1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book changed my life because it altered the way I look at things. Although I have always been interested in small details, the way a person stands, the way adjacent colours react with each other, I’m now always wondering how those things can become part of a story.
Also, it led to new friendships. Winnipeg has a thriving writing community and as I was a newcomer to the city when I began my first novel I got a chance to become part of something.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I wrote some poems when I was about six years old but lost interest in it until I started writing my second book Ladder. This novel is written from the viewpoint of a young girl who loves poetry so it was an opportunity for me to use this form of expression within the framework of a novel.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Once I have an idea the writing comes quickly. It’s the re-writing that takes the time. I often write rough drafts in a journal with a beautiful ink pen (the implement is important) then transfer the work to the computer for re-writing and editing.
4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I find it much more difficult to write short stories than novels so I have only written very few short pieces. I started both my novels with the intention that they would be long-term projects and most definitely ‘books.’ I usually write an outline structure and then start by writing scenes. I can usually visualize the content of the scenes quite clearly but in the beginning don’t know what order they go in or how they might be related to the other types of narrative. The characters usually won’t speak at first so dialogue comes last.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I have only recently begun to enjoy public readings. A successful public reading inspires confidence and for me confidence improves my writing.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
The starting point for both my novels was trying to get a sense of the zeitgeist of the day. I thought very hard about what really shapes our lives in the twenty first century. What concerns people? Where are we in time and space? What forces structure our lives?
Seal Intestine Raincoat, my first novel, dealt with the dual themes of disconnection and isolation Not only are there millions of recent immigrants in the world who are separated from their original communities but city dwellers in general are becoming increasingly disconnected from their geography and climate. I remembered a piece of clothing I had seen many years earlier in a museum in England. It was a seal intestine raincoat made by an Inuit man in Northern Canada and it seemed to epitomize a way of life that used to be so independent and intimately connected to the land.
The large-scale wall building that is currently going on in many countries throughout the world inspired my second novel, Ladder. In this I explored the themes of human territoriality, repression and boundaries. I also considered the power and meaning of garden making
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
When I began writing I realized how much everyone loves stories. People are hungry for them, so I think the most important role of the writer is to tell stories that readers are provoked by and/or empathize with. When people first gave me feedback on my writing I began to realize that they really did bring their own perspectives to the tale which not only gave the work a greater texture and depth but allowed them, as readers, to react with the story in their own terms.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
For me the process of working with an outside editor is essential.
Working with the editors at NeWest Press (Doug Barbour and Tiffany Foster) on my first novel was an absolute joy. I respected their opinions and I felt they respected mine and it was wonderful to see the manuscript just get better and better.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Something that was said to me just before giving the reading at my recent book launch-‘read slowly and glance at the audience every now and then.’ Quite simple but it seemed to be worth remembering.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between writing and gardening design? Are there similarities, overlap at all between? What do you see as the appeal?
The transition from garden design, creating something via a drawing, to writing, creating something via words, has been a fascinating one for me. I have spent my life as a landscape designer visualizing something that isn’t there and then using a drawing to explain it to someone else. There are many similarities with the writing process and each form of creativity has enriched the other. In fact in my second novel, Ladder, one of the main characters driving the plot is the garden. Garden design involves thinking about scale, rhythm, movement, tension, juxtaposition, contrast and time scales, all of which are important during the writing of a novel.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I write early in the mornings at the weekend and often in the evening during the week. I cannot write without music and listen to the same tracks repeatedly. Gavin Bryars, Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks) and Captain Beefheart all make great background music.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I put the piece away for a while and do something else. I also ask other people to read it because good feedback often seems to jumpstart stalled writing.
13 - If there was a fire, what's the first thing you'd grab?
To be honest, my computer.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I like fragments, collected from almost anywhere, that can be put into a new context and so become something else. The animated films of the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmejer are wonderful examples of this. Museum collections are also a great source of ideas.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I love the writing of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Paul Auster, Will Self, Douglas Coupland, Liz Jensen, Chandra Mayor, Arundhati Roy, Sylvia Plath, Dave Eggers and Haruki Murakami.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Without question, see more of the world.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
When I was at school I told the careers advisor I wanted to be a journalist. He told me it was a cut-throat business and I would never survive. Unfortunately I listened to him.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
When I first immigrated to Canada I could not get a job for the first eighteen months so I decided I would fill the time productively and write a novel. The key was having the time, not only to focus on the writing but also to think what would be an interesting thing to do and how to go about doing it.
19 - What was the last great book you read?
What was the last great film?
20 - What are you currently working on?
The final draft of my second novel Ladder. I’m also thinking about and researching my third novel.