BackStory: Five Questions with Struan Gow
Author of RRS Discovery
What inspired you to write ‘RRS Discovery’?
The RRS Discovery holds a special place in my heart, as I grew up in Dundee, where it is currently displayed. It is quite a figurehead for the city, but it always felt very bittersweet to me to have a ship that was used to explore the most dangerous edges of the world, now exhibited in a dry and lifeless dock.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
Due to the solemn nature of the piece, a lot of the interesting facts didn’t get to make it! The RRS Discovery was mainly used as a research vessel for whales, and therefore had within the ship both chemical and biological labs, and a darkroom for photography. She’d also been refitted in the early 1920s from the original sailing research vessel into a steamboat with electrical lighting, and even a refrigerator!
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
A visit to the ship itself is what initially moved me to writing the piece. The museum beside it showed Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions through the Antarctic, and the incredible risks that came with them. What I didn’t realise was how the Discovery was used during the first world war as a convoy to the Russian Empire, through the boreal Barents Sea.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
My favourite part of the writing process is also my least, in a strange way. The editing and revisions of a piece, which for me often drags into grammatical warring, with punctuation in desperate battle against one another. But there is a deep satisfaction in finishing a piece and whittling the original idea and draft into the more economical heart of the piece.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
My favourite slice of history would have to be the painted ‘Picts’ of my ancestors between the 3rd and 10th century. Whilst a vast simplification of the heterogenous cultures of the Scottish people of the time, there is something ancient and mystical about that time. To me it invokes still lochs, pointed crannogs, and la Tène styled art.
Struan Gow is a Scottish writer currently living in St Andrews. His writing varies from religious satire to social commentary, and often connects to his Scottish heritage. His work can be found within the Black Poppy Review and Acumen’s Young Poets section.