Miranda Hill is the author of the story collection Sleeping Funny, which won the City of Hamilton Award for Fiction, and of the story “Petitions to Saint Chronic,” which won the McClelland & Stewart/Writers’ Trust of Canada Journey Prize. Hill is the founder and executive director of Project Bookmark Canada, the organization building Canada’s literary trail. Hill will be in Thunder Bay for the International Festival of Authors on November 4th.
Shauna Kosoris: When you’re in Thunder Bay for the International Festival of Authors this November, you’re going to be reading from your collection of stories, Sleeping Funny. What can you tell me about it?
Miranda Hill: Sleeping Funny is a collection of nine short stories. And it’s a real mix of voices and styles and time periods, with everything from a story from the perspective of a 14 year-old girl in a sex-ed class where everyone starts seeing each other’s conceptions, to a story about a 19th century Presbyterian minister witnessing the demise of the passenger pigeons, to a modern day look at a group of neighbours in an upscale community, dealing with an outbreak of lice. I like to tell people it’s like a box of chocolates — if you don’t like the coconut cream you got this time, try again the next one might be cherry-filled.
That analogy sounds pretty fitting. Why did you decide to write a collection of short stories?
I love writing and reading short fiction. It’s a tighter focus than a novel, but there’s so much that you can do with it. It’s wonderful to me that in a small slice of a life or a world, you can create such resonance.
That’s so true. What was the hardest part of writing Sleeping Funny?
Accepting that so many different kinds of stories could go well together. I thought nobody would want to publish it, because all the stories were distinct. But in the end, it turned out to be something that my publishing company — and many readers — loved.
I’m glad to hear it. How has living in two places (Hamilton, Ontario, and Woody Point, Newfoundland) influenced your writing?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure. I have been working on the same book for more than two years now, and that encompasses the time that we’ve had our place in Newfoundland. Mostly, our place in Newfoundland is a wonderful retreat for me — a place that’s great to write in.
Along with writing, you have a coaching service called Page to Podium where you help writers launch their new books. Why did you decide to offer this assistance?
I really like to perform my work, and I know so many writers who don’t like to do readings, or don’t do a good job at it. I thought that I had something to offer, to help people transform their on the page talent to something that could be communicated to a live audience.
Sounds like a fantastic idea. You’re also the founder and executive director of Project Bookmark Canada. What’s that all about?
Project Bookmark Canada puts excerpts from stories and poems in the exact Canadian locations where literary scenes take place, so that you can stand right where the characters or narrator stand in a story, and read it right there. We call these installations “Bookmarks,” and we have 15 around the country. (Our most recent unveilings were of Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief in Port Hastings, Cape Breton and Lawrence Hill’s Any Known Blood in Oakville.) Piece by piece we’re building a Canadian literary trail so that Canadians and visitors can read their way across our country.
How exciting! How did you come up with this?
I was a mom of very young children, living in downtown Toronto without access to a car. I was doing a lot of walking — pushing baby carriages — and trying to sneak time to read while my children slept. Coincidentally, I wound up reading a lot of fiction set in the very places I was living or walking, and I realized that my experience of the space was heightened by knowing the stories set there, and that my relationship with the stories were deepened by having visited the places. I wanted everyone to have that same experience. It took a lot of thinking, learning and planning, but that idea became Project Bookmark Canada.
Between Page to Podium and Project Bookmark Canada, I’m surprised you still find the time to write! Are you working on anything new now?
I’m at work on a novel that stretches from Pittsburgh in the 1890s to Muskoka in the 1960s. It’s exciting to work on such a big project after many years of being focused on the smaller world of short stories.
Sounds like a lot of fun – good luck! Let’s finish up with a few questions about books and reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
So many! I’ve been a reader since I was young. It’s the way I experience the world, and the way I escape from it. So everyone I read and love, from Lloyd Alexander and Ursula K. LeGuin in my youth to Lisa Moore and Michael Crummey in my current life, have been influences.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
No! Wait, yes. There is a book or an author that everyone should read. But it’s different for each person. If you read enough, you’ll find out who that person, or what that story, is for YOU.
And what are you currently reading?
I just finished Weathering, by Lucy Wood, and am in the midst of Outline, by Rachel Cusk. I’ve loved them both.