Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Katherine Govier Answers rob mclennan's Questions

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Katherine Govier Answers rob mclennan's Questions

By rob mclennan

Ottawa writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan is now working on the second series of his 12 or 20 questions and here is his recent interview with Katherine Govier.

Katherine Govier has written eight novels and three short story collections. The New York Times named her novel, Creation, a Notable Book of 2003. Other works include Angel Walk and Hearts of Flame, which won the City of Toronto Book Award. She is also the recipient of the Marian Engel Award. Katherine Govier divides her time between Toronto and Canmore, Alberta.

RM:

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?


KG:

I published my first book 30 years ago. I don’t know how it changed my life. Writing books kind of is my life.

RM:

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

KG:

I used to write poetry but no one would publish it. As soon as I wrote a short story and sent if off to a magazine, it was accepted.

RM:

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?


KG:

I weave and dodge a lot before taking something on, because I know it will occupy me for ages. I write fast and I write a lot. Then I revise a lot. Like seven drafts really obsessively, a lot. I want to change. I want 800 perfect words a day.

RM:

4 - Where does prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?


KG:

I write long books that are in short sections. I love the length 600 words, for instance. I also like 1500 words- I once had a column in Toronto Life that length.

RM:

5 - Are public readings part of, or counter to, your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

KG:

I do enjoy readings. But I find I talk as much as I read now. I used to read very solemnly and never crack a smile.

RM:

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?


KG:

A big question for me is this: who is left out of history? I like to go around filling in gaps. A related question then becomes: how does that leaving-out process work, for certain people or groups out of history? So how are some stories erased and certain people — whether they are women, children, foot soldiers, the illiterate — silenced?

RM:

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

KG:

I think we should be just like everyone else, but be the ones who write it down.

With a cold eye.

RM:

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

KG:

I try hard not to be a difficult person. I may not always succeed. I can put up a good fight to defend my point of view but ultimately I do listen.

RM:

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?


KG:

All advice is bad advice.

RM:

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?


KG:

I love non-fiction as well as fiction. The appeal of writing in several genres is that you can bring the strengths and excitement of one to the other.

RM:

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

KG:

I spend a huge amount of time at my computer. I play way too much Scrabble online. My actual writing time there gets shorter and shorter. For real concentration I have to write by hand in a notebook, now.

RM:

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

KG:

I do tai chi. I look at pictures. I walk the dog and if I’m in the mountains go for a really long hike. I like to get physically exhausted.

RM:

13 - What do you really want?

KG:

I want my kids to be happy so I can accept my own happiness.

RM:

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?


KG:

Visual art, for sure. And the wilderness. Family dynamics.

RM:

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?


KG:

I read widely and indiscriminately. I like W H Auden and I like Beckett for their density and coldness and I like many women novelists — and some men! — for their warmth.

RM:

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

KG:

I’d really like to be able to wake up and not feel that there were things I should do. I haven’t arrived at that place yet.

RM:

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?


KG:

I would have enjoyed being a museum curator and being a psychiatrist. At least I think I would have.

RM:

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?


KG:

It seemed like the only thing I could really try hard at and maintain an interest in.

RM:

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?


KG:

Last great book Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Last great film Departures, the Japanese one about the man working with the dead.

RM:

20 - What are you currently working on?

KG:

I have just published (I mean three days ago) a novel called The Ghost Brush. So I am promoting it. I don’t know what I’ll write next. I wrote a lot of very short (600 word) postcards while I was working on this novel, and now I’m interested in working in that form.

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