Eleanor Catton on Imitation and Defiance

In 2013, the Canadian-born New Zealander Eleanor Catton set a new record in the literary world, when, at age 28, she became the youngest writer to win the Man Booker Prize.

After studying English at the University of Canterbury in her hometown Christchurch (NZ), she obtained an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington (NZ). Later, she won a fellowship and attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in Iowa City (US) for an MFA in Creative Writing. Currently, she resides and teaches in Auckland (NZ).

The Luminaries, Catton’s intricately crafted 800-page-plus second novel, is set during the 1860s Gold Rush of New Zealand. The characters are modelled on the constellations of the zodiac and their interactions orchestrated by predetermined astrological movements. Executed in pitch-perfect historical register after years of careful research, the book is a huge commitment for a 21st-century reader. Not only is it set in the Victorian era, it also reads like a novel written in the Victorian era. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea in this time of convenient slang and ever-shortening attention spans.

Catton’s personal theory of the creative process, however, is easy to follow and can benefit anyone interested in art-making. In an article on The Guardian, she has written:

Creative influence can have a positive or a negative charge, either imitative (“I want to try that!”) or defiant (“I want to see that done differently”). Both kinds of influence are vital for the health of an idea. Too defiant, and the idea will be shrill; too imitative, and the idea will be safe. For me, the moment when these two charges first come together – when I connect, imaginatively, something that I love as a reader with something that I long for as a reader – is the moment the idea for a story is born.

Check out more of her thoughts on writing and creativity from a session at a literary festival in south India held in early 2015 here.


Image Credit:

Featured: Eleanor Catton in Frankfurt in October 2012 by User “Ballofstring”, CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia



2 thoughts on “Eleanor Catton on Imitation and Defiance

  1. It may be an 833 page book, but I have to experience it, even what I can of it. You are simply filling my plate. I’m in the middle of reading “Waiting For Godot”, of which I had to pause in the middle of the first act in order to allow it to saturate. A seemingly simple play, but it has a way of filling the mind with what seems to be meager food, but is really an amazing experience.

    I can download “Luminaries” from the local library here. It is now on my Kindle and, even if I don’t read it in it’s entirety, I have to experience it. I have enjoyed listening to a few of her discussions on creativity and writing. Everything you present and share in your blog entices my curiosity while expanding my perspective and thought horizon. Like I said, you fill my plate and I am going to indulge in all that you are willing to share.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t read The Luminaries myself…just went through a few random pages. But I surely will someday…I feel motivated after listening to Eleanor Catton’s interviews.

      Liked by 1 person

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