Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Paul Nicholas Mason

Share |
Paul Nicholas Mason

There is always more happening in a small town than meets the eye, something the two teenage friends in Paul Nicholas Mason's The Night Drummer (Now or Never Publishing) know all too well. Peter and Otis have different home lives, but both are privy to the complex goings-on of their small Ontario town, from LSD-dealing bikers to bigotry of all stripes. As more and more of adult life is revealed to the boys, they face choices that will decide the course of their lives — and what sort of men they will become.

We're talking to Paul today for our Lucky Seven series, a seven-question Q&A that gives readers a chance to hear about the writing processes of talented Canadian authors and gives authors a space to speak in depth about the thematic concerns of their newest books.

He tells us how theme emerges in the writing process, about the enviable view from his desk and the eight tenets of truly great books.

OB:

Tell us about your new book.

Paul Nicholas Mason:

The Night Drummer is about the friendship between two young men — white, middle-class Peter Ellis, and Otis James, an Aboriginal boy adopted by an evangelical couple old enough to be his grandparents. As for how it came to be… the characters took up so much space in my head that I felt compelled to let them out.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

PNM:

Yes, I think so — but I’m reluctant to give it away. Perhaps I can say simply that it’s not at all what one might expect from the set-up I’ve given above. The book doesn’t posit that it’s morally wrong to take a child out of his or her birth culture, though it certainly doesn’t argue the reverse either. And the young men are heterosexual, so we don’t have a sexual dynamic layered on top of a close friendship. The theme swam into focus as I wrote: my interest at first was simply to create vivid, sympathetic characters and present them with the kinds of challenges many of us confronted in our adolescent years. I was particularly interested, however, in doing justice to Otis, because when I began writing the novel there seemed to me to be relatively few sympathetic Aboriginal characters in mainstream fiction.

OB:

Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

PNM:

No, I had a pretty clear idea of the shape of the novel from the start. I began The Night Drummer eight years ago, then set it aside after the late (and much missed) Wayne Tefs at Turnstone Press asked me if I had anything in draft form. He had mid-wifed my first novel, Battered Soles, and we had enjoyed working together. As it happened I had a novella in my desk drawer — something I’d written years before — and that novella, Ambiguity, was eventually published as The Red Dress, after a period of development. So I set The Night Drummer aside to revise and lengthen The Red Dress, and was then distracted for a few years. In total, then, I think I wrote The Night Drummer over the course of four summers.

OB:

What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

PNM:

I write on a lap-top at the desk in my basement study. I have a notebook by my bed because some of my best ideas come in the middle of the night. I tend to drink a lot of tea when I’m writing, but the brewing of tea is, I think, my only writing-related ritual. Because my basement is a walk-out, I’m able to stare out the study window at the trees in my back garden. There’s a gorgeous Japanese red maple directly in my line of sight.

OB:

What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

PNM:

When I’m discouraged, or simply stuck, I go for a long walk or take a shower. Peterborough’s Rotary Greenway Trail is just a five minute stroll from my home, and it’s afforded me some wonderful walks. And I take a great many showers.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

PNM:

I think, first, that great literature should be accessible to a good reader. It should be readable. Obscurity is not a virtue. Second, it should be written in language that has either power or beauty— and preferably both. Third, it should have depth and richness and texture. It should reward re-reading. Fourth, it should present us with characters so vivid that we can imagine them leading lives independent of the books in which they appear. Fifth, it should either wrestle with significant issues or engage deep questions. Sixth, it should move us — and it may change us. Seventh, it should tell the Truth — or spin Magnificent Lies. And eighth… it should last. Now, not all of these will obtain with any one book, but certainly some of them should.

And my list of truly great books would include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dickens’s David Copperfield, Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, Stoppard’s Arcadia, McEwan’s Atonement and Atkinson’s Life After Life. All of those helped me feel more deeply and see more clearly. Yes, there are others, too — many others — but I’m sure about those.

OB:

What are you working on now?

PNM:

For the next few weeks I’m doing what I can to promote The Night Drummer. This summer, however, I will turn my attention to a novel featuring a strange picnic on an Ontario beach. It’s in novella form right now, but I intend expanding it considerably.


Paul Nicholas Mason is a prize-winning playwright and author of Battered Soles and The Red Dress. His previous works have been nominated for the Stephen Leacock and ReLit Awards. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario.


Related item from our archives

Related reads

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad