This year, I’m down at the Mad Dogs and Vintage Vans glamping site, outside Ross-on-Wye, where I’ll be guest writer on this year’s Freedom to Write retreat, along with my writer friends Yvonne Jewkes and Andy West.
Last year’s retreat was a complete blast. It was a relaxed, easy-going, friendly, stimulating, and wildly creative few days. Some folks from last year are coming back again this year, and we’ve also got some new folks signed up as well. So I’m looking forward to catching up with some old friends, and meeting some new ones.
This year, I’ll be talking about ethics in nonfiction writing. The mention of ethics often makes writers rolls their eyes, as if you are telling them what they can and can’t do. And few writers (least of all me) like to be told what to do. As Wittgenstein puts it in the Tractatus, “When an ethical law of the form, ‘Thou shalt…’, is laid down, one’s first thought is, ‘And what if I do not do it?’”
But I’ve increasingly been thinking that a deeper reflection on ethics can make writing nonfiction richer, deeper and more complex. Although we might fear that a greater ethical awareness will flatten out our writing, the reverse is true: ethical reflection can lead us into the very heart of what it means to be human.
One thing I’ve increasingly learned to do as a nonfiction writer is to bring questions of ethics into the heart of the stories I am telling. Often we see ethical questions as standing outside the text, like a solemn jury, sitting in judgement on what we are writing. But when you bring these ethical questions into the text itself, and open up the stories you are telling to ethical complexity, things get much more interesting.
The retreat will be running from 23rd - 26th June.