Five Questions with… Peter Norman

Peter Norman, author of Emberton 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 Peter on April 23rd! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA. Good luck!

IFOA: Emberton is described as a “thriller for lovers of books and language.” What inspired this story?Norman, Emberton

Peter Norman: The book takes place in the office tower where a respectable dictionary is compiled (but in fact something far more sinister is going on). When I was a kid, my parents had this whopping dictionary in the house—I believe it was by Random House. As a young bookworm, I was drawn not only to the main substance of the dictionary (the definitions) but also to all the information listed at the front. In particular, there was a roster of consultants: experts in geology, psychology, entomology, plumbing, whatever, who’d been hired to help the editors with terminology relevant to their fields. This got me imagining some vast tower where a bunch of knowledgeable people congregated to determine the lexicon. Eventually, the story grew from there.

IFOA: You’ve written two poetry collections and had your short fiction and poetry published in many literary publications, but Emberton is you first novel. Which part of the novel-writing process proved most challenging for you?

Norman: If you write the first draft of a poem and it turns out to be a lousy poem altogether, no problem; it probably didn’t take very long, and you can just recycle it or burn it or delete the file. A novel is a different beast altogether. If you write the first draft only to discover that the idea’s a lemon, then you’ve just wasted anywhere between three months and ten years of your life. My novel required many rewrites before it was press-ready, and it was hard to keep the faith. Is this project worthwhile? Is the idea worth the effort? True novelists—and I don’t count myself among them yet, because I’ve written just one—must have great reservoirs of faith in order to stick with one idea and plug away until it’s done. Acquiring that faith is my greatest challenge as a (would-be) novelist.

Norman, PeterIFOA: What is the best compliment a reader can give you about your work?

Norman: Different types of compliments are meaningful in different ways. But here’s one that I’ve really appreciated. (It has to do with poetry rather than fiction because there hasn’t been enough time yet for me to get much reader reaction to the novel.) I love it when someone comes up to me after a reading and says, “I’m not normally into poetry, but I really liked your stuff.” To win a convert who’s not already a fan of the genre… that’s really gratifying!

IFOA: If you were to choose a pseudonym for yourself, what would it be?

Norman: How about Ed Kent? That’s my dad’s name (which doubles as my middle one) and my mom’s maiden name. Or maybe I could go with J.K. Rowling, to boost sales.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I feel most creative when…

Norman: …the pressure’s on. I thrive on deadlines and other forms of external pressure. In the early stages of a project, when I’m not sure I’m even going to finish it, let alone submit it for publication (again that lack of faith in the overall idea), I sometimes have trouble generating creative sparks. But when I know something’s going to be published, and soon, then I can really motor. Some of my best creativity goes into the later parts of the editorial process.

Peter Norman is the author of two books of poetry, At the Gates of the Theme Park and Water Damage. His fiction and poetry have been published in The Walrus, SubTerrain, Literary Review of Canada, The Malahat Review, Arc Poetry Magazine and many other publications. He is based in Toronto. Norman presents his first novel, Emberton, a literary Gothic tale aimed at lovers of books and language, alongside authors Alena Gradon and Harry Karlinsky on April 23.


Five Questions with… Jonas T. Bengtsson

Jonas T. Bengtsson, author of A Fairy Tale 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 Jonas on April 16! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA. Good luck!

IFOA: Tell us a bit about the inspiration for A Fairy Tale.

Jonas T. Bengtsson: Late one night I realized that my son, being two years old at the time, absolutely trusted me, that I shaped the world he lives in. As many parents do, I really struggle to give him as stable and normal a childhood as possible. But what if I didn’t? What if I despised society to the extent that I had to come up with an alternative?

The book sprung from that thought.

IFOA: This is your third novel, but your first to be translated into English. What role did you play in the translation?

Bengtsson: I’ve been translated into quite a few languages I can’t read. So this time I couldn’t help having a few suggestions. I was probably a pain in the ass.

IFOA: When and where do you write?

Bengtsson: I prefer to write late at night. Maybe have a few beers, and listen to music.  But these days I write everywhere: airports, trains.Bengtsson, A Fairy Tale

IFOA: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Bengtsson: I just read Slaughter House Five for the first time. I realized I had been missing out!

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I wish I could…

Bengtsson:  …fly. I would really love to be able to fly. As a child, my most reoccurring dream was about flying. I’ve been told dreams of flying have underlying sexual meaning. I think that is a lot of BS. Sometimes you just really want to fly.

Jonas T. Bengtsson was born in 1976. He is the author of the critically acclaimed and prize-winning debut Amina’s Letters, which won the BG Bank First Book Award and was a finalist for the Weekendavisens Litterature Prize. His second novel, Submarino, was awarded the PO Enquist Literary Prize and was adapted into a film by Thomas Vinterberg. Bengtsson presents his third novel, A Fairy Tale, alongside authors Jennifer McMahon and Kate Pullinger on April 16.


Five Questions with… Jane Woods

Jane Woods, author of The Walking Tanteek 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 Jane on April 9th! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA. Good luck!

       IFOA: Tell us a bit about the inspiration for The Walking Tanteek, your debut novel. 910-5_Tanteek_COVER2.indd 

       Jane Woods: Imminent despair set me going. I began writing the novel during a period of intense upheaval and questioning, when the tiny, flickering pilot light of faith that had been keeping me alive for so long was on the verge of being snuffed out. A well-meaning friend and close witness to my struggle urged me to “ditch all that nonsense,” and join the “real world” of facts and hard evidence, neither of which lent any credence to the faith I was clinging to. I found myself at a loss for the words to explain and defend my absolute need for a transcendent and ultimate meaning to life. My nine-year search for those words culminated in The Walking Tanteek.

        One of the first inspirations for the book came from, of all places, Chapter 115 of Moby Dick, in which the triumphant, prosperous, homeward-bound whaling ship, the Bachelor, merry wind at its back, passes the gloom-ridden Pequod as it sails into the driving wind in obsessive pursuit of the mythic white whale. The Pequod and its raging Captain Ahab became the perfect symbols for me of both Maggie Prentice and her brother Gerard, who spend their lives stumping headlong into metaphorical gales and darkness in search of elusive truth and certitude.

IFOA: You’re also a translator. How has this work influenced your own writing?

Woods: It has certainly taught me how to write tighter dialogue. For years I specialized in a specific form of translation called adaptation, in which foreign-language film or TV dialogue is translated into English for dubbing purposes. This means the English translation not only has to render the meaning of the original, but has to look convincing as it emerges from the mouth of the actor on the screen. The mouth openings and closings have to match, which calls for no end of alligator-wrestling with words and meanings just to get those lips to look natural. If I couldn’t write dialogue after five or six years of this trial by fire, I was probably never going to.

IFOA: Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

Woods: One of the hardest things to deal with is the push/pull of wanting to tell your story in your own voice and your own way, while at the same time being open to honest criticism. It’s necessary to learn how to take advice from people you trust without turning into a bristly ball of resentment. It took me a long time to learn that criticism wasn’t necessarily a personal attack, and to understand that my critics were unfettered by my blind spots and could see from a distance what I couldn’t see smack in front of my face. And the next step, of course, is to learn how to start over, and over and over, and to keep your patience while doing so. It took me a while to grasp that, if what I was working on was boring the pants off me, potential readers could be expected to agree in droves.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Woods: Bark, by Lorrie Moore. I don’t know anyone else who can make me laugh till it hurts while plumbing the depths of wretchedness, all in the same sentence.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It’s hard to believe, but…

Woods: It’s hard to believe, but here I am, the most reticent, confrontation-phobic, shrinking violet the world has ever known, now talking openly, out loud, about the deepest struggles of my life. I’m told the personal is the most universal, and I’m hanging onto that particular maxim for dear life, because the cat’s out of the bag and there’s no turning back now.

Jane Woods spent a decade working in Canadian regional theatre before settling in Montreal to work as a voice actress. Later, she began translating and adapting French-language films and television series to be dubbed into English. She lives in Toronto, where she continues to work as a translator. Woods presents her daring and whip-smart debut, The Walking Tanteek, on April 9th alongside Ghalib Islam and Adam Sternbergh.

Five Questions with… Helen Walsh

Helen Walsh, author of The Lemon Grove 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 Helen on March 13! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA. Good luck!

IFOA: Tell us about your inspiration for The Lemon Grove.Walsh, The Lemon Grove

Helen Walsh: It was a combination of the rugged beauty of the Mallorcan landscape (the novel is set in Deia, a mountain village on the North West coast of the island) and an enduring interest in female desire and sexuality that inspired me to write The Lemon Grove. I have always been fascinated by depictions of inter-generational relationships—both in the media and in the works of some of my favourite contemporary novelists: Philip Roth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, J.M. Coetzee. All of these writers portray older male protagonists, desirous of sex with much younger women. I wanted to write a novel that dealt with this theme, but from an older woman’s point of view.

IFOA: How did the experience of writing The Lemon Grove compare with that of your previous novels?

The Lemon Grove in some respects is a subtle departure from my previous works. It is the first of my novels that is not located in an urban milieu. The language employed in The Lemon Grove to evoke this particular landscape is different to the language I used in my last three novels. It is much tauter and economical.

IFOA: Beginning, middle or end—which do you find the most challenging to write?

Walsh: I think I usually have a crises of confidence somewhere between beginning and middle. It’s round about here that I become aware of the inconsistencies between the characters and story I set out to write, and the characters and story that are evolving. I usually take some time out around this juncture and live with them a while before moving forward.

IFOA: Name one book that has made a lasting impression on you.

Walsh: It would be impossible to single out one novel, as there are so many that have inspired me at different moments in my life. I think Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn was the novel that really spoke to me as an adolescent. Up until then, I wasn’t aware that those types of worlds and characters were represented in literary fiction. I was blown away by Selby’s use of language too. I was about 15 when I read that novel and I carried it everywhere with me—and I shared it with no one.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

Walsh: I’m currently directing my first feature film, which I’ve written. I tend to think and write in scenes, so the transition from novelist to writer/director has been pretty easy.

Helen Walsh‘s first novel, Brass, was published in 2004 and was the winner of a Betty Trask Prize. Her second novel, Once Upon a Time in England, was the winner of a Somerset Maugham Award and her third novel, Go to Sleep, was published by Canongate to much fanfare in 2011. She will present her new novel, The Lemon Grove alongside authors Claire Cameron and Karen Russell on March 13.

Five Questions with… David Stouck

David Stouck, author of Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life 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 David on March 7! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA. Good luck!

IFOA: What initially sparked your interest in Canadian architect Arthur Erickson?Stouck, David

David Stouck: My wife and I were hired to teach at SFU the year the university opened. I will never forget our arrival at the campus on Burnaby Mountain. The building was a place of great drama, but made of simple materials and terraced naturally to its specific setting. It also spoke to what was usable from ancient cultures—the steps of the Acropolis, the Mexican pyramid and playing field, and the geometric lines of West Coast First Nations architecture. Altogether it was extraordinary. The idea that I should write Erickson’s biography was suggested to me by one of his long-time friends, Mary Buckerfield White. I had written a biography of her aunt, Ethel Wilson. As a literary biographer, I was skeptical at first about such an undertaking, but a meeting with Erickson, in which he graciously offered his time and assistance, persuaded me to give it a try.

IFOA: Tell us a bit about the research you did for this book.

Stouck: The first stage of research was a series of conversations with Erickson himself, which extended from 2005 until his death in 2009. His thinking and way of speaking, even as he grew frail, were informed by an original and coherent view of culture. I came to see that what was important were his ideas—his rethinking of architectural genres along utopian, democratic lines: universities with squares and malls designed to break down the isolation of faculties and promote interdisciplinary study; law courts designed to make justice visible, a transparency that would make justice less intimidating; a museum of anthropology with open drawer storage so that knowledge is available to the public independent of a curator’s selecting hand. Equally important, he was the first in Canada to promote green architecture. Archival materials were unorganized but available to the researcher. Especially important were dozens of letters he wrote to his family and friends while traveling. When asked what my book and research entailed, I answer “Everything.” Erickson had such a wide-ranging imagination that I had to learn not only about architecture, but painting, music, literature, religious philosophy, landscaping, politics.

IFOA: What was your response to finding out that you’d been nominated for the RBC Taylor Prize?

Stouck: I was very happy about this because until that announcement, the book had generated little interest—in the first four months there were no newspaper reviews, just a short piece in Maclean’s. Then in mid-December, the Star ran a review that was syndicated in Ontario. I am still waiting for a first notice in British Columbia. So prizes are very important.

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

Stouck: The book that has impressed me most recently (excluding the fine works of my fellow nominees) is Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes. I have also been impressed by David Laskin’s The Family. These are both Jewish family histories in which some members live exuberantly successful lives, while others disappear in the Holocaust. The terrible ironies of fate and circumstance are vividly recorded in both books.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

Stouck: I think it is bad luck to discuss one’s future projects, especially at my age!

David Stouck is a biographer whose works include Ethel Wilson: A Critical Biography, shortlisted for the VanCity Book Prize, and Collecting Stamps Would Have Been More Fun: The Correspondence of Sinclair Ross 1933-86, a finalist for the Alberta Book Prize. He is professor emeritus of English at Simon Fraser University. Strouck will present his RBC Taylor Prize-nominated book, Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life, alongside fellow finalists Charlotte GrayThomas KingJ.B. MacKinnon and Graeme Smith on March 7.

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