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Interview with Gary Barwin

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picture of Gary BarwinGary Barwin is a writer, composer, multimedia artist and the author of twenty-one books of poetry, fiction and books for children. His recent books include Scotiabank Giller Prize and Governor General’s Award shortlisted Yiddish for Pirates and the poetry collection Moon Baboon Canoe. Barwin teaches creative writing in the Mohawk College Continuing Education program and will be the writer-in-residence at McMaster University and the Hamilton Public Library for 2017–2018. Born in Northern Ireland to South African parents of Ashkenazi descent, Barwin moved to Canada as a child. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Barwin will be in Thunder Bay on October 30th, 2017 for the International Festival of Authors event at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery; he will be presenting his new book of poetry, No TV for Woodpeckers.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your new poetry collection, No TV for Woodpeckers?

Gary Barwin: I was hoping to be loved by everyone. And also to be carried through the streets as everyone cheers, though some also exclaim, “Mmm,” because my poems are so profound. But really, I believe that poetry is a powerful technology for exploration of both thought and feeling, of concepts and a sense of being-in-the-world. It’s a kind of tool for investigation. I was interested in considering our relationship to our environment and how we live in interconnected spaces. I have hiked in Hamilton for decades and recently began kayaking through the Cootes Paradise marsh at the end of my street. I was stunned to discover such a vast range of lifeforms there—there were some creatures that I didn’t recognize (the water vole? who knew?)—particularly in this famously post-industrial city. The second part of the book explores human experience and language more generally. These are strange times (they’re always strange times!) but I was interested in exploring the braid between language, poetry and contemporary experience—of family life, grief, media, culture, humour, wonder, confusion and consternation. You know, the usual.

Of course. No TV for Woodpeckers is split into two parts: “Needleminer” and “Marlinspike Chanty.”  What’s the significance of those titles?

Needle miners are types of moth. In larval form, they burrow into the needles of conifers. This sequence was created by burrowing into pre-existing poems, populating them with species names that can be found in Hamilton, Ontario where I live. Clearly, I’m a pest. But what’s a pest is relative. Needle miners have a rich culture of their own and are proud to be needle miners. ­­

A marlinspike is a pointy tool used by sailors for separating rope. Hopefully these poems poke into knotty things and make the reader want to sing. Or call out. Or haul on a yardarm.

Well now I can’t wait to see if anything like that happens when you’re reading here in Thunder Bay. In “Needleminer,” you reworked (or “repopulated”) pre-existing texts with various animals from the Hamilton area. How did you choose which texts to repopulate in this way?

That is a good question. I thought about using texts about Hamilton or texts that expressed a particular thematic connection to issues of ecology, place or the environment, but in the end I decided to use texts that were formally rich, that were mini-textual environments in themselves. I repopulated the texts with species names (from plant-life, insects, animals) and then in the last part, I used anatomical terms used in the identification of human parts as well as other species to explore the further interconnection between human and non-human. The result was portmanteau words (or perhaps neologisms)—a hybrid language environment, just as we live in a hybrid environment, neither human-made nor natural, but a complex interconnected situation.

The book is full of many different styles of poems. Do you have a favourite poetic form to write?

In my country, we don’t write poetic forms, poetic forms write us. But it is kinda true: I try to be open to the possibilities suggested by the merest wisps at the beginning of writing a poem. I try to be aware of where it might take me, to be open to trusting the impulse that I perceive in the writing itself rather than lumbering in like a galoot stomping all over things with his big poetic clompers and missing a range of possibilities. So I don’t know that I have a favourite style, but I have a favourite process. That feeling when a poem begins to go madly off in all directions and my job is just to try to keep up.

I think that’s one of the best feelings, whatever you’re writing. Thinking about other kinds of writing, you’re also a novelist, composer, and multimedia artist who has worked on a large range of different media (including visual poetry, children’s books, and music). What draws you to this wide range of medium?

I love to explore how the different media bounce off each other. How they are just different dimensions of the other. And for me, one thing inspires another. It’s exciting to see how the parts of a medium can create a world, a kind of energy field.

Do you have a favourite medium to work with?

Truth. It’s my favourite medium. Sorry, I lied.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing some kind of a Western, but set in Eastern Europe. Right now, a scene where my protagonist is getting a shave and a haircut when he has a revelation. He has to retrieve his testicles from a glacier where they were shot off years before. He wants to have a child and so now he needs them again.

Interesting. I wish him luck in finding them. What book or author inspired you to write?

As a small child, I remember listening to stories, but also to language itself. The sound of it. The patterns. The fact that it existed, that it was something between people and the world, that it could help you notice things, but that it was also a thing in itself. And different people used it differently. How could I not want to try it out, to explore it.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Whatever makes their body and brain feel electric. I think it’s a good experience to, at least sometimes, read books that change how you think books work, change what you think is possible in a book and therefore in your thought and experience of the world.

And what are you currently reading?

About twenty different books at once. I just finished, Pockets, a tiny perfect novel by Stuart Ross. Strange, surprising and moving. Also, Cop House, short stories by Sam Shelstad which is just out. And Whereas by Layli Long Soldier, an Indigenous American poet is remarkable.

No TV for Woodpeckers cover

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Interview with Grace O’Connell

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picture of grace oconnellGrace O’Connell is the author of The Globe and Mail Best Book Magnified World and 2014 winner of the Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing, and her work has appeared in various publications including The Walrus, Taddle Creek, The Globe and Mail, National Post and Elle Canada. She teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto and works as a freelance writer and editor.

O’Connell will be in Thunder Bay on October 30th, 2017 for the International Festival of Authors event at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery; she will be presenting Be Ready For The Lightning.

Shauna Kosoris: What can you tell me about your new novel, Be Ready for the Lightning?

Grace O’Connell: It’s the story of Veda, who ends up on a bus that is being hijacked after her issues with her brother Conrad drive her from their hometown of Vancouver. Conrad and Veda’s connection is the heart of the book: he is troubled and violent but deeply loyal to and gentle with Veda.

The book deals with how her most difficult experiences end up being key to getting her out of the hijacking, how she ended up there, and what happens afterwards. For me, it’s an exploration of violence – the obvious moments of violence and the more insidious ones too, and how they shape our lives.

Why did you decide to write about a hostage situation?

It started out as a way to deal with anxiety that I was experiencing when my niece (the first grandkid in our family) was a toddler. She was out and about in the world more and I couldn’t stop worrying. Then I’d start wondering what I would do in a situation like the one in the book… if I could protect the people I love. I thought, “I’m not brave, I’m not strong – what would happen if someone like me was in that kind of situation? What if your only weapons are words?” The hijacking was where the writing started. Veda turned up on that bus and my writing process was “Who is this woman and why is she here?” Discovering Veda was a joy.

It’s always fun when characters start to come alive while you’re writing. Along with your novels, you’ve written a lot of shorter pieces, both fiction and nonfiction. What was your first published piece?

My first published piece ever was actually a suite of poems, believe it or not. Three short, linked poems called “Forgetting Freud” appeared in a lovely literary journal called Lichen. It was Lichen’s last issue ever, and there were a lot of amazing writers in it, and I was so, so thrilled. Strangely enough, a gentleman at an event the other day brought a copy of it for me to sign. I was so impressed – it came out ten years ago!

Wow, that’s so exciting! Do you have a favourite short piece you’ve written?

I think if I had to choose, it would be “The Many Faces of Montgomery Clift.” I don’t normally write autobiographically, but there is a lot of my own life in that story, and of a dear, dear, dear friend of mine, so I feel very close to the piece, even though there’s plenty that’s strictly fictional in it too.

I had always wanted to publish in Taddle Creek too, which is where the story first appeared, so it felt like a big milestone for me. Plus I’m a title nerd and that’s one of my favourite amongst my titles. I’m a sucker for a long title.

Along with writing, you’re also an editor with Open Book; how did you get involved with them?

I’d been a fan of the site for a while, and when they were expanding and needed a (at the time) Contributing Editor, I pounced on applying. I interviewed via Skype and was so, so happy when I got the good news. I had just left my previous job with the Writers’ Trust of Canada, and I was excited to get to work with another awesome CanLit-focused non-profit. That was six years ago now, but it feels like no time at all.

You also teach creative writing at the University of Toronto. What are the most  challenging and most rewarding aspects of that job?

The most challenging aspect, hands down, is how time consuming it is, especially marking and giving feedback. When I’m marking, between Open Book and teaching and freelancing, I’m working days, evenings, and weekends. It’s overwhelming at times. It’s important to me to give the students as much feedback and editorial value as possible, but it’s definitely mentally exhausting.

The best part is when I hear from the students about their experiences in the course. I’ve had more wonderful notes from students than I can count, and I’ve definitely gotten a little weepy over some of them. Because I teach students who are early in their writing journey, it’s a really magical, vulnerable, exciting time. It’s a privilege to get to have an impact on writers at that crucial early stage.

What are you working on now?

The most honest answer right now is just day job stuff. Between Open Book and teaching and promoting Be Ready, life is lovely but very, very busy. But I do have a seed of an idea germinating in my mind, and one or two shaky little scenes written. The idea has to do with two lifelong friends caught up in an unhealthy relationship, and a crisis point in that relationship.

Good luck with everything!  Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

Atwood was the first adult author I ever read and her work definitely imprinted on me early. There’s a wonderful quality of clarity to her writing that I love. She has great literary devices and wordplay, but she’s never overly dense or complicated for no reason. It’s wonderfully clean prose. Clarity is a quality I really prize in fiction writing, and something I strive for. It’s often easier to write the big, convoluted, wordy paragraphs than to make a sleek, streamlined paragraph really sing. And she’s funny too – I learned from reading her work that you can write an emotionally driven novel with serious, difficult life events in it and still have a sense of humour about it. That felt real and balanced to me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Bronwen Wallace’s book of short stories, People You’d Trust Your Life To, is an amazing collection. It’s her only prose book (she was a fabulous poet as well) and it was published after her death from cancer. It’s Munro-esque in that it’s just jaw-droppingly well crafted realist short stories, but it’s a bit grittier. It’s heartbreaking to think of all the books she would have written if she had the time.

If I can squeeze a second one in, I would say that Jeanette Winterson is a fantastic author to read to remind us just how much can be done in fiction. She’s limitless in her creativity.

And what are you currently reading?

I’ve just started Heather O’Neill’s brilliant novel The Lonely Hearts Hotel and I picked up Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister at the Word on the Street this weekend when I had the (amazing!) opportunity to read with her – really looking forward to that as well.

be ready for the lightning cover

Interview with Terry Fallis

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picture of Terry FallisTerry Fallis earned an engineering degree from McMaster University. Drawn to politics, he worked for cabinet ministers at Queen’s Park and Ottawa. His first novel, The Best Laid Plans, began as a podcast, then was self-published, won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, was re-published by McClelland & Stewart to great reviews, was crowned the 2011 winner of CBC’s Canada Reads as “the essential Canadian novel of the decade,” and became a CBC Television series. His next two novels, The High Road and Up and Down were finalists for the Leacock Medal, and in 2015, he won the prize a second time for his fourth book, No Relation. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.

Fallis will be in Thunder Bay on October 30th, 2017 for the International Festival of Authors event at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery; he will be presenting his new novel, One Brother Shy.

Shauna Kosoris: You’ve had quite the career: you were trained as an engineer, worked as a political strategist for high profile members of the Liberal Party, and now are writing books. How did you end up here, writing books?

Terry Fallis: A love for language, books, reading, and writing eventually asserted itself. My father engendered a love and reverence for the English language when I was very young. Despite a rather circuitous route, writing a novel now feels as though it were almost inevitable. It did take me a while to get started. In fact, I didn’t write my first novel until I was 45 years old. So it’s never too late!

And now you’ve written six novels! What inspired your newest novel, One Brother Shy?

I am a member in good standing of the write what you know school of writing. There’s very little autobiography in my novels, but I do know about the issues and social dynamics at play in my novels. Writing with authority and authenticity is important, so I stick to things I know about, care about, or have experienced. At the core of this novel is the relationship between identical twin brothers. It just so happens that I am an identical twin. My twin brother Tim and I are still very close and we talk every day and see one another at least once a week, if only to play our weekly ball hockey game. We also still look very much alike and are routinely confused for one another. So it felt quite natural writing about twins even though virtually nothing about the story in the novel parallels my own life.

The main character of One Brother Shy, Alex MacAskill, often thinks one thing but says something different out loud. Where did you get the idea for this from?

I wanted the challenge of writing a narrator who is not just flawed in a human way as the narrators in my other novels are, but who is also damaged. Alex MacAskill, the narrator in One Brother Shy, suffered a very serious and very public humiliation ten years before the novel opens, and it has knocked him off his path in life. Outwardly, he is extremely shy and rarely strings more than a few words together when he can’t avoid talking to someone. But he carries on this witty, vibrant and vital dialogue in his head. I’m trying to show that beneath the extreme reticence is a thoughtful and funny person. So by showing the inner dialogue in italics and then what he actually says out loud using quotation marks, you get a much more three dimensional view of Alex.

And where did you get the idea for his boss, Genghis Khan Simone?

I think most people over the course of a career encounter at least one Simone Ashe, though perhaps not quite as extreme as I have portrayed her. I’ve been very lucky and have never had a boss like her, but I have friends who have. I like to use somewhat extreme characters to help propel the comic potential in the story. Writing Simone was lots of fun.

Oh, I bet! In your first book, The Best Laid Plans, the two main characters are really into feminist literature. Feminist literature and causes come up again in your other works (most notably Poles Apart, your story about feminist blogger Eve). Why does feminism appeal to you so much as a literary topic for your writing?

I find it much easier to write about topics that I care about. I’ve been a staunch feminist since my time in the national student movement back in the early 1980s. It’s an issue I’ve thought and read a lot about over the years and I remain quite interested in it. We certainly still have some distance to go before equality can be proclaimed. As you’ve noted, you can see my interest in gender equality lurking in the background of my novels, and it’s front and centre in Poles Apart.

I also need to ask you about your unique writing process. I read in an interview you did with Feathertale that you flip an idea around in your head, then heavily plan the book before sitting down to finally write just one draft. How did you discover this method?

I’m an engineer by academic training even though I’ve never practiced engineering in the formal sense. So I applied my engineer’s brain to the challenge of writing a novel. Bridges aren’t built without blueprints/ I don’t write novels without blueprints. So I spend several months thinking through the story and mapping it out before drafting three or four pages of bullet points for each chapter. Writing the actual manuscript is the very last step in my so-called writing process.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently hard at work on my seventh novel, tentatively entitled If at First You Succeed. I should be writing the manuscript later this fall and it should be published in the fall of 2018.

I’d like to finish up with a couple of quick questions on what you read. What book or author inspired you to write?

Robertson Davies and John Irving were both quite influential. I love their novels and return to them often.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Well, following up on my response to the previous question, A Prayer for Owen Meany was a very important novel to me and I frequently encourage people to read it. It has everything I could ever ask for in a story.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill. It’s nonfiction and traces the lives of several influential people, including Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.

One Brother Shy cover

Interview with Lorraine Reguly

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picture of Lorraine RegulyLorraine Reguly, BA/BEd, is an author and English teacher-turned-freelancer for hire. She offers 4 different services on Wording Well: writing/blogging, and editing. She also helps others become published authors! Check out her services and see what she can do for YOU. You can also visit her author site, Laying It Out There.

Shauna Kosoris: Your first book, Risky Issues, is made up of mostly fictional short stories. Why did you decide to change to nonfiction for your new book, From Nope to Hope?

Lorraine Reguly: I saw that many people needed help.

I wrote about my suicide attempt, and that article hit the #1 spot on Google. I was getting over 500 people a day reading that blog post. I was surprised that so many people were contemplating suicide, and were looking for answers on what to do, on how to cope with their problems, and how to improve their lives.

As someone who continually struggled with suicidal thoughts for years, I wanted to share the exact strategies and techniques that I used (and still use, on occasion) to overcome mine. I also wanted to share how I maintain a positive outlook on life now. I am a much happier person than I ever was… now. Finally. Thank God!

From Nope to Hope is a book that will change your life! It also contains a built-in workbook with exercises for the reader to do (at the end of each chapter).

FYI… My first book, Risky Issues, was my “practice book.” I wanted to make sure I could go through all of the steps to self-publishing.

My second book is my pride and joy (next to my son, of course!). From Nope to Hope took me about a year to write, and I shed many tears during the process because of all the old memories it brought up. However, I completed it, published it, and sold many copies. I’m proud of myself for helping others. It brings me great joy to receive emails and messages from people I have helped. There is no greater feeling in the world than when someone tells me I literally saved their life. Wow. It’s just amazing!

After overcoming many obstacles in your life (many of which you share in From Nope to Hope), you were able to turn your life around. What do you credit with helping you get to this point?

There are many factors that contributed to the positivity in my life. The person who drove me to change myself was my son. He is also the reason I always chose to continue to live and move forward.

The other factors are the strategies and techniques mentioned in my book, From Nope to Hope.

However, it was the epiphany I had while I was in the hospital when my appendix burst in 2012 and I nearly died. I realized that I wanted to live, that I didn’t want to die without saying goodbye to my son, and that I had so many things I wanted to accomplish before I died.

So I began LIVING. I reconnected with my son, and many wonderful things happened as a result.

How Re-Uniting with My Son Impacted My Life tells them all!

Along with publishing your books, you’re also an accomplished blogger.  How did you get involved in copywriting?

Once I began blogging back in 2013, others started noticing me and how well I write. My writing is always perfect and edited to perfection. I started guest-posting as a way to “get my name out there,” and one website owner hired me to write articles each month for his site. I then began marketing myself as a freelance writer and editor.

Once I became an author, I started offering services to help others become authors too.

These are the services I offer.

What was your first published piece?

I have had many published pieces both online (in the last several years) and in local newspapers (about 20 years ago!) so I honestly cannot remember. Sorry!

For a list of my online publications, you can refer to my portfolio on Wording Well.

Thinking about Wording Well, why did you start your freelance writing, editing, and coaching service?

First and foremost, as a way of helping others. Secondly, to supplement my income.

I currently have multiple income streams. You can read more about them all in the article called The Essence of Blogging (+ How to Earn Money Online).

You have written many different pieces, from short stories and articles to blog posts and poetry.  Do you have a favourite writing style?  

LOL – I like them all!

I like writing true, factual accounts about both my life and about any topic, in general.

I love writing poetry.

My favorite would have to be sharing stories about my life, though. I love talking about myself and how far I have come in my life.

To learn a bit about the obstacles I have faced and the situations I’ve overcome, you can read My Life Journey (#inspirational #poetry + #motivational #poem).

What are you working on now?

I’m considering a historical book about Winston Hall, an apartment building that contained about 130 apartments before it ultimately burned down. It used to once house the women who worked in World War II and it, at one point, contained a bowling alley, a dance hall, and a concession stand that later became a convenience store.

In fact, my mom was the last person to run the store. I also worked there, as did my sister.

My paternal grandmother and grandfather lived in the building for about 40 years. I lived there, too, for about one-and-a-half years, with my son, when he was a baby (to age one). I had many friends who lived there. I grew up in a house across the street from Winston Hall.

Winston Hall was a HUGE part of my childhood!

What book or author inspired you to write?

No book. No author.

My mother was an elementary school teacher who quit teaching when I was born. I was her firstborn child and she taught me how to read and write at a VERY young age.

I was reading and writing cursive by the time I was in Grade 1. Other children my age back then were still learning how to print within two lines, and I was already writing within one. (I remember this because I got in trouble for disobeying my teacher. Can you believe that?)

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

No. People should read whatever they are interested in.

My son does not read books, but he loves magazine and Internet articles.

I, on the other hand, prefer novels – mystery novels, to be exact.

And what are you currently reading?

I’ve heard many good things about Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and so I’m going to read that soon!

I’m currently reading (and editing) Maxwell Ivey Jr’s 3rd book. Max is a blind man from Houston, Texas, who is someone who is mega-inspirational to me. He lost over 250 pounds, runs two businesses, wrote a motivational guide book to success, wrote a book about weight loss success, and then travelled to New York City alone via train for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in 2016-2017.

Max also uses social media, has two websites, and is internationally known as The Blind Blogger, a moniker I gave him! He is simply AMAZING and is someone I admire the most in this world.

Leading You Out of the Darkness Into the Light: A Blind Man’s Inspirational Guide to Success is his first book.

It’s Not the Cookie, It’s the Bag: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Weight Loss Success is his second.

We are still finalizing the title for his third!

Learn more about Max’s books.

Learn more about mine.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share a few tidbits about me, my books, and my life!

Fro

Interview with Claire Fuller

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clairefuller-68-2-copyClaire Fuller is a writer and an artist who lives in Winchester, England. Her debut novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction, has been longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, nominated for the Edinburgh First Book Award 2015, and was a finalist in the American Booksellers Association 2016 Indies Best Book Awards. Her second novel, Swimming Lessons, was published in January 2017. You can find her online at clairefuller.co.uk.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your new novel, Swimming Lessons?

Claire Fuller: A couple of things started it. A piece of flash fiction that I wrote about a man on a beach and the things he finds washed up there. And a project I did with my husband before we were married, and when he had his own flat. We decided we would write notes to each other and hide them in each other’s houses – love notes, I suppose. When he packed up his flat to move in with me, he found all the notes I’d written to him, but seven years later there are still two notes somewhere in the house we share together.

I noticed that some of your descriptions in the book (for example “smelling the khaki colour of unwashed hair” on pg 51, “cigarettes the colour of wet bark” on pg 261, and “the place still stank of burning, the only smell that was pure black” on pg 287) were very synaesthetic. These descriptions always occurred around Flora. Did she have synaesthesia?

Flora does have synaesthesia. I wrote one of the descriptions without even thinking about it, and someone in my writing group pointed it out, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to go with, especially since Flora is an artist. I don’t have synaesthesia but I think I do see non-visual things visually. I was trying to explain to my husband the other day about how I see decades: the 1960s and 1970s are vertical, the 1980s change to horizontal, with the 90s at an incline of about 30 degrees. He had no idea what I was on about!

Wow, that’s interesting; I hope that will make its way into your writing one day! But now I have to ask – why did Flora love wandering around naked?

Hah! Flora’s a bit of a free spirit, don’t you think? She doesn’t care what other people think of her. Being free of her clothes makes her feel liberated, when actually she isn’t free at all of her family’s history.

And her family’s history is so important in Swimming Lessons, as half of the story is told through the letters Ingrid wrote to her husband about their marriage. Did you always know you would be telling the story in this way?

Not at all. The story started from Gil’s point of view and I got to about 30,000 words before I realised that it was wrong, and deleted half of it. Now Gil’s point of view is only the prologue. I decided I wanted to hear from Ingrid, but because in the present she has disappeared, I started writing a letter from her to Gil, and they just continued.

I’m so glad they did – I absolutely loved Ingrid’s letters. Thinking of things I loved, I thought your short story “Emily, Baker and Me” was fantastic. Do you still write short fiction?

Thank you! I do still write a lot of short fiction – short stories (I recently won the Royal Academy & Pin Drop short story prize) and flash fiction. I’m part of an online group called Friday Fictioneers where a photograph is posted online each week and writers around the world each write a 100-word story inspired by it. It’s great for honing writing skills, and anyone can join in.

Friday Fictioneers sounds like a lot of fun, and congratulations on your win! You’ve written a blog post from a year ago about your writing process. Has your process changed at all since then?

It hasn’t changed much. I’ve now finished the first draft of my third novel, and the only thing that was different to the process I described in that blog post is aiming for a particular word count each day. I stopped doing that when I was about half way through and just made sure I wrote something new each day. Making sure I had 1,000 or 800 new words each day was too much pressure, and too often I found the next day that they were bad words. It was better to aim for fewer, better words.

Your bio on your website says you studied sculpture at the Winchester School of Art. Do you still make sculptures?

I’m not doing much at the moment. It feels like writing is my creative outlet, although sometimes I do a bit of drawing.

That’s fair. What are you working on now?

As I mentioned, I’ve just finished the first draft of my third novel. My literary agent gets to read it first, and she and her colleagues have given me some broad ideas for improving it, so now I really want to get back to it and write another draft. It’s still too early to say what it’s about, mostly because I don’t know how to explain it without it taking three pages!

Well I can’t wait to read it, whenever it’s done. I’ve just got a few more questions for you about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

I’m not sure a particular book or author inspired me to write, but there are plenty I would like to write like. The ones that spring to mind are We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and Legend of a Suicide by David Vann.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

No, I don’t think there is. We all like different books, different authors, different genres, and that’s just fine. I’d just like everyone to read, full-stop.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. I’ve only just started it, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s non-fiction about loneliness and how that’s reflected in the lives and work of some particular artists.

cover of Swimming Lessons

Interview with Peadar O’Guilin

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Picture of Peadar O’GuilinPeadar O’Guilin grew up in beautiful Donegal in the far northwest of Ireland.  These days, he lives in Dublin where he toils day and night for a giant corporation.  You can find him on Twitter by following @TheCallYA.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write The Call?

Peadar O’Guilin: I have always believed that one idea is never enough to make a good novel — you need at least two. Everything grows from the interaction of these concepts. The first piece of inspiration I had for The Call was an image of somebody disappearing in a crowded room. I imagined their clothing falling to the floor and I wondered what had happened to them. I knew it had to be something bad, I just didn’t know what. I guess a lifetime of reading mythology and folklore finally broke through to the surface because I used the Irish mythology I’d grown up with to supply the answer. Our version of fairy tales are weird and beautiful and quite unlike the ones that are more common in the rest of the western world. Nobody could fail to be inspired by them, in my opinion.

I completely agree!  So why does the Call last exactly 3 minutes and 4 seconds?

I wanted it to last three minutes so that any witnesses would be on the edge of their seats and counting down all the way, terrified of what might come back. The extra four seconds are there for no reason other than the fact that life isn’t very neat.

That’s fair.  How did Nessa, a girl with weak legs, become the heroine in a story where the teens have to run for their lives?

I always pick heroes for my stories that everybody else expects to fail. They put her in a box, they dismiss and pity her. But Nessa is not the type to lie down and I love her for that.

You said you “picked” Nessa. Were there other characters you were debating about making the protagonist?

No, there were no other characters before Nessa came into existence. All of the others materialised in response to her. I “picked” her, in the sense that I knew I would need somebody that others would consider useless. My main characters are often thought of by others as a “waste of resources” and a “waste of time”. But, like all of us, they have enormous value that society is in danger of squandering.

All of the teens had such different adventures in the Grey Lands.  How did you decide on what each of them would go through?

I never do a lot of planning in my novels. I want to be every bit as surprised as the readers by what happens. When I sat down to begin each “Call”, I didn’t always know if that character would live or die, or what would happen to them. This is why I wrote it in the present tense. I wanted to feel the unpredictability of the story that I was creating. And you’re right — I knew I had to be very careful to make all of the stories wildly different from each other. To do anything else would have quickly bored the readers.

So which character’s Call surprised you the most?

There were quite a few that surprised me. I didn’t know Cahal would turn out to have an inner decency. I didn’t know Chuckwu would do what he did. And I really didn’t expect what happened to Emma. I could say more, but… spoilers!

Emma’s Call was probably the most surprising one for me as a reader as well.  Outside of the whole idea of being Called by the Sidhe, I found the Sidhe’s world to be quite fascinating.  Where did you get the idea for the Grey Lands?

The Sídhe needed to live somewhere awful so that their desire for vengeance would be bottomless. So, I designed a world that would be the opposite in every way from the home they lost: The Many-Coloured Land. I took away the colour they loved so much. I left them no animals, so that they had to create their own out of pure hatred.

The Grey Lands and the Bone World of your previous trilogy are both very brutal settings.  Why do these types of worlds appeal to you as a writer?

It’s all about increasing the stakes. The greater the threat, the more heroic the characters have to be to overcome them and the more we, the readers, fear for their safety and root for their success. At least, that’s how I feel.

So what are you working on now?

I’m working on a sequel to The Call. I have no name for it yet and don’t plan on writing more than two books in this series. I have plenty of other stories in my mental queue for when that’s done.

How exciting – I can’t wait to read that sequel! Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

I’ve been writing stories my whole life — at least since the age of five! So, I can’t remember what book first got me started. But the one that made me passionate about world-building, has to be The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Reading that the first time was like having a bomb go off in my brain with lights flashing and trumpets blaring. It changed everything for me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think the book everybody should read is the one that will do to them what The Lord of the Rings did to me. However, that book is different for every reader. Please, read whatever you love and feel no guilt about it. Sure, you need to study whatever books your school demands too, but in your own time, you should be free in every sense of the word.

And what are you currently reading?

Kid Got Shot by Simon Mason. It’s a YA mystery with fantastic characters. I loved his previous novel, Running Girl.

cover art of The Call

Interview with Shane Peacock

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author picture of Shane PeacockShane Peacock was born in a place that doesn’t exist … the city of Port Arthur, Ontario. He grew up in Kapuskasing, Ontario, then earned a Bachelor’s degree (Honours) in English and History from Trent University, and a Master’s degree in Literature from the University of Toronto. Shane worked as a labourer for Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company, a wilderness bush sprayer for Ontario Hydro, and a box mover for a university bookstore. But ever since childhood, his mind was on other things: on extraordinary people and events, on personalities who made legends of their lives, on what motivated them, and what made others accept supporting roles. He set out to write about such individuals, some real, some invented, and others so eccentric that they seemed to be a combination of both. Because he writes about unusual subjects, his research methods have, at times, been out of the ordinary too. He has learned the arts of tight-rope walking, silent killing, trapeze flying, and sumo eating, all in the service of his art. Shane and his wife, journalist Sophie Kneisel, live with their three children on a small farm near Cobourg, Ontario, where he continues to search for and imagine larger-than life characters. In his spare time he enjoys playing hockey, reading, and walking the wire, pretending that he is the hero in each story.

Shauna Kosoris: You are most well-known for your Boy Sherlock Holmes series.  What inspired you to write about a young Holmes?

Shane Peacock: The Boy Sherlock Holmes series grew from an idea for a novel about racism and prejudice, and the need for the opposite of those two horrible things, justice. There was no one named Sherlock Holmes in the first draft of the first novel. It was a story about a brilliant half-Jewish boy in Victorian London, plagued by racist tormentors in school, who ends up being implicated in a murder and must find the villain. It wasn’t until someone suggested that my character could actually be Sherlock Holmes that I re-constructed the novel to make it about him. That allowed it to grow in both its appeal and complexity.

That most certainly would allow the story to grow in interesting ways.  More recently, you were involved in the Seven series; how did you get involved in that?

Eric Walters asked me to be involved in the Seven Series. We had been friends and colleagues for a while, and when he came up with his brilliant idea of a series written by seven different novelists, with novels all with the same starting point (a grandfather’s dying wish that his seven grandson’s attempt the seven amazing things on his bucket list), I thought it would be fascinating to be part of it, almost like a writing exercise.

That does sound like fun!  Did you choose to write Adam Murphy’s stories in the Seven Series/Sequels/Prequels?

I most definitely chose to write Adam Murphy’s stories in the Seven Series/Sequels/Prequels. Eric simply gave the other six authors the premise of the series and then we all created our characters and took them where we wanted them to go. One of the many strengths of this triple series is the uniqueness of each novelist’s creations in their respective novels.

Your new series, The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim, centers around a very sensitive character who suffers from night terrors.  Did you plan for your protagonist, Edgar Brim, to have this sleep disorder?

The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim was always meant to be a book about fear and, in particular, a story about a boy who suffers from a sort of anxiety disorder (though it certainly wasn’t called that in his day). I added the sleep disorder known as “sleep paralysis” or “the hag phenomenon” to his character, a terrifying ailment that most certainly still plagues people when they wake up suddenly and cannot move. Some people, over the centuries, report some sort of presence in the room with them, often a sort of hag or witch who is sitting on their chest, paralyzing them, squeezing the breath out of them. Edgar Brim struggles with this throughout my horror trilogy.

Both your Boy Sherlock Holmes series and your new series about Edgar Brim are set in the Victorian era.  Why does the Victorian era/Gothic period appeal to you so much?

I think the Victorian period appeals to me so much because it occurred after photography had been invented but before moving film, so we can see images of people and places and buildings and machinery from that time, but they sit or stand there, ghostly and immovable. I am fascinated by the idea of making it move in my novels, of animating that fascinating historical period, especially in London. I am also a huge Charles Dickens fan … that will do it to you!

In the middle of working on all of these series, you’ve also written a children’s picture book.  Why did you decide to write a picture book about Vincent van Gogh?

As is often the case with artists of all genres, I didn’t choose to write a picture book about Vincent van Gogh as much as it chose me. I had written a short story about him long ago that Karen Li, a brilliant editor at Owlkids Books, learned about and asked if I might consider turning into a picture book. I am an admirer of Van Gogh, of his genius, his individuality and courage, and an enemy of bullying, so I put those two things together in “The Artist and Me” and told what turned out to be a unique picture book that has, thankfully, met with great critical acclaim.

All of your books to date have been aimed at younger audiences, both young adult and children.  Why do you like writing for these younger age groups?

Actually, my first book, The Great Farini, was for adults, all my plays, documentaries, journalism and even a novel I am working on now, are for adults.

Whoops, that’s my mistake.

But I do enjoy writing for the younger audiences. It is definitely fun to be anywhere from six to eighteen again. And it is also intriguing to tell stories that are challenging, as all YA literature is if you try to get it right – to stay on plot, make your work exciting, AND make it say something and be structurally and stylistically interesting.

It is often commented that my books are like adult novels for kids.

So what are you working on now?

I am writing the second novel in the Edgar Brim trilogy, entitled Monster, as well as a new picture book, and the adult novel. I also have an idea for a Teen romance (a very different sort of one) and am developing a strange new YA series.

Wow, you’re very busy – good luck with everything!  Finally, let’s talk a bit about reading.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I think the aforementioned Charles Dickens may have been the greatest influence on me. My father actually read us Oliver Twist and other Dickens works when we were pretty young and I was absolutely enchanted by the characters and the worlds I encountered. I am also a big fan of The Little Prince, which is prominent in each of my novels in the Seven Series, Sequels and Prequels.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Well, everyone should read Shakespeare. I know he is difficult for young people, but he is undoubtedly the greatest writer who ever lived and his stories are absolutely alive. They are magical. But Dickens is close behind.

And what are you currently reading?

I have been reading a lot of classic Horror stories for The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim, lots of Frankenstein, Dracula, Poe, and I recently read an amazing novel called Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which is 1,100 pages long and very complicated but also rewarding. At this moment, I’m part way into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The Fault in Our Stars, which I’ve somehow avoided for a while, is up next.

cover picture of Edgar Brim