TREACHEROUS CARROTS: HELEN VENN

Helen Venn is one of the loveliest ladies in writing, and for a variety of reasons, one of the bravest SF people I’ve met, reasons which include being utterly willing to stand up and call bullshit on anybody in the middle of an illogical or disagreeable rant. Including me on more than once occasion. I love her combination of gentility and steel, the best example of which occurred during Clarion South when, during a patented Battersby diatribe on the difference between ‘jet fighters’ and ‘bus drivers’ she very calmly waited for a break in the action and firmly declared “I like being a bus driver.” She’s fabulous, as you can discover at her blog and the Egoboo collective, but she never set out to write SF. She began writing literary short stories and poems. Now, no matter how hard she tries, she ends up with speculative fiction.
She has placed in various competitions (most recently a finalist in the first Quarter of Writers of the Future). She attended Clarion South in 2007 and was an Emerging Writer in Residence at Tom Collins House Writers’ Centre in 2009. She is currently working on her second novel. 





I come from a family of artists. One brother is a textile artist, another dabbles in metal sculpture and my niece is a professional water colourist mostly painting portraits. Going back further I had a great uncle who professionally created exquisite jewellery. Hell, I even married into a family of artists. My father-in-law was a talented amateur landscape artist. You’d think some of it would have rubbed off on me but no. As far as the visual arts go anything I produce is derivative and, let’s face it, not very exciting, so I really haven’t ever thought of myself as an artist. Until now.
Lee’s question has had me thinking about my writing in a way I had not before. I’ve always loved words and what they are capable of.  I taught myself to read before I went to school partly because words fascinated me and partly because they opened up a whole different world to me. As a seven and eight year old I used to sit on the living room floor (because the giant one volume dictionary that stood on the bottom shelf of the bookcase was too heavy to lift) and read it, opening pages at random for the joy of learning new words. i still get waylaid by new words in a thesaurus whenever I venture into one to the point that, unless I have time to indulge myself, I now use on-line versions  or I’ll find myself hours later wandering through words that are fascinating but have no connection to what I was looking for.
All this is a round about way of saying that, although words always fascinated me, it took me a long while to realise that, yes, I am an artist in my own way. Unlike all those other artists in my family I use words to create my art. I see myself primarily as a story teller – someone who takes words and melds and crafts them into something that is bigger than its individual parts. Those words (whatever their form they are used in – and my writing ranges from fiction, both short and long, poetry, reviews, blogging, articles and non-fiction) are my paints, the word processing system I’m using – might be a pen or a computer. It doesn’t matter  – is my paint brush or palette knife and the paper or computer screen they end up on is my canvas.
This applies to all writers to one degree or another. When I look at the best writers I am struck by the fact that, within the structure of a good story, they do much more. They play with language, stretching it and using it to create images that are as tangible as those on canvas. They don’t set out to preach but they do present the reader with ideas. They explore important issues in society and make us think about them. The best stories will stay in our memories long after we’ve finished them and this is characteristic of all art. It makes us think and expands our knowledge of ourselves, both as individuals and as a human being and this is true of all art.
It speaks to the mind and the heart. It may challenge, delight, infuriate or fascinate us. It doesn’t matter which emotion it provokes, as long as it provokes one. It’s this quality that defines art and it’s as true of writing as any of the other arts.
So yes, I can finally acknowledge I am an artist.

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