Debut author Fiona Gell shares her experience taking an NCW online tutored course, writing and publishing her ocean conservation memoir Spring Tides, and what’s next in store on her writing journey.
You recently published an ocean conservation memoir called Spring Tides, tell us more!
Spring Tides is my celebration of the wonders of the marine life around the Isle of Man and the wider British Isles which I think are underappreciated and still little known. It tells the story of how I grew up loving the sea in the Isle of Man, went away to study marine biology and become a marine conservationist and then got the opportunity to go home and lead on the establishment of the Island’s first Marine Nature Reserve in the bay where I grew up. It combines my obsession with the sea and protecting it with my love of language and poetry. I hope that it gives those who don’t have the opportunity to see our underwater life some glimpses into what we have beneath the surface.
You were tutored by Monique Roffey on our online memoir course. How did this experience contribute towards writing Spring Tides?
Monique Roffey was a fabulous tutor and it was a privilege to be taught by such an accomplished writer who really inspired me and taught me so much. The course couldn’t have been better timed as I joined it just as I was transitioning from a popular science approach into memoir. I hadn’t previously thought of the book as a memoir and I had a lot to think about in terms of how I told my personal story. Monique’s course provided specific sections on so many of the areas I was struggling with and also introduced me to some brilliant memoir writing that really helped me develop my own approach.
The combination of an excellent, well-structured course and wonderful accompanying resources alongside the opportunity to complete 6 assignments and get really encouraging and constructive personal feedback on each one really helped me progress. I think all but one of the assignments became part of the final book and really helped to shape it.
Without the perfectly timed course as I was finishing the bulk of writing on Spring Tides I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to write some of the more personal parts of the story. The course really inspired and motivated me to make sure that I got my story and my message about the importance of the ocean and our connections to it out into the world.
What were the benefits of studying a creative writing course online?
I did the course at the end of 2020 when Covid was still very much an issue and lockdowns were still happening. I’m also based in the Isle of Man so at that time, travel was very challenging and online was really the only option. However, given the expense and time required to travel from the Isle of Man to the UK, online courses are often the most affordable and practical option. Offering courses with a good level of contact with excellent tutors and feedback on work provides a great opportunity for rural writers like me who can’t easily access in person courses.
What is your best piece of advice for anyone embarking on writing a memoir?
Have confidence in the story you have to tell and in the value of your own perspective. Remember that by telling a personal story your writing and experiences will resonate with others and could help inspire them. I would really recommend a course like the brilliant one I did with Monique Roffey, and of course reading plenty of memoirs too.
What’s next for you?
I am currently experimenting with fiction – still inspired by my passion for ocean conservation and climate action, but very different from Spring Tides. I’m learning a lot but I’ve also been able to build on what I learnt on the NCW course and the encouragement and inspiration I got from the tutor to pursue my writing.
Fiona Gell trained as a marine biologist and has a PhD in seagrass ecology. She has worked in marine research on islands in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean and spent 13 years working as the marine conservation officer for the Isle of Man Government. More recently she worked on the development of the Isle of Man’s Climate Change Act and first net zero climate action plan. She has written about marine conservation for The Guardian, her poetry had been published in journals including The Rialto, Wasafiri and The Stinging Fly and her first book Spring Tides: Exploring Marine Life on the Isle of Man was published by W&N in 2022. She is now a freelance specialist in ocean conservation and climate policy and recently worked with climate campaigners Uplift and ocean advocates Oceana on a report on the impacts of offshore oil and gas on the marine environment.
(c) Hazel Gell
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