They Said It: Quotes from Ten Canadian Authors

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Sometimes we don't have enough time, as readers, to read magazine or newspaper interviews with the authors we love or might come to love. But these can be a great way of adding more depth to the reading experience. Here are some snippets we found from interviews with ten of Canada's finest writers: Emma Donoghue, Elizabeth Hay, Steven Heighton, Rawi Hage, Bill Gaston, Lynn Coady, Wayne Johnston, Timothy Findley, Lorna Crozier, and Alice Munro.


"How do [I] feel about the label ‘lesbian writer’? I get asked this question all the time and I really appreciate the fact that so many readers who like my work want to defend me from nasty labels! But—on principle—I'm not going to object to 'lesbian writer' if I don't object to 'Irish writer' or 'woman writer,' since these are all equally descriptive of me and where I’m from. And the labels commit me to nothing, of course; my books aren’t and don’t have to be all about Ireland, or women, or lesbians. (And since publishing Room, I’m mostly known as the locked-up-children writer instead…)"

Emma Donoghue, author of among other books, Room and The Sealed Letter.


"I’m a fairly dogged worker. I like to be at my desk. But I am not wildly productive. A great confusion seems to overtake me in the early stages of any piece of writing, especially novels. There is a lovely initial time of musing, note-taking, mulling as I follow my interest in a general area—a place, an emotion, a difficulty. Then I find myself on the rack for quite some time, pulled in different directions, and pulled hard."

Liz Hay, author of Late Nights on Air and Alone in the Classroom, among other books, on her work process, in an interview with The New Quarterly.


"A scattered, discontinuous life is the postmodern norm; most of us, raised in generic suburbia, come from nowhere; writers of this drifting cohort seek to root themselves in language. Each book is a room in the home that the rootless writer, the deracinado, seeks to build out of words, images, ideas and narrative."

Steven Heighton, author of Every Lost Country and The Dead Are More Visible in conversation with Richard Cole in The Malahat Review.


"I think governments and corporations are fed up with democracy. We are getting into a transition where we might see some kind of dictatorship in the future. It has all the traits: dumbing down the public, attacking liberal institutions, funding military security. All the indications are there. I think the rulers want to be more pragmatic to attain their goals. Democracy is an obstacle for higher gains and more accessibility to power and profit. It's becoming a more cosmetic thing that they learn how to get around. I'm very scared."

Rawi Hage, author of De Niro’s Game, most recently, Carnival, and other books, in an interview published by World Literature Today.


the good body

“Criminals out west are harder to spot. It’s easier to get laid back east. West coast beer is superior, as is the wine, but drunkenness produces less guilt back east, so let’s say it’s even in this regard. People are more suspicious back east, but ultimately friendlier. Poets on the west coast are smarter but make less sense, so let’s say that’s even, too. Angels in the east are well-read (the classics) but moralistic. West coast angels left morals behind long ago.”

Bill Gaston, who moved from New Brunswick to BC, in response to the question, “What kind of quirky differences do you notice between the east and west coasts?” The interview appeared in a fun collaboration between The Malahat Review and The Fiddlehead. Steven W. Beattie called Gaston's The Good Body "one of the most criminally underrated Canadian books of the last 15 years" in The National Post.


"It’s so dangerous to idealize anything, or anyone, or any place, because it gives that thing or person or place a kind of permission to not have to change, and not have to evolve. It encourages us to bury our heads in the sand, or in values that are really morally neutral but that we pretend are moral goods: tradition, community and family for example."

Lynn Coady, author of The Antagonist, most recently, Hellgoing, and other books, talking about the regional idealization (particularly of the Maritimes), in Studies of Canadian Literature.


"In our haste to grow out of our inferiority about being Canadian—some of us in certain quarters, at least—have become super-earnest. We’re losing, or not developing, the ability to look at ourselves critically, or to send ourselves up in ironic ways. There’s this prevailing sense of solemnity and gravity about Canada and how to write about it. The conviction is that it’s got to be sombre or it can’t be good."
Wayne Johnston, author of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Navigator of New York, among other books, in an interview in Quill and Quire.


"And what you do is you go into where your anger is, if you're writing anger, you go into where your hatred is, if you're writing hatred. Your joy is, if you're writing joy. You find the source of the energy that draws hatred, anger, joy, etc., etc., etc. That's what you have to find. That's what you do as an actor and that's what you do as a writer. And you bring people to the page."

Timothy Findley, author of Not Wanted on the Voyage and Dinner Along the Amazon, among other books, in conversation with Lynda Williams for January Magazine.


the book of marvels

"If I hadn’t become a better writer, we wouldn’t be together. I would have sensed by the way Patrick would have spoken to me about my poems that he didn’t think they were good enough and I wouldn’t have been able to coexist in that kind of unequal relationship."

Lorna Crozier, author of The Book of Marvels and Small Beneath the Sky, among other books, on her relationship with Patrick Lane in The Globe and Mail.


"What I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together—radiant, everlasting."

Alice Munro on her writing ambitions. Munro just announced her retirement this year and this quote came from Jane Smiley's tribute to her in The Guardian.

August 7, 2013
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