Megan Coles is a graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland and the National Theatre School of Canada. She is co-founder and co-artistic director of Poverty Cove Theatre Company. Megan is currently working on The Driftwood Trilogy, adapting Lisa Moore’s short story Grace for the stage and writing a Theatre for Young Audience piece, Squawk. Her completed plays include Our Eliza, The Battery and Bound. Megan’s debut fiction publication, Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome, recently won the Winterset Award. Originally from Savage Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, Megan currently resides in St. John’s where she works as the Sales & Marketing Coordinator for Breakwater Books.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It’s too early to say how the first book changed my life. Eating Habits was just published this past October. So we’ll see. I expect understanding will occur in the manner of rolling hindsight driven epiphanies many years from now when I’m an eccentric old author recluse surrounded by standard poodles with promiscuous French sounding names. Though, the book won the Winterset Award. That felt relatively significant.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I didn’t. Poetry and fiction reared their dogged heads at approximately the same time. But the poems were awful. Never nearly meeting my expectations. So I abandoned them as is the case with many a frustrated youth. The fiction wouldn’t allow it. The fiction just kept demanding my attention even while I was in theatre school writing plays.
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?
I usually spark from a place of great interior outrage or conviction. Something sets me off on rampage and I become totally focused on it. It’s a rather intense, mentally concentrated process and can be emotionally exhausting for my friends who are unfortunately subjected to endless rants. I dedicated Eating Habits to them as penance for their never ceasing patience. This goes on for about 6 to 18 months. Then I start writing. Which coincides quite directly with the ladies informing me that my fixation is no longer acceptable brunch banter. In a way, their refusal to entertain my obsession forces me to the page. The first draft is never the thing. I will write as many drafts as the piece demands. I will write a hundred drafts. I think expecting perfection in a first draft is both naïve and arrogant. Not to mention, lazy. It takes me years. But I am always writing more than one thing so I sometimes appear prolific. It’s an elaborate ruse; I’m not prolific.
4 - Where does a work of 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?
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings aren’t part of my creative process. They come after the work is done. I seek total solitude during the writing. I will maybe show my dramaturge or my favourite humans what I’m working but only when I feel complete ownership of it. That’s it. Not before. In fact, I get right saucy when forced to reveal new or mid-process work. Readings are just the bit of fun that comes after. I sometimes get a kick out of heaving swears out into a room of mixed company while wearing heels. It’s a laugh.
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?
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?
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
The difference between a writer and a non-writer is writing. Do the work. Because that’s what it is. Craft.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to plays)? What do you see as the appeal?
I move between genres relatively fluidly. Right now, I’m writing non-fiction, short fiction and a Theatre for Young Audience piece. They utilize different parts of my brain. And I will warm up in that order, saving the theatre for last. I need everything properly stretched before I begin playwriting as managing various voices can be incredibly taxing. Training is necessary. Believing otherwise is foolish.
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?
When I am writing full time, I prefer to write early in the day, Monday to Friday. That’s rising around dawn and powering through until mid-afternoon. I consume a staggering amount of coffee before 11am and switch to herbal tea at lunch. Too much caffeine makes me animated. And I’m already pretty animated out of the gate. Currently, I’m working full time at Breakwater Books as the Sales & Marketing Coordinator so my writing tends to be relegated to weekend benders. To maximize this time, I’ll often cook something substantial on Friday evening or Saturday morning. I’ll bake an entire salmon at eight am to prevent having to prepare food while I’m writing. It’s a strategy. What works for me though, may not work for others.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don’t stall so much as burnout from overdoing it. Then I totally back off; get estranged from that desk. Running helps. Home renovation projects are a great distraction. I read a lot and everything. All writers or aspiring writers should read voraciously. My bedside tables are awash with poetry, novels, short fiction, there's a Walrus in every room of my house. I also listen to news programs while I clean: NPR, CBC, PRI, BBC. And I adore nature documentaries. David Attenborourgh narrates my dreams. Basically, I refuel on information. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s irresponsible, especially for a writer.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Fresh bread, saltwater, an overzealous wood stove. Mom, Dad, and Nan and Pop, respectively.
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?
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I think I’ll write a television show eventually. And a novel. That’s a forgone conclusion actually. I’m decided on it and currently percolating ideas. I just have to clear the deck of all the plays first so I can focus properly.
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?
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
There was never really a choice. It was what I was doing before I told anyone it was what I was doing. I studied biology for a while to please my parents who thought smart women should become scientists. I guess facade Megan was an ornithologist.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book: reread One Hundred Years of Solitude. Great film: Short Term 12 (it’s on Netflix).
20 - What are you currently working on?
A trilogy of plays, a Lisa Moore adaptation for the stage, a TYA commission, some short fiction, and a scatter secret poem (that I will only read to the girls after three glasses of wine in the privacy of someone’s living room).
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