgage.
But I was also learning about the world, observing and recording, building knowledge and experience doing something I cared about. Working with the UN, I was lucky enough to go to Yemen, on the Southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, right after the first Gulf War, and see first hand the effects of war and the mass displacement of people. Over a fifteen year period, I worked and travelled all over the region, and was in Yemen as the 1994 civil war erupted. Those experiences eventually formed the core of my novel.
When I heard that Abrupt Physics had been shortlisted for the prestigious CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger award for best crime novel or thriller by a new author in 2015, I was stunned. I thought back on the years it took to find an agent, let alone a publisher. I reflected on the dozens of polite, often complimentary and helpful rejections, and the most common reason given for turning me down: ‘It’s just too different’. And I remembered how I felt at the time: saddened that I hadn’t been successful, but at the same time hugely buoyed, because that was exactly what I had been trying for: something different. Something only I could write, born not only of the things I’d learned and done and seen, but from the deep passion I had developed for social and environmental justice, and the plight of the less fortunate, the disenfranchised, and the voiceless in our world.
And so to the most recent, and in my view devastatingly difficult, variation on Mark Twain’s famous edict, this time from Martin Amis: ‘Write about what you know so you don’t have to write what others already have.’ This is perhaps the hardest part of all, to avoid, as Amis put it, not only ‘clichés of the pen, but also of the mind and heart’. I didn’t win the Dagger, but just getting that far was wonderful affirmation that striving for something different and fresh may be difficult, but it is worth it.
As I put the finishing edits to my second novel, The Evolution of Fear (out in early 2016), the voices of those masters continue to rattle around my brain like a looping algorithm buried in a dream. I need to trust my voice, be steadfast in my attempts to integrate science and mathematics into prose and plot in a way that is non-threatening to readers, because, yes, science can be beautiful. I must continue to write about issues that I care about, without that passion taking over the story and becoming polemic. I also have to understand that there is a role for research – not everything you know has to come from first-hand experience. John Updike, after all, famously crammed himself full of several PhDs of research for each novel he wrote. And last, I need to remember that after all, this is fiction. It’s about making stuff up. So, please, Messieurs Twain, Hemingway and Amis, be patient with a humble engineer who still learning the craft of writing, and has a long way to go.
About Paul E. Hardisty
Canadian by birth, Paul Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. Paul is a university professor and Director of Australia’s national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes. He is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia with his family.
Follow Paul E. Hardisty on Twitter - @Hardisty_Paul