Writing and writers and how and what and why

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a blog tour. My task: answer four questions about writing and tag two other Canadian authors. Seems straightforward and I will get down to that in a few lines, but, before I begin, I’d like to thank Jane Eaton Hamilton, my newest writer friend, for inviting me to join the tour.

Jane is the author of seven books. Her latest, a book of poetry titled Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes, will launch in September. She has won the CBC Literary Award twice, been shortlisted for it numerous times, and her work has garnered an impressive and long list of awards and accolades. Plus, she’s a very nice person.

Jane’s most recent win was this year’s CBC Literary Award for her short story, Smiley – you can read it here, and you’ll be pleased that you did; it’s masterfully written, beautifully subtle and evocative. Jane and I were introduced at the awards ceremony held in Montreal in March. Now, I don’t make friends very easily, perhaps as a factor of a childhood spent here and there and never long in one place, but Jane and I clicked like nobody’s business. We live at opposite ends of this big country and have met up only once since that introduction, and yet we are becoming good friends and this, for me, is a delight and a revelation.

Jane and I will be seeing each other again in Montreal in November when she tours, Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes. We’ll be reading together, along with Deanna Young and Michael Kenyon, at Drawn & Quarterly Books on November 5. More on that later.

Now for the what, the why, and the how of the blog tour.

What am I working on? 

It’s been almost a year since my first book, The Water Here is Never Blue, hit the shelves. Since then I’ve been kept busy writing about that writing and dealing with the sometimes difficult and occasionally delightful journey that a book takes once it’s been launched. I haven’t had the wherewithal to start the writing of a new project, but ideas, images, and narrative threads have been dancing around, pairing up and shattering apart, percolating, and gestating in the background of my mind for months. In one week I will be in Australia, and there, in the Red Centre of that far away place, I will begin, in earnest, something new.

Something new, yes, but what exactly I am not certain. Fiction, yes, a novel, I think likely, but I also have the skeletal plan of a book of nonfiction, something that would be labelled “memoir” again. And, I also have a slew of essay and article and short story ideas that are all getting pretty impatient about being kept silent in the corners of my mind.

How does my work differ from other work in its genre? 

I like to think my writing has a unique voice and that I write nonfiction that reads like a novel – hence the tag “creative” and “literary.” In The Water Here is Never Blue I set out deliberately to write about the politically tumultuous places and times covered (Guyana just after independence and Timor during the Indonesian invasion) from the perspective and with the limited understanding and wonder of the naive child I was at the time. I think I managed that. I think it was an approach that differed from what others may have done with the same material. I was both rewarded and punished for my choice, but it’s not one I’d change if I were embarking on the same project today.

Other writers, some reviewers, and quite a few readers who have sought me out have had nice things to say about my writing. It’s been described as very lyrical. It’s been said that The Water Here is Never Blue is a “highly original concept” and that it “glitters like a literary novel.” Linda Spalding wrote that it “is a unique story, beautifully told,” and Donna Morrissey that it is “multi-layered” and “told in the raw yet innocent voice of the narrator.” All very cockle-warming and pleasant and, dare I hope, honest. If nothing else, such praise inspires me to slog on with the next project.

Why do I write what I do? 

I write because I always have. I write because I love playing around with words, shuffling verbs, making paper dirty with those 26 letters granted by my mother tongue. I write because when I don’t (and I’m proficient at avoidance) I start to growl and bare my teeth. I write because I believe there is value in illuminating the small wonders that we all experience and which bind us despite our infinite and sometimes monstrous differences.

How does my writing process work? 

Writing, for me, is fraught with myriad antithetical impulses. I love it. I hate it. I dread it. I don’t want to shake myself back to reality when I’m rollicking along the sentences I’m building.

But, long before that stage, the actual writing stage, I begin with a concept – some philosophical conundrum or moral complexity. This is the fermentation stage and during it, because I find the farthest end of the abstract spectrum a bore, I start gathering concrete details that I think will help reveal whatever concept has me by the throat. My mind is never not thinking about the project. Sometimes that mental activity is going on deep in the background and sometimes it is in the foreground, but it never stops. Things seen on a walk, a word overheard or seen on a page, a flash of colour, a particular sound, a smell detected on a subway car, these are all building blocks to something that will be written. This stage usually includes a lot of ideas that start off as small bits and pieces but gradually gel into larger, more complex things – maybe characters, maybe narrative threads.

When the time is available, when the funds allow, when I can’t stand not writing any longer, I start off. I try to keep to a regular schedule, I commit to spending the allotted number of hours in front of the computer. I write longhand when I’m stuck but find things flow better on the computer. I try not to count words until I’m well into the process. The writing usually builds in a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back manner so that by the time I’ve finished a full draft it’s fairly polished. I’ve begun to realize that I produce more in the afternoon than in the morning, but on writing days I always make myself begin in the morning. I try to take Hemingway’s advice and leave off in the middle of something that is going well so that the next day’s start is made a little easier.

And up next …

Elise Moser, novelist, children’s author, and tireless activist for writers, is up next. She is the author of two books – most recently the YA novel, Lily and Taylor, published by Groundwood, and Because I Have Loved and Hidden It, an adult novel published in 2009 by Cormorant. Elise’s writing is punchy and powerfully descriptive. She handles her narratives lyrically and with skill; her books are a delight to read because of that but also because Elise tackles tough issues that need to be tackled.

I will be hosting Elise’s contribution to the tour here. Watch for her in the next week or two.

Goodreads reviews here, Lily and Taylor and here, Because I Have Loved and Hidden It


.   Previous writers’  posts on the blog tour   .



3 thoughts on “Writing and writers and how and what and why

  1. Hi Shelagh,Just a small observation from me ….Some of the most distinctive and impactingnovels / wrtitngs were pronounced through the eyes of youth … Anne Frank Harper Lee 🙂 HDate: Thu, 21 Aug 2014 22:20:40 +0000 To: hew2u@hotmail.com

  2. Pingback: tour de blogs | Matilda Magtree

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s