Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Marta Chudolinska

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Marta

September 11, 2009 -

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Back + Forth.

Marta Chudolinska:

Back + Forth is a wordless graphic novel of 90 linocuts, a traditional block printing format popular in the 19th and early 20th century. The book tells the story of a young woman coming to terms with her place in the world, her sexuality and her self. The story follows the character through her daily grind in Vancouver. She falls asleep on the bus and wakes up to find herself on the Toronto subway. She seems ambivalent to this change and continues on her journey. Throughout the book she wakes up back and forth between these two places and two separate lives. In Vancouver, she is challenged by an intense state of loneliness, while in Toronto she must chart the rocky waters of a failing relationship. The setting is indicated by familiar landmarks, landscapes and weather conditions. It is up to the reader to decide if she is dreaming, remembering or breaking the boundaries of time and space.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

MC:

Initially, I started making this book for myself. I was going through a tough time in my life and needed a place to channel those emotions. Now, I see the book as open to a broad adult audience, but with a specific focus on a female audience. As I was making the book, I was extremely concious of how I presented the female character. There are so many false representations of young women in contemporary media, which I think deny us the credit we deserve. I was particularly concsious of my presentation of sex and nudity in the book, not as a source of titilation or objectification, but as a way to present a female charcter who has pride and confidence in herself as a sexual being.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

MC:

The ideal writing environment for me is traveling. There is something about being in motion and seeing new places that liberates part of my mind and gets my creative juices flowing. A lot of writers prefer solitude, and I think it comes from that same desire to escape from the rest of your life and be with yourself in your own head.

Also, one cannot ignore the stimulation of a deadline. Whether it is a publisher’s deadline or self-imposed, I find the pressure can push me into a frenzy of production.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

MC:

Back + Forth is my first publication with an official publisher, but I have been creating and self-publishing my own books and zines for a number of years. This is a new experience for me, and it is exciting to think of the potential to reach a broader audience with my work.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

MC:

I was in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec this summer, participating in a French immersion program. As well as actually learning to speak French, this experience was an opportunity for me to get a personal understanding of Quebec culture. I think, outside of Quebec, it is really easy to feel excluded from Quebec culture, partly because of the language barrier and partly because of the need to protect and maintain that culture. As an immigrant from Poland, I can really respect what the Quebeçois have done. In the history of Poland, Polish people had to fight to maintain their culture and safeguard it against opposing forces, for 123 years when the country did not exist (before World War I) and during the communist regime. There is something inspiring by the fact that the Quebeçois have been able to maintain their culture and language for over 300 years, while being surrounded by a larger and more dominant culture.

For me, traveling and living in different regions of Canada is extremely important to understanding Canadian cultural identity because Canada is so big, different and diverse. I’m not just talking about a multicultural aspect, but the difference between being in BC or Quebec or Newfoundland. These places all have such a unique sense about them. It is a journey that is not yet over for me. There is so much more to explore.

OBT:

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

MC:

The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland, It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken by Seth.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

MC:

I am currently reading a graphic novel I picked up at Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal called Dans mes Yeux by Bastien Vivès. It has an incredibly unique graphic style and narrative perspective.

I am also re-reading Keywords by Raymond Williams, which is one of my favourite books ever. It is essentially an etymological dictionary of cultural terms. Williams writes about the historical evolution of meaning of words such as art, individual, community, privacy, etc. I find it absolutely fascinating.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

MC:

The best advice I’ve received all adds up to: writing is a lot of work and you have to do it. My high school creative writing teacher (F.G. Paci) was a published authour who told us that he woke up every morning before school to write for a few hours. I’m not a morning person so this type of dedication really impressed itself on me. I think the same advice applies to the visual arts. A lot of people assume that artists and writers produce magic, that they just have this innate talent or ability that allows them to make wonders. The truth is that it takes work and practice and time to develop those skills.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

MC:

Keep honing your craft. There are various ways of sharing your work with others and slowly building an interest, such as zines and blogs. Try to find someone to talk to who is already involved in the type of publishing you are interested in. Along with the craft of writing, publishing is a business and it’s easier if someone experienced can show you the ropes. Finally, believe in what you are doing. You will have to describe and sell your idea many times along the way so make sure you know what your work is about and how to present it.

OBT:

What is your next project?

MC:

I’m hoping to do an illustration project for a novel told from the perspective of animals in Central Park. It is a bizarre and haunting story and would be an exciting new challenge for me as an illustrator.

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