Cheryl Strayed is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Torch, the New York Times bestselling memoir Wild, which was later made into a feature film starring Reese Witherspoon, a collection of essays Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There and a collection of quotes Brave Enough.
At 22, and in a state of overwhelming grief following the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed went on an impulsive 1,700km walk on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Canadian border. The account of her journey became her best-selling memoir Wild.
In 2012, Cheryl Strayed revealed herself as the hugely popular, straight-talking, anonymous advice columnist ‘Sugar’ for US website Rumpus. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of the best of the ‘Dear Sugar’ columns.
Last year Strayed published Brave Enough, gathering together more than 100 of her quotes and thoughts – ‘mini instruction manuals for the soul’.
Cheryl Strayed spoke to The Echo before setting off for her trek to Byron Bay.
Is Strayed your real name?
Yes. Strayed is my real, legal name and it has been since May 1995. I chose it for myself.
Did you keep a journal while you were on your Pacific Crest Trail hike? How did you write such vivid details?
I kept a journal all through my 20s and 30s, and yes, I kept a journal on my Pacific Crest Trail hike. My journal was enormously helpful as I wrote the book, often providing me with details I’d have forgotten. I also researched facts and consulted others about their recollections and interpretations of some of the events in Wild.
But like any memoir, Wild is based primarily on memory crafted with the intention of creating a piece of literature, not a report. I re-conjured moments, recreated conversations, feelings, landscapes, and the people I met as I remembered them.
Do you still hike and/or backpack?
Yes. It’s one of my favourite things to do.
How long did it take you to write your first book, Torch?
There are three answers to this question and they are all true: four years, seven years, and 34 years. I found it to be both great fun and difficult to write my first book. It takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline, determination, and magical thinking to keep the faith with a project such as a novel.
What is it anyway, aside from a story you made up while sitting alone in a room? The reason I finished Torch is that I finally came to understand that the only thing worse than having to really, truly write the whole damn thing was having to live with the fact that I didn’t. The day I wrote the final sentence I bawled my head off for an hour.
• Cheryl Strayed will be at Byron Writers Festival in conversation with Caroline Baum (Friday), The Art of Walking with John Faulkner and Damon Young (Saturday), The Americans with William Finnegan and Angela Flournoy (Sunday).