Five Questions with… Linda Holeman

Linda Holeman, author of The Devil on Her Tongue and an upcoming IFOA Weekly participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Linda on June 25, as well as a copy of The Devil on Her Tongue! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: What was your research process for The Devil on Her Tongue?

Linda Holeman:  After spending time in Portugal and falling in love with the country’s history and culture, I came home and spent months immersed in Portuguese non-fiction and literature. I returned to Portugal when I was certain of the shape and setting I wanted for my novel.  Armed with camera and notebook, I explored Madeira’s capital of Funchal from the sea front to its hilltop quintas. I drove around the island, stopping in villages and walking the levadas; I went into churches and cemeteries, into wine lodges and into cafes and bars where I listened to the haunting melodies of fado. I stood on cliffs overlooking the tossing sea. I ferried to Porto Santo, and on that tiny island I understood the rhythm of an isolated life in the middle of the ocean. I walked the beach, smelling the air and water and studying the sky in sunlight and under the stars.  To write about a character in first person, I have to become that character in an alternate universe to my own life. Being in Diamantina’s world eventually brought her voice to me, clear and sure, and I knew her well enough to tell her story.

(c) Randall Freeman

(c) Randall Freeman

IFOA: Do you consider yourself a feminist writer?

Holeman: The protagonists in my historic novels lived in a time and environment which made it impossible for a woman to have anything close to gender equality. As a champion for women’s rights, I advocate and support the civil liberties and equality of women. And so as a writer, the challenge I face is to find a way to write about women who break away from traditional gender roles and are still believable to 21st century readers. Diamantina is faced with the knowledge that the only roles open to her are wife or nun, but she can be neither, due to the circumstances of her birth. And so I had to find a way for her to forge a life for herself, one in which she could make choices regarding sexuality, reproduction, and the workplace—all still current issues for many women world-wide.

IFOA: You have written several novels for young adult readers. Is your process the same when you write for this audience?

Holeman: Although my research processes are the same, the actual writing for adults and young adults requires a slightly different mindset for me. While young readers today are very sophisticated and savvy, and want to read about real issues, I’m still very aware of my use of graphic images and language. I temper my words so that the visuals they present won’t be overly explicit and/or disturbing in scenes of violence, sex, and so on.  The other difference is that I rein the novel in, reducing the number of characters and back stories and tightening the arc, resulting in a shorter word count. My YA novels have typically been half the length of my adult novels.

IFOA: Which author (living or dead) has made the greatest influence on you and your writing?

Holeman, Devil on Her TongueHoleman: There isn’t one writer. I have been and continue to be shaped as an author by my past and present reading, which is broad and has no set direction. As I’ve grown and evolved, so has my reading: a writer who influenced me when I was twenty wouldn’t necessarily do the same when I was forty. From the time I fell in love with reading, which was at six years old, I wrote my own stories in my head.  When I began my journey in becoming an author, I pulled out all I had absorbed about rhythm and flow of both plot and dialogue, about characters and why I felt about them as I did and what kinds of scenes resonated with me – and why. Basically I’m saying that I take my cues from a lifetime of reading great authors.

IFOA: Your biography on  your website mentions that you talk with your partner about story and character “…in some way everyday.” How do these discussions influence your writing?

Holeman: My partner Martin studied film and screen writing and works in that arena. He can dissect a film in much the same way that I like to pull apart and study a novel I’ve read.  I have no formal education in creative writing: I learned to write by reading and the act of writing itself, and have always written by instinct. Martin is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with a deep and solid educational background in writing. Our different approaches – his more formal and mine more reflexive – create intense and sometimes heated debates on the ebb and flow of a good story, including character development and arc. We spend a lot of time discussing a movie we’ve watched together, or a novel we’ve both read or my own work-in-progress.  These discussions are motivating and helpful in having me look at my work from a different angle.  And they’ve also made me come to the realization that I tend to think of life as a story. That would account for why I often try to shut out all other sounds and hear classical music in my head as background : everything appears more interesting, bearable – and elegant!

Linda Holeman is the author of several internationally bestselling historical novels as well as eight other works of fiction and short fiction. Linda presents The Devil on her Tongue, a spell-binding story of loss, romance and betrayal set in 18th-century Portugal. She presents alongside Emma Healey and Tom Rachman on June 25th.

Five Questions with… Priscila Uppal

Priscila Uppal, author of Projection: Encounters with my Runaway Mother and an upcoming IFOA Weekly participant, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Priscila on May 28! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Projection is about your complicated relationship with your absentee mother. How did the rest of your family respond to you telling this story?TA20 Projection Jacket Dundern.indd

Priscila Uppal: I debated whether or not to tell my father that I was embarking on the trip to reunite with my mother. In the end, I decided to tell him, since I am an honest person. Nevertheless, I do think he was hurt, as if my desire to see my mother was a criticism of his own challenging parenting as a single-parent quadriplegic father. My father doesn’t read any of my books—for medical reasons, it is difficult for him to concentrate on text in bulk—and I told him if he was going to start, this is not the one I would recommend. He has a copy of the book, but I don’t think he has read it yet. I don’t want him to be hurt by any of the revelations.

I also consulted with my brother before embarking on my journey. I asked him what he might want to know about the trip when I returned. He said, “Nothing. I want to know nothing.” My brother and I are very close, so I’ve tried to respect his wishes as much as possible, but due to the success of the memoir, my brother has certainly heard some strange stories about what transpired. In fact, my brother supports my work and loves a good party, so he came to Toronto for the book launch of Projection, as well as for the gala night for the Hilary Weston Prize. At these events, he was hearing about details of my encounters for the very first time and he was, admittedly, a little freaked out. He has also not read the book, and though he send copies of the book to friends and colleagues, he is repeatedly told for his own sake “not to read this book.”

IFOA: You recently adapted the book into a surreal poetic play, Six Essential Questions. Tell us a bit about that process.

Uppal: Usually, adaptations happen after the publication of an original source text. However, in my case, I was writing the memoir and eventually the play at the same time (for the last three years I was writing both simultaneously). I am someone who is fascinated by genre, form and literary conventions, and so I am always up for the challenge of understanding those conventions and then doing something unconventional with them. For the memoir, I was chained to the facts of the case. I analyzed the reunion in realistic, concrete details. Since the story is stranger than fiction, I think it was important not to take many liberties with the facts. Nevertheless, since my mother lives in a fantasy world, I wanted to acknowledge this part of her character, so I used the analysis and frame of films to speak to this part of her personality and to our understanding of each other (my mother sees between 1 and 8 movies per day in the theatre and it is her way of escaping the pain and trauma of her past).

With the play, I was able to explore the magic of theatre. I love how theatre can be expressive in nature and provide the audience with an alternate reality for a specific period of time, theatre can cast a spell and take people on an emotional journey. So, with the play, I tried to find the equivalent visual, audio, dramatic and poetic vocabulary that would give an audience an understanding of what that trip to Brazil “felt like.” The play is surreal, absurdist and poetic—an emotional carnival.

I think the memoir is a tale of a tragedy with some comedic elements. The play is a dark comedy trying to ward off the tragedy at its core.

© Daniel Ehrenworth

© Daniel Ehrenworth

IFOA: You’ve written poetry, novels and now this memoir. Which form do you find the most challenging to write?

Uppal: I think every book is a challenge, and ideally a different challenge. I love working in different forms because I think it spurs me on creatively. I love writing in all of them. I would welcome the opportunity to work on a screenplay or an opera libretto next.

IFOA: What’s the best thing you’ve read in the past six months?

Uppal: I just finished The Psychology of Creative Writing edited by Scott Barry Kaufman and James C. Kaufman, a book that collects a lot of the research done about and on writers in the last century, and that explores how writing affects our personalities and our experiences and vice versa. As a writer of many genres, and as a teacher of creative writing, I found this book captivating, disturbing and enlightening.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I often wonder…

Uppal: …who will drop into my life next…

Priscila Uppal is an internationally acclaimed poet, fiction writer and playwright. She lives in Toronto, where she teaches English literature and creative writing at York University. Priscila will present her Governor General’s Literary Award-nominated memoir, Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother, alongside memoirists Plum Johnson and Lynn Thomson on May 28.

Five Questions with… Lynn Thomson

Lynn Thomson, author of Birding with Yeats and an upcoming IFOA Weekly participant, talks to us about inspiration, influences and great reads!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Lynn on May 28th! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

 IFOA: What inspired you to write about your time birding with Yeats, as opposed to any other time in your life? birding

Lynn Thomson: I wrote about birding with Yeats, rather than any other time in my life, because that’s what the people at House of Anansi commissioned. They thought it was unusual for a teenaged boy to want to spend hours alone in the forest with his mother, and they wondered what the story was behind that. I was confident that people would be interested in this topic because whenever I described one of our birding expeditions to my writing group, they loved it. They wanted more. Of course, the book isn’t only about our bird watching—it also encompasses stories of bookselling, family, how we learn to let go of our children…

IFOA: How has Yeats been with the attention?

Thomson: Yeats is really proud of me. He decided early on that he wasn’t going to be in my limelight, if I have any, so he’s staying in the background. He gets a bit tired of people asking if he’ll sign the book (which he won’t do), but otherwise, he seems okay with it all.

IFOA: What are your favourite or typical places to write?

Thomson: My favourite place to write is at my desk in our “library” on the second floor of the house. My sister gave me her old desk, which is a lovely wooden desk with brass handles on the drawers and a faux leather top. It faces the window with a view of the street and our big mountain ash tree in the front yard.  The room is filled with books.

Lynn ThomsonIFOA: How has bookselling influenced your writing?

Thomson: I’ve always read a great deal. I don’t know that I would have read any differently if I wasn’t a bookseller, but in my job I’m exposed to books I may not have seen otherwise. I think that reading a wide variety of styles and voices, to say nothing of stories, gave me confidence that my story was worth telling. On the other hand, I know very well that there is an awful lot of competition out there and that not everyone’s book is going to succeed. I tried not to let that idea take sway while I worked on the book!

IFOA: What have you read in the past six months that you really loved?

Thomson: There are some really great new books out there right now. I loved Miriam Toews’ book All My Puny Sorrows, Richard Wagamese’s Medicine Walk and Nadia Bozak’s El Niño. I’d also recommend a very fun, tongue-in-cheek look at lawyers: Bay Street by Philip Slayton.

Lynn Thomson is a bookseller in Toronto. She will present her first book, Birding with Yeats, a touching memoir about a mother, her son and the wonder of the natural world, alongside memoirists Plum Johnson and Priscila Uppal on May 28th.  





Five Questions with… Krista Foss

Krista Foss, author of Smoke River and an upcoming IFOA Weekly participant, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Krista on May 21st! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Where did the idea for Smoke River come from?

Krista Foss: The idea for the novel came from a convergence of many things, including my grandfather’s struggle to claim his native ancestry, my experiences as a journalist and teacher, my interest in the land disputes of Oka/Kanehsatake and Caledonia/Six Nations and my own anchor to the geography in which I was raised. I wanted to write about the idea of land, and how it’s invested with history and identity and the complexity of our interconnections.

© Fehn Foss

© Fehn Foss

IFOA: You worked for many years as a journalist. How has that experience informed your fiction writing?

Foss: Journalism taught me to pay attention; to watch for the singular, concrete detail that telegraphs many layers of meaning. The discipline of constant deadlines also made me push past my natural inertia and write even when I didn’t feel like writing.

IFOA: What has been your most unlikely or unusual source of inspiration?

Foss: Field guides. I am a bug and botany nerd. My mother passed down all these wonderfully evocative folk names for everything in the woods and fields: purple boneset, Campion’s bladder, dog strangling vine among them. As children, there wasn’t a berry that we didn’t pick and eat. So I never got over the romance and sustenance of wild plants, nor the desire to name them. Plus I was that weird girl who was into insects—both enthralled and secretly terrified by everything that crawled and flew. I allayed my fears by being able to identify them.Foss, Smoke River

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Foss: I’m on a CanLit bender: I just finished Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows. Currently, I’m reading both David Adams Richards’ Crimes Against My Brother and Nadia Bozak’s El Nino, so I can ask them pithy questions!  Next up: Richard Wagamese’s Medicine Walk.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Foss: I am taking notes and planning for another novel. I have some short stories I would like to pursue, too.

Krista Foss is a former journalist whose short fiction has twice been a finalist for the Journey Prize and longlisted for CBC’s Canada Writes contest, as well as published in several literary journals. Foss presents her compelling debut novel, Smoke River, alongside authors David Adams Richards and Nadia Bozak on May 21.

Five Questions with… Miriam Toews

Miriam Toews, author of All My Puny Sorrows and an upcoming IFOA Weekly participant, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Miriam on April 30! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA. Good luck!

Miriam Toews

© Carol Loewen

IFOA: Tell us a bit about the inspiration for your new novel, All My Puny Sorrows.

Miriam Toews: Just my life, the way it’s been, what I’ve experienced.

IFOA: This is is your seventh published book. In what way do you think your writing has changed most since the publication of your first, Summer of My Amazing Luck?

Toews, All My Puny SorrowsToews: I think I’m saying more with fewer words.

IFOA: Elf or Yoli: which character did you find more challenging to write? Why?

Toews: Elf, because she’s much smarter than I am.

IFOA: What’s the best book you’ve read in the past six months?

Toews: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

IFOA: If you could have lunch with one author, alive or dead, which author would it be?

Toews: Mary Wollstonecraft.

Miriam Toews is the author of five previous novels and one work of non-fiction. She presents All My Puny Sorrows, the riveting story of two sisters, alongside authors Ondjaki and Evie Wyld on April 30.

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