Oct 18th, 2021, 05:11 PM

Sophie Mackintosh visits AUP

By Lily Martinez
Looking back at a creative writing workshop

Creative writing students explored the what if in a speculative fiction workshop led by Sophie Mackintosh. The British novelist sat in a circle with AUP students and asked them to spitball a few what-if scenarios. Students responded with statements like "What if music was illegal?" "What if we lived in a world without words?" "What if AUP caught on fire?" 

These spirited curiosities acted as the torch in hand for students as they were prompted to illuminate settings, characters, and tonality of what-if worlds. Mackintosh followed closely while gently pushing them forward with a quick overturn of prompts, as if to say, keep going there’s no turning back now.  

Her work has been described as cool and clinical and at times even sinister, and it is all true, however, her work is also deeply empathetic for its ability to sit with “social and emotional issues” often too difficult to face head-on. She began writing her debut novel, The Water Cure, in 2016 a year she marked by its “uncertainty.” At this time she asked herself, “what if I don’t need to create disaster?" "What if the seeds of disaster are already here?”  

She continued drawing inspiration from the real world in her next novel, The Blue Ticket, of which AUP students were asked to read an excerpt from before Mackintosh gave a talk. In this world, girls play the lotto to determine the fate of their womanhood. The main character Calla says, as “a blue ticket girl your life could change at any time” and be “pleasure-seeking,” but as a white ticket girl, you were summoned to motherhood.  

Calla wins the blue ticket and enjoys smoking in bathrooms, drinking from bottles, beautiful women, and seducing men. She enjoys it all, until she doesn’t, like many other young women. She describes this aversion to her place in society as a “dark feeling” one that her doctor tells her to ignore. She does a fine job of ignoring it even as she cradles “a hemp bag of sugar, six pounds in weight” in a supermarket before putting it back immediately. She ignores it all until eventually finds herself hovering over a sink with a bottle of vodka in one hand and tweezers in the other and a rag in her mouth. She removes the contraception. 

“A feminist issue is an issue for everyone,” says Mackintosh, and that is probably why systemic oppression plays such a significant role in her work which was classified as a feminist dystopia. Mackintosh said the term feminist dystopia was “quite reductive” because “massive issues like violence and abortion were being viewed as essentially the same book.” As if things like war were not inherently male pursuits in a male governed world. Toxic masculinity is pervasive, intersectional, and hard to admit. Through transference, readers are permitted to grieve desire and choice in tandem with Calla without the risk of self-realization or the hypocrisy of society. 

Calla embodies the dichotomy between wanting and choice. She suffers both from the feeling to want and from the feeling of not having the choice to want. The concept of choice is a dare-I-say phenomenon, that hits close to home for women. 

AUP students sat in a building in the seventh arrondissement of Paris where women have control over their reproductive rights. After her talk, the guest speaker opened the floor up for questions. Enamored by the success of the author, creative writers focused their questions around process and inspiration. They asked her how she deals with rejection, passes through writer's block, and other related concerns. No one asked her about her work in relation to societal issues and only one student asked a technical question about her writing. Everyone else was eager to know how the author achieved success. I asked myself what defines success, and better yet, who defined it? Money, power, pervasiveness. We sat in the seventh arrondissement of Paris in our private university and I asked myself, what if today was just another day upholding the tropes of toxic masculinity?