Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Shaun Smith

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Shaun

January 24, 2009 -

OBT:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

SS:

The first thing I ever published was a recipe in a charity cookbook for the Mabin School in Toronto. I was a chef at the time and an old friend was the editor of the cookbook. The recipe was for duck liver pie. We made up a completely bogus back story about my having created it while traveling in England. I’ve never been to England. It was quite a good pie though.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

SS:

My next book, tentatively called The Slow Machine, is set in the dead of winter. Something like 40 cm of snow fell on Toronto in the last few days. It’s helping me sustain in the mood.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

SS:

The Canadian Oxford Spelling Dictionary - because it needs to be constantly asserted that we are neither the USA nor Great Britain.

Souvenir of Canada, Douglas Coupland- because it’s fun.

The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson: An Introduction, Anne Newlands - because it would likely be helpful to new Canadians to understand that our mythology is a visual one connected to landscape.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

SS:

Monastic silence and a breathtaking view of the sea.

OBT:

William Faulkner was once asked what book he wished he had written; he chose Moby Dick (with Winnie the Pooh as a close second). Is there a book that you wish you had written?

SS:

The only time I’ve ever experienced real jealousy over a piece of writing was with Timothy Taylor’s short story “Silent Cruise”. One learns a lot about writing by reading Taylor’s short fiction.

OBT:

Is there a book that you think you should have read by now but haven’t?

SS:

I probably should have read Moby Dick by now. I will eventually, but I’m not beating myself up about it. I don’t believe anyone has a duty to read (or finish) any book.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

SS:

Barry Unsworth’s Land of Marvels.

OBT:

Do you have a specific readership in mind when you write?

SS:

Not really. I’m sure my publisher would love it if I wrote precisely to some pre-defined demographic, and while the pragmatist in me understands that, the writer doesn’t care. I just write the book that wants to be written. At the moment I am writing about children. In publishing today, almost without exception, if your protagonist is a child, you are writing for children. But I don’t try to imagine what children will like in a novel. You see that often in YA and it is terrible stuff. It’s insulting to children. I would like to think anyone who can read will enjoy my work. In a year or so, I will start writing books that include a whole slew of invented creatures. How does one imagine an audience for such a concoction? Novels can’t be custom molded to fit an audience. It’s the audience’s job to mold itself around the novel.

OBT:

What are you working on right now?

SS:

A YA novel called The Slow Machine about a boy, his father and (escaped convict) grandfather who go on a road trip.

OBT:

Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?

SS:

Be beautiful and exceedingly charming in person. Have famous parents with great social connections. Be independently wealthy. Speak with a melodic accent.... I jest, obviously, but the truth is that publishing is an odd and frustrating business. Who and what you are is almost as important today as the quality of your work. It is really not fair, but authors today need to cultivate a profile of sorts outside of their writing den. You will have a far better chance of getting a publisher’s attention if you have a profile coming in the door. And of course, all that assumes you’ve pushed yourself to do the best writing you can.

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