Aimee Wall [photo credit: Richmond Lam], a Newfoundland native, is a writer and translator. Her essays, short fiction and criticism have appeared in numerous publications, including Maisonneuve, Matrix Magazine, the Montreal Review of Books, and Lemon Hound. Wall’s translations include Vickie Gendreau’s novels Testament (2016) and Drama Queens (2019), and Sports and Pastimes by Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard (2017). She lives in Montreal. We,Jane is her first novel.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t know that I’ve considered it in those terms or whether I am far out enough from the experience yet to see it clearly, but there was definitely something thrilling about finally feeling the little heft of a physical book. It felt like all the work I’d done over the years had led up to this thing.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I read pretty widely but it always comes back to novels. Fiction just felt like the most natural way for me to explore the questions I wanted to explore.
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 spent a lot of time circling the novel before I found my way into it. I read a lot, took a lot of notes, tried on different perspectives. But then once I found my way in, it came faster, if still in fits and starts.
4 - Where does a work of prose 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?
For We, Jane, I envisioned it as a novel from the very beginning. It was a question then of trying to wrap my brain around something that big. Sometimes it felt like trying to hold a jellyfish.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I admit to loving readings. I read aloud to myself as I’m writing so I can work toward a certain rhythm and speed, and so it’s fun to get another opportunity to sing the song you wrote, so to speak.
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?
There are different questions at different times, and I am maybe more interested in the asking than the answering, but for We, Jane, I was thinking a lot about collectives and the desire to belong. I was also thinking about intergenerational friendships and the way we put people on pedestals and whether we ever forgive them for falling from them, and about duty and inheritance, and about obligation.
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?
I have been thinking about this again lately, whether it is to reflect the world as it is or present something else, something new or unexpected, and probably it is some measure of both, in a balance that is ever shifting—I guess I maintain a healthy sense of uncertainty on this front.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with an editor was one of my favourite parts of publishing a book—it never stopped feeling like such an honour to have this smart person engaging so thoughtfully with my book, and asking interesting questions, and making suggestions, and just helping me see the novel more clearly, and ultimately make it better.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I remembering reading something once by Alexander Chee where he says something about how being too afraid of your own bad taste is a trap, and I think about that a lot.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (translation to fiction to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s fun to move from writing to translating and back again. Translating lets me “write” in other voices and other styles that I would maybe never take on myself as a writer, which is endlessly interesting. There’s also never a blank page in translating. But then I’m always happy to regain my own voice too.
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 have a day job as a translator so I often write in the early mornings before work, and then try to steal longer sprints of time, a week or two here and there, where I can hole up and go a little deeper.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Favourite books, old movies, conversations with friends, a lot of long walks.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
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?
Film, often. Photography, sometimes, and occasionally visual art.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So many, but among them and off the top of my head, Lucia Berlin, Lynne Tillman, Michael Winter, Zadie Smith, Joni Murphy, Lisa Moore, Nicole Brossard, Gail Scott, Elif Batuman, Deborah Levy, Nicholas Mosley, Jane Bowles, Brigid Brophy.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
The kind of hike that’s so long you might call it a trek.
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?
Lately I wonder how I could spend all day with a nice gang of dogs, is dog foster mom an occupation?
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t think I ever seriously entertained doing anything else.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just finished the third instalment of Deborah Levy’s living autobiography, Real Estate, not long after reading her novel The Man Who Saw Everything, and both are brilliant and invigorating. For film, I recently watched Costa-Gavras’ 1969 film Z for the first time and it blew my mind.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I am putting final touches on my translation of Alexie Morin’s Open Your Heart, which will be out this fall [ed. note: this interview was conducted in the summer of 2021].
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