Sara Tilley and Craig Francis Power are two of Newfoundland and Labrador’s hottest new writers. They’ve won some of the same awards (Percy James First Novel Award, WANL’s Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers), and have been individually nominated for the BMO Winterset Award, the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize and more. Special congrats to Sara who recently won the 2010 Lawrence Jackson Writer’s Award.
In short, if we were in L.A. they would be the “it” couple of literati.
Skin Room (Pedlar Press, 2008) by Sara Tilley is on my Top 25 list. I recommend it to everyone and it’s my go-to gift for fellow readers. Skin Room tells the story of Teresa through juxtaposed snapshots of her as a child growing up in Labrador to living as an adult in downtown St. John’s. Beautifully written, it’s a story of victimization, heartbreak and honesty that is both graceful and touching.
Craig Francis Power’s Blood Relatives (Pedlar Press, 2010) is a dark comedy that follows the life of a mourner who tries to navigate his unsaid feelings for his father through the grimy streets of downtown St. John’s and all the memorable characters that are part of his chaotic life.Power’s writing is poetic and lyrical filled with striking images and impressive dialogue.I remembered this book long after I read it.
Tell us a little about your partner’s writing process / writing habits.
Craig: Sara usually starts early in the morning with a cup of tea of some kind, and I think she could probably just keep writing for the entire day if she chose to. When beginning a piece, she’ll often use techniques associated with her clown practice: creating and wearing a character mask while writing, various text collage exercises, some automatic writing, etc., all of which happens in the service of generating images and ideas for whatever the piece seems to demand. She’s also a hard-core editor and re-writer. I think Skin Room went through something like twenty drafts before publication. I really admire her ability to let the text lead her to wherever it wants to go. I mean, she’s very open to what emerges over the course of the writing and doesn’t impose a rigid plotline or structure onto things that may inhibit all the possibilities of the characters and story. It’s a very exploratory practice that comes out of not knowing how things are gonna unfold, which makes the process very exciting, surprising and rewarding. In whatever she does, Sara strives to get right down to the heart of the matter, whatever it is, and her work ethic is second to none.
Sara: Craig’s process involves the following: late nights with the laptop in the kitchen, pacing, smoking, going for walks, playing online chess, drinking (beer or wine), reading voraciously in an obsessive way (about things that may or may not have import to his writing such as fly fishing, punk music, hockey, Chomsky and the Spanish Civil War), pacing some more, sitting down and writing non-stop for several hours, watching hockey or playing hockey video games, writing some more. By which I mean to say, he is actively engaged in the process of writing for many hours at a time even when he isn’t actually making his fingers type words on his keyboard.
What are some of the pros of living with an award winning writer? How does it affect your writing?
Craig: Well, she’s the first reader of everything I write, so it’s handy to have her nearby to look at stuff and give feedback. It’s wonderful to live with someone who understands the trials of fiction writing. She also keeps me in line when I’m having doubts about what I’m writing and she’s very level headed and tends to see the bigger picture whereas sometimes I feel like just giving the whole thing up. Sara sets a very good example of how steady dedication to the task at hand will win out every time. That’s a big thing I’ve picked up from her.
Sara: I don’t know if it matters that he’s an award winning writer – we both know how subjective writing awards can be. What’s important is the fact that he’s a writer whose work I admire. It’s wonderful to live with a fellow writer because we can coach each other through the hard parts, like those days when you lose hope in your own work and want to abandon it. We know how much work a book takes, how long the process is. We are each other’s support in that way. We often talk about how our writing process went that day, but we don’t usually talk about the actual content of what we’re working on. There’s no pressure to reveal what you’re writing until you’re ready for the other person to read it, but at the same time we lean on each other through the actual process of writing, with its inevitable ups and downs. I think that Craig has affected my writing hugely, because he believes in it. His belief in my work has allowed me to find confidence in my ability that I didn’t have before I met him. There’s much less worrying involved about worth of the work I am doing, so I can focus more of my energy on the actual writing itself.
What’s the hardest part of editing each other’s work?
Craig: It isn’t hard. We just make suggestions to each other about questions we might have about a given piece or whatever. Pointing out scenes that are incongruous with the rest of the text, questions about dialogue, that kind of thing. What makes it easier is that we both know it’s a process, that nothing is set in stone until something’s published, you know?
Sara: I don’t know! I don’t really find it hard, it’s lovely. I enjoy editing anyway, and I really love reading Craig’s work – he’s so funny and dark and poetic. What’s not to like? Seeing the work evolve from draft to draft is so exciting, it’s like a photograph in the developer getting clearer and clearer…
Describe your partner’s next big project.
Craig: She’s writing a novel about her great-grandfather’s time spent working in the North around the time of the gold rush, and of the extreme hardship of living in such circumstances. The inspiration came from a series of letters her dad and her found in their old family home in Elliston. I don’t wanna say much more about it, but I’m reading the first draft now and it is a marvel.
Sara: This is a hard one because I haven’t read it yet! I will be seeing it in first draft form when Craig is ready. From what snippets he has told me, from random questions he’s asked me, and from the things he’s been reading about lately, I can only guess that it is somewhat of a satire and includes such themes as courtly love, regional literary festivals, unrequited longing between friends, jealousy, rivalry, the big fish in small pond syndrome, and a female writer who typifies all the stereotypes usually associated with male writers of a certain ilk. I do know that he is currently experimenting with multiple narrators, footnotes, and playscript formatting, and that makes me curious!
What do you wish for them?
Craig: What I’d really like is for her to get to the point where she doesn’t have to work a day job anymore and can just focus on what she does best: writing and theater making.
Sara: Star light, star bright
I wish I may, I wish I might
Wish the wish I wish tonight.
I wish that Craig did not have to work
a day job ever again, but could spend
all his time pacing, thinking, and writing.