An Interview with Gemma Seltzer
You’d seen a couple of live writing events before yours. Did they reassure you or make you more nervous?
Both David Varela’s event in front of a constant stream of thousands of people, and Sarah Butler’s more intimate session with a quieter crowd necessitated stamina and courage from the writers. I was nervous that I wouldn’t last from morning to evening, wouldn’t find enough material to inspire, and that I would freeze in front of my online audience. Happily, after my first story was complete, I found a good rhythm and also that I had plenty to say!
You’ve talked to strangers in previous writing projects. How did this experience differ?
My first digital writing project, Speak to Strangers, involved chatting to members of the public over one hundred days and writing very short stories directly from the experience. For the Live Writing Series, which also included random interactions with people, the strangers were just one part of the experience. I also used the sights and sounds of the places I visited, the notes and comments from audiences online, and the rhythms of walking and moving through the city as the basis for my writing.
You covered a lot of ground on your trek across London. What was your favourite writing spot?
I loved the sense of the city changing from place to place, each location offering a new perspective for me. I enjoyed the quirky pub I found in Holland Park. The music was too loud, the lights too low, and the clientele too boisterous. At 5pm, people were finishing work and relaxing. It was a place that was in no way conducive to creating stories live, but I enjoyed the challenge of writing at odds to my surroundings.
Did you feel like you were writing in public or writing in secret?
Both, at different times. I did have some signs that I propped up showing the project logo, and a note that said. “I’m writing a story. Tell me what should happen next.” In other moments, I let the people around me know what I was doing, showed them the website and invited them to respond. Without a big screen nearby, I was able to write more freely perhaps, than some of the other writers will.
Someone tweeted ‘Harriet Bardot’ as a character’s name, which evoked an elegant, haphazard sort of person in my mind. She ended up in all of the stories, stumbling through her life. And also, in the Wellcome Collection, I shared a table with two scientists. Towards the end, one even dashed to the bookshop and selected titles I could incorporate into the piece. Our conversation offered colour and much liveliness to my stories.
Is there anything you’d do differently next time?
Maybe for longer! I found it productive and inspiring. I must be a secret exhibitionist, because I quite liked the webcam recording. It would be interesting to have at least one of the locations with a big screen linked up, so I could dip into writing live for an hour in both public and online, before swiftly typing the final full stop and packing up to head to the next place.