Jasmine Donahaye is a Professor of English Literature at Swansea University. Previously, she worked in the publishing sector and as Publishing Grants Officer at the Welsh Books Council. This background in publishing informs her teaching of creative writing. Her memoir, Losing Israel (2015), won the non-fiction category of Wales Book of the Year, and her story Theft was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize.
For over twenty-five years, New Welsh Review has been central to the Welsh literary scene in offering a vital outlet for the very best new fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, a forum for critical debate and a rigorous and engaged reviewing culture.
1) What inspired you to get into writing as a career?
I don’t think that I ever really saw writing as a career; writing has always been more of a compulsion. There’s usually something I feel driven to write about, and in many ways it’s my thinking process: writing is how I work out what I think and feel about things.
2) How does your previous role in the publishing sector inform your teaching of creative writing?
My background in publishing probably informs all aspects of my teaching. I think a sense of how the industry works helps keep the teaching of creative writing from getting too precious. I’ve had several roles in publishing, but perhaps the most obvious crossover to teaching is from editing. The key thing common to both is trying to help a writer work out what it is they’re trying to say, and what the best way is to say it.
Not all students want to be writers, but for those who do, I think it’s important to have a realistic sense of the challenges you’ll face and the persistence and resilience you’ll need, so those are things that I try to weave into my teaching and postgraduate supervision.
3) Please can you explain a bit about the type of literary styles and techniques used in creative non-fiction writing?
Creative non-fiction uses all the tools and strategies available in other forms of creative writing, such as vivid language, tension, characterisation, and narrative pacing, to tell an engaging story about factual material. Like fiction or poetry, it also relies on imaginative evocation, which is partly what distinguishes it from other forms of factual writing: at its simplest, it’s factual narrative that is imaginatively and evocatively written. But creative non-fiction has always been a tricky term, and its boundaries are contested (then again, most genre boundaries are contested, and increasingly porous). Some prefer the term literary journalism, or narrative non-fiction, or documentary journalism, but none of those encompass the diversity or flexibility of the form, if it is a form — after all, you won’t usually find a creative non-fiction section in a bookshop.
4) Is there a particular piece you’ve written for New Welsh Review that you’re particularly proud of?
I’ve written for New Welsh Review for some years now, including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary criticism and reviews. I’m not sure I could say I’m proud of any particular piece, as I tend to see the faults in what I’ve published, rather than what works, but I do feel a fondness for a short story called ‘Growing Up’ that New Welsh Review published in 2007. Perhaps my most personal piece is an essay called ‘Reading the Signs’ which appeared in 2021, and is from my forthcoming book, Birdsplaining: a Natural History.
5) Please you could you share with us a bit about the book you’re publishing with New Welsh Review next January?
Birdsplaining: a Natural History reflects on questions and ideas about our relationship with the natural world and with one another, explored through the medium of birds and personal experience. It’s a series of linked essays which take in quite a lot of the unromantic muckiness of the natural world around where I live in rural Wales. Some of the essays are quite angry in places, and others are tinged with regret. But overall, despite the awful things we do to one another and to the natural world, I think it ends up being quite a hopeful book.
6) And finally, are you currently working on anything that you wish to share with your readers?
I’ve been researching the life and writing of the English naturalist HB Tristram for several years, focusing mostly on the time he spent in Palestine in the mid-nineteenth century, and I hope to publish some of that work soon. There are also two novels featuring birds on the go…
Thank you for taking part in the #MeetTheContributor series, Jasmine. We enjoyed finding out more about creative non-fiction, your favourite New Welsh Review piece, and what you’re working on currently.