Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Claire Mulligan

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Claire Mulligan's desk

Claire Mulligan's latest novel The Dark (Random House Canada) tackles a subject that fascinated the likes of Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edvard Munch — spiritualism.

The Dark tells the story of Mrs. Mellon, a practical-minded physician working in New York as the nineteenth century winds down. One of her patients, a mysterious Mrs. Fox, is revealed as one of three famous spiritualist sisters with a purported ability to communicate with ghosts. As Mrs. Mellon is drawn into Mrs. Fox's world, the question of whether her abilities are authentic looms above all else.

Today Claire joins us as part of Open Book's At The Desk series, in which writers speak about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them, telling the stories behind the books that sits on our shelves and in our hands.

Today she talks with Open Book about writing betwixt and between, monsters who provide writing space and the need for a quick escape route.
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My writing space lies in divided and contested territory, the Cyprus of my small 100-year-old-duplex. This territory is the middle room between the twins’ room and the master bedroom. At one time this middle room had been the undisputed domain of my now ten-year old daughter Eleanor, but the monsters in the closet waged a long war of attrition and she fled at last, finding refuge with her twin brothers. “But the closets are tiny,” I said. “Surely the monsters can’t be that big.” Not the best assurance, true, but I confess: I coveted that territory for myself. I painted over the purple walls with Revere Pewter, a grown-up taupish-grey that looks silver in certain lights, and bought a big Ikea desk and sundry office supplies and, boy, was I smug to have won, however inadvertently, this bloodless Game of Rooms...but it wasn’t over.

Now, my writing space had formerly been a converted armoire bought for 10 bucks at a garage sale and parked in the dining room. I wrote some of The Dark there, some of it on a laptop in the backyard, some in a cafe, some at the gym while my kids ricocheted around the bouncy castle. Much of it was written, however, in that Revere Pewter room with its bright bay windows, and wall of bookshelves and long desk and big computer screen. It isn’t my dream office, that office has a patio and a stand-up desk alongside the sitting desk (I really don’t like sitting or being indoors much, a drawback for a writer), but it has been pretty swell. Then, of course, my daughter grew bigger than the closet monsters and realized her twin brothers were far more of a threat anyways, and she demanded back her room .... No chance. Thus, we have divided it. Her desk is on one side, mine on the other. The closet is hers, as is one bookshelf and the daybed. It works for now, but someday I hope to have a truce, separate rooms for all, lasting peace and privacy, and a patio, yes, for those quick escapes.

— Claire Mulligan

Claire Mulligan's first work of historical fiction, The Reckoning of Boston Jim, was nominated for the 2007 Giller Prize as well as the Ethel Wilson Award. Claire was born and raised in British Columbia and graduated from UBC in 1995. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three young children.

For more information about The Dark please visit the Random House Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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