Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Philippa Dowding

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Philippa Dowding

The author of the Lost Gargoyle series, Philippa Dowding's most recent book is The Gargoyle Overhead (Dundurn), a tale which sees the titular gargoyle and his human friend, Katherine, getting into some very tight spots.

Philppa talks to Open Book about the inspiration for Gargoth the Gargoyle, her plans for the series and the importance of having neighbours who garden.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, The Gargoyle Overhead.

Philippa Dowding:

The Gargoyle Overhead is the second book in The Lost Gargoyleseries, and continues the sad tale of a lost little gargoyle named Gargoth, who finds himself stuck in 12-year old Katherine Newberry’s backyard in downtown Toronto. At first they aren’t friends (Gargoth likes to throw apple cores and break things), but eventually he becomes part of Katherine’s family, so much so that even Milly the cat likes him.

Gargoth is 400-years old, and in this book he tells us about his past, where he came from and how he ended up lost in Toronto. He and his first human friend, a boy named Philip, travel through plague-ravaged southern England in 1665, then they cross the English Channel to France where Gargoth meets another living gargoyle named Ambergine. He’s not alone!

Gargoth and Ambergine live in France together for 200 years, ending up in Paris where they listen to Mozart play and live through the French Revolution, but their togetherness doesn’t last. One terrible day in 1860, Gargoth is snatched by bounty hunters and stolen across the ocean to New York City. He has a succession of owners until he ends up being sold to the last and worst owner of all, The Collector, at the New York City World Fair, 1939. Gargoth is imprisoned for a lifetime and thinks he is forgotten by the world, until Ambergine finds him many years later and escapes with him to Toronto.

The Collector is a hunter, though: he stalks Gargoth to Toronto, and steals him a second time. Gargoth thinks he will never be free, even though his loyal friends will never stop searching for him.

In the final chapters, we visit the dark mansion where the creepy Collector keeps thousands of statues of Gargoth on the grounds and in the mansion, leaving his friends to wonder: where is the real Gargoth?

In the end, The Gargoyle Overhead is a story about courage and friendship versus cruelty and obsession.

OB:

What has changed for your character, Katherine, since her first adventure with Gargoth in The Gargoyle in My Yard?

PD:

In The Gargoyle Overhead, Katherine is one year older. She is now 13, so she has a little more freedom than in the first book. While her parents are away at a wedding in Saskatchewan, Katherine is allowed to stay with a family friend, Cassandra Daye, who owns a curio shop on Queen St. East called ‘Candles by Daye.’

Katherine’s parents played a big part in the first book, but in this book Cassandra (an eccentric, lovable, peaceful giant), and Katherine get to have interesting adventures together. Once they meet up with Ambergine near the end of the book, the adventures get more intense. They travel to the dark mansion outside New York City together, for instance.

Also, Katherine has now known the gargoyle for a full year. She has come to love him, and to think of him as a sort of naughty younger brother because he isn’t exactly a paragon of social virtue, and is pretty difficult most of the time. Katherine is the only person who understands his strange gargoyle language, so she has to interpret for him, which can be quite hilarious as she struggles to be diplomatic.

OB:

How does your work in other genres (poetry, copywriting) inform your process when you are writing fiction?

PD:

I’ve been really lucky in my career as a copywriter, in that I’ve done something that I love, and which has allowed me to “spin the yarn” every single day for over twenty years. It’s a job I still do and enjoy today.

As a copywriter I’ve worked almost exclusively for magazines and fundraisers, and I’ve read literally thousands of magazines and online journals over the years. I’ve been exposed to so much great writing day after day and written with so many different voices, that I’ve become a bit of a writing chameleon.

My poetry is different, since it comes from a much more private place for sure. If copywriting is my public, external voice, then poetry is my private, internal one.

Gargoth’s language is quite poetic, since he is so heartbroken and lost:

“Yes, Ambergine found me. Right from the moment we met in the church belfry, we were inseparable. We were friends, brother and sister, sun and moon, black and white. She was as sweet as I was nasty. She was as kind as I was mean. She never doubted that we would be together always. Over the years, I began to forget what it was to be lonely.” From The Gargoyle Overhead, p. 70

OB:

Who are some people (fellow writers or not) or what are some experiences which have deeply influenced your writing life?

PD:

I was one of those crazed, avid, glasses-wearing readers when I was a child. Like most writers and creative people I imagine, I read everything I could get my hands on. I had really wonderful neighbours growing up, and they loved to garden and they loved books. Their garden is the creative spark for Katherine’s family garden, filled with flowers, statues, fountains and magic (at least it was magic for me). They gave me book after book for birthdays and Christmas gifts, which ended up being some of the most important books of my life: the Narnia series, books by John Wyndham and John Christopher, The Hobbit (probably my all-time favourite children’s book). Then as I grew older they gave me The Lord of the Rings, Flowers for Algernon, works by Philip K. Dick and loads more. I think without their early influence and the books they gave me, I likely wouldn’t have become a writer.

OB:

Is there a book you’ve read recently that you wished you had written?

PD:

There are two. I’d love to have written The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, a beautiful, lyrical children’s book, and Atonement by Ian McEwan, which is such a moving story and such brilliant proof that an author is both a liar and a truth-teller at the same time.

OB:

What are you working on now?

PD:

I’m editing the third book in the Lost Gargoyle Series, called The Gargoyle at the Gates, due from Dundurn Press in early 2013. Gargoth, Ambergine, Katherine and Cassandra join forces with a few new characters, and The Collector rears his ugly head once again.

I also have a YA magic realism story with my publisher right now, called The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden … so stay tuned on that!


Philippa Dowding studied English at university, earning a Master of Arts degree. A freelance writer and poet, her twenty years of professional work as an award-winning copywriter have allowed her to make a living from words. The character of Gargoth of the Gargoyle trilogy was inspired by an experience in an odd antique store populated with gargoyles. Philippa lives in Toronto with her family.

For more information about The Gargoyle Overhead please visit the Dundurn website.

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

Are you a high school student who loves to write? Check out Write Across Ontario, a creative writing contest for Ontario high school students from IFOA Ontario and Open Book: Ontario. You can find the full details at http://www.litontour.com/write-across-ontario.

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