When describing Annabel you said that it’s partially about “how to become a fulfilled person in a lonely world.” How has writing helped you become a fulfilled person in a lonely world?
Writing is often, for me, a way of exploring questions. We can be lonely in many ways but the greatest of these is the loneliness of self-abandonment. Letting questions exist, letting them breathe and writing into them, is, for me, one way of accompanying the self.
Do you follow your gut instinct when writing regardless of what editors and critics say or suggest? Why or why not?
I would not have been able to write successfully if I had not learned from my editors. For many years I did not have help with the architecture of a novel – I tried to do it on my own, and my natural open-endedness and subtlety meant I wrote manuscripts that were not well structured. My editors did not tell me what to write, but they gave me porous guidance and steadfastly refused to accept drafts that did not have complete and sound architecture. I owe my editors a great deal. You can’t find good editors very easily, and my editors, John Metcalf at Biblioasis and Lynn Henry (then) at Anansi, are dedicated experts. The critics I can learn from too, and I try to, but I try to internalize only criticism that might help me write a better story next time.
You’ve said that structure is hard for you. How do you surpass that challenge?
I surpassed it by listening carefully to my editors, by reading their recommended works on the writing craft, and by studying (not just reading) the works of writers whose structure I admired. I also learned by teaching.
What did you learn about your own writing going from short fiction to the novel form?
I learned that I have to push through resistance, write when I don’t feel like it, wait patiently for answers, and persist.
You have achieved a great deal of success with Annabel this past year. What were some of the highlights?
For me a highlight was selling the work worldwide and having it go into translation into many languages. Having the book nominated for prizes was an incredible boost for sales, and it helped me interest many new readers and I am grateful for that. However, it became really important for me to remain unaffected by external accolades as far as that was possible, and to focus on my relationships with people, and on the act of writing itself.
Annabel was the only book this past year that made the shortlist for Canada’s top three literary prizes–The Scotiabank Giller, Rogers Writers Trust Fiction, and 2010 Governor General’s. You were also longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize. Sum up how this made you feel in 15 words or less.
Validated, after many years of oblivion, yet wary lest the centre fall apart.