Writing Fiction and Writing Social Science

In the third part of our special section on Sociology and Fiction, Rob Kitchin talks to our Digital Fellow Mark Carrigan about scholarly writing, fictional writing and the relationship between them. 

Have you always written fiction? Or is it something that began once you were an established academic writer? 

I wrote my first novel when I was twenty one.  I sent it to a few agents, got a couple of nibbles but no bites then put it in a drawer.  From then on I’ve kept tinkering.  Stumped, which was published in 2014, was originally drafted in 1999.  I’ve four novels published, plus two collections of short stories, and I’ve a handful more completed and abandoned and fragments of others.  Every Saturday for the past few years I’ve published a drabble – a story of exactly 100 words.  I’d be quite happy to be a full time fiction writer and occasionally write the odd academic piece rather than the other way round.  The main thing is I spend a lot of my time writing, which is what I always wanted to do.

How do you see the relation between your fictional writing and your academic writing? 

In terms of subject matter they’re sometimes barely connected, other times they become quite entwined.  I consider myself a social scientist in the broadest sense and a lot of the issues I’m interested in make nice hooks or context for stories.  Occasionally, as detailed in the Cultural Geographies article, they become very tangled.  In that case, a novel I was writing and its associated research became the launch point for a series of different types of writing – fiction, blog posts, newspaper op eds, email correspondence, policy papers, policy consultation, a television documentary script, powerpoint slides, academic papers, and grant applications – that varied in register and audience, but all concerned planning, ‘ghost estates’, and the crash in Ireland.  In terms of the actual writing, although academic and fiction writing can be quite different in style and substance, I tend to just think of them as writing.  I don’t find one more challenging than the other. 

What advice would you give to academics who are interested in writing fiction?

The only way it is going to happen is to do it!  Carve out the time and make a start.  I’ve no real advice as to how to become a success at fiction writing.  The publishing side of things is quite different, involving agents and I think it fair to say a degree of luck.  Getting published as an academic is much more straightforward and rule-based.  There is always though the option of self-publishing, or simply doing it for pleasure.  I would write fiction whether it was getting published or not as I write for my own pleasure.  And I write what I would like to read, which is fairly niche and not necessarily to everybody else’s taste – a lot like much academic writing!

Readers of this interview might enjoy this further reflection by Rob on writing as praxis

Originally posted 16th March 2016.

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