Working with Words: Ruby-Rose Pivet-Marsh
We spoke with writer and Emerging Writers' Festival artistic director Ruby-Rose Pivet-Marsh about people-watching, plagiarism paranoia and how writing is a luxury.
What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?
I cannot remember the first, but the last thing I read that elicited that physical kind of emotion was Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. I read it in about an hour and found it very strange and sweet and full of sensations that felt very near and surprising at once. Perhaps not what one might expect from the title, but it made me laugh (literally) out loud in absurd delight.
Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?
Lol, yes. One of my primary school teachers told my mum I was going to be a writer because of my 'creative stories', which makes me wonder if it was code for 'talks a lot!'
I have no idea what those stories were about, but I did win a poetry competition a few years later for a poem about my cat, which I think says a lot about who I am as a person even to this day.
What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?
I've had many – mainly customer service roles. I had one consistent hospitality job for a long time and juggled that with freelancing (writing and project management) and working as a bookseller, a receptionist, running music and writing programs at my local youth services and as a classroom aide in a high school, at various points.
I think those jobs influenced my understanding that writing is, unfortunately, a luxury. It’s work that is not paid very well and not many people can sustain themselves on writing alone (which is also a whole other thing about access and industry). I am a people-watcher though, always have been, and I think a lot of writers are. I think working those jobs meant I met a lot of different people and learned very practical things like prioritising time and tasks and having patience for people and of course, patience for the process. I would write a lot in my head while I was working in kitchens and write things down when I got a moment and sometimes I still find doing other tasks is what helps to get things going in my brain.
If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
'I would write a lot in my head while I was working in kitchens ... and sometimes I still find doing other tasks is what helps to get things going in my brain.'
I’m lucky in that I have an Arts Job now, but it does mean that a lot of my creative energy gets put into that and so writing isn’t something I can or have been doing too much of lately. I guess maybe my answer is the reverse of this question. If I weren’t working at Emering Writers' Festival, I would probably still be in customer service and writing freelance. But if I think about what I would like to do, if I weren’t already doing a job I love and writing, I would probably be working with young people in some capacity.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
The tried and true concept of 'getting something down on paper even if it’s terrible' is one I come back to all the time. Paddy O’Reilly was one of my uni professors when I was just starting to explore creative non-fiction as something I wanted to write and I remember that being something that came up in that class a lot. I went from writing some truly terrible work that felt incredibly forced, to figuring out how to do the writing thing a little more honestly. Or trying to, anyway.
It’s a good reminder that not everything has to or will be good and chances are you have to write some less than wonderful bits to get them out of your system and move further towards the good stuff. Especially if you haven’t been in the habit of writing for a while.
Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now? (Why or why not?)
Yes! I am truly obsessed with journalling … I tried so hard to keep a diary throughout my life, but honestly it never really stuck until last year. I found the trick was to collage on the pages so they’re not blank and intimidating. I’ve since filled two (about 500 pages) and am onto the third. I find it is a nice way to switch off, more than anything. What goes into my journal doesn’t necessarily make it into my writing – mostly because I just cannot read my handwriting. I also kept a lunar journal over the last (western) astrological year, which was a more specific reflection practice and I also have one for tarot.
Which classic book/play/film/TV show do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?
At the risk of sounding dismissive, I just don’t have interest in or time for so much of the predominantly white literary canon, which can come across as bratty and maybe it is but ... uuhh I don’t care!
Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?
More than anything, I need a clean, clear space to write otherwise I get very distracted. I’m not a particularly tidy person by nature, but making myself pick up my space before I get started makes a big difference in my concentration and desire to put in some writing work. I like to have a nice playlist going, too. It’s not a superstition so much as a paranoia, but I always worry that my writing is accidental/unintentional plagiarism!
Have you written anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?
Literally everything I have ever published in some way, shape or form. I would like to delete all my work prior to around 2018 from existence. Everything after that probably needs further interrogating. I think that’s maybe just always going to be the case, everything could always do with more work. The more you move through life, the more you know, the more you question. Your tastes change, your opinions change, your style changes, the things you place importance on change. All of that is no doubt going to inform your work.
Which artist, writer or character would you most like to have dinner with?
Look it’s cheesy, but the artists and writers in my life and who I encounter along the way are the ones I want to be surrounded by most right now. Maybe that’s just the whole pandemic vibe, but I just want to have dinner with my friends and the people who enrich my life and my spirit. I think we’d talk about the things we usually do – share stories and dreams and observations. All of my friends have very good, cackling laughter which I miss hearing in person.