Five Questions with… Flavia Company

Flavia Company, author of The Island of Last Truth and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to her event October 24. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

© Margarita Sánchez

© Margarita Sánchez

IFOA: What inspired The Island of Last Truth?

Flavia Company: I wanted to explain the two main ways of understanding life and the world around us: give or receive. One way leads to peace. The other way leads to war. I thought I would represent this struggle by the encounter and confrontation of two different men on a deserted island.

IFOA: What part of fiction writing do you find most compelling?

Company: Writing is a way of life. A belief. A moral duty. One lot and one conviction. I feel fortunate to have been chosen for this way, and never forget that it is to be as honest as possible, as humble as possible, as grateful as possible. Writing is living life from within and outside at the same time.

IFOA: How has your approach to writing changed over the years?Company, The Island of Last Truth

Company: I used to write for myself. Now I have learned to write for others. I mean I used to write absorbed and now I am well aware that I make my exploration to offer it to others.

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

Company: The Brazilian Clarice Lispector. And Marguerite Yourcenar too. May I choose two authors?

IFOA: Is there a book you’ve read recently that you can recommend to our readers?

Company: Of course. I just reread the complete short stories of Flannery O’Connor. Amazing author. Put her on my lunch with dead authors too, please!

Flavia Company is a writer, journalist and translator who writes in both Catalan and Spanish. She has worked as a literary critic, a teacher at literary workshops and a presenter for television. She is the author of essays, short stories, poetry and novels, for which she won the Documenta Award and been a finalist for the Rómulo Gallegos Award. Her work has been translated in many countries, including Brazil, France, Germany and Holland. Company presents The Island of Last Truth, a story of many mysteries, principal among them the true identity of the enigmatic Dr. Matthew Prendel, a shipwrecked expert sailor.

Supported by Institut Ramon Llull

Five Questions with… Russell Smith

Russell Smith, author of Confidence and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to his event October 24. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Confidence paints a satirical portrait of urban city dwellers and their dark secrets. Where did you gather inspiration for your characters?

Russell Smith: They are basically me and my friends.  Smith, Russell

IFOAYou write a weekly column on the arts in The Globe and Mail. How does the process of writing a novel or a collection of short stories differ from writing a column for a newspaper?

Smith: Fiction and non-fiction exercise different muscles. I find non-fiction much easier to write: it is explanatory, linear. The object is clarity. Information is conveyed differently in fiction: it is imparted obliquely. The explicit must become implicit. Writing fiction requires entering a kind of trance in which one must imagine a spacethe light in it, the smells in itand make oneself hypersensitive to emotion and irrationality. I can write a newspaper column while having a fight with my wife and answering calls from my mechanic. I can’t do that with fiction. That’s why novelists like to isolate themselves. A newspaper writer must be fully present to the world and its phone calls.

IFOA: When and where do you write?

Smith: You know, it’s funny, that question: it is the one that is most commonly asked of writers and it is the one whose purpose I understand the least. I don’t get how it is important or could be important to anyone reading the story. I understand that lots of readers are also writers, and so they are interested in questions of process because they feel they might glean some secret from them, but the truth is that the process really doesn’t matter. Some people write in cafes, some people write lying on their backs, some do it drunk; there’s no secret, no technique that will actually change your sentences. Anyway, the boring answer is that I write on my computer at my desk in my study in my house between the hours of nine and five.

Smith, Confidence

IFOA: What other short story writers do you read and enjoy?

Smith: Ernest Hemingway. J.D. Salinger. Guy de Maupassant. Edgar Allan Poe. Julian Barnes. Michael Winter. Caroline Adderson. Annabel Lyon.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: “When I’m not writing or reading, you can find me…”

Smith: Mixing techno in my basement on my Traktor S4 controller.


Russell Smith is one of Canada’s funniest and nastiest writers. His previous novels, including How Insensitive and Girl Crazy, are records of urban frenzy and exciting underworlds. He writes a provocative weekly column on the arts in The Globe and Mail and teaches in the MFA programme at the University of Guelph. Smith presents his latest collection of short stories, Confidence, which shows a darker side of urban dwellers, including mommy bloggers, PhD students and experimental filmmakers.


Five Questions with… Neil Smith

Neil Smith, author of Boo and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to his event October 27. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: What inspired BooSmith, Neil

Neil Smith: When I was in fifth grade, I spent a year living in Salt Lake City. Most kids at school were Mormon, whereas I was an atheist. I was intrigued by their view of an afterlife. I’d ask them very specific questions about their heaven: Could you wear jeans there? Was the plumbing reliable? Did you have to brush your teeth in the hereafter? Could you bike around heaven on a 10-speed? These questions are all answered in my novel.

IFOA: Can you tell our readers a bit about Boo’s protagonist, Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple?

Smith: Oliver is a pale, skinny 13-year-old science geek with whitish blond hair that always stands on end. His social skills are the pits. He says he’s not a people person, but rather a rock person: he prefers studying the iron oxide bands in a rock. He’s also a grammar nerd who corrects people’s speech and refuses to use contractions. Hence, an odd duck.

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

Smith: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. Merricat Blackwood, the novel’s creepy narrator, has one of the most memorable voices in literature. I named a street after her in my book. I also wrote a short essay about Jackson’s novel for the National Post. You can read it here.

IFOA: Where is your ideal place to write?Smith, Boo

Smith: I can write anywhere, even noisy cafés and rocking trains. I live in an apartment in Montreal that shares a wall with a condo now being renovated.The drilling sounds like a dentist’s office times a hundred. Despite the racket, I can still write. But I have to be in the mood. What puts me in the mood is to read an inspiring piece of fiction.

 IFOA: Which author are you most excited to meet at the Festival this year?

Smith: Miriam Toews. My sister committed suicide around the same that Miriam’s sister also did. Reading Miriam’s novel about suicide, All My Puny Sorrows, was a huge help to me. Miriam is a brilliant writer and so empathetic.

Neil Smith is a French translator and the author of the critically acclaimed national bestseller Bang Crunch. He has been nominated for the Hugh McLennan Prize for Fiction, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Canada), as well as the Journey Prize three times. He has also won the First Book Prize from the Quebec Writers’ Federation. Smith presents Boo, a story about growing up, staying young and the never-ending heartbreak of being 13.


Five Questions with… Mike Steeves

Mike Steeves, author Giving Up and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

IFOA: Can you tell us a bit about Giving Up?Steeves, Mike (c) Nikki Tummon

Mike Steeves: At the risk of sounding ridiculous, the novel is about faith (in a very general sense of the term) and how it is utterly incompatible with everyday life, while also being absolutely integral to it. More simply, it’s a novel told in three partsa he said/she said/they saidthat takes place over the course of an evening, and deals with some of the irreconcilable hopes and dreams that make up the lives of many young couples.

IFOA: When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?

Steeves: I’ve loved to read since I was young, and consequently, I had a lot of respect for authors. They got their picture in the paper. People talked about them and read their books even after they had been dead for a long time. They always seemed to know exactly what they wanted to say. All of this was extremely attractive to me.

IFOA: Is there a contemporary author who inspires your work? Steeves, Giving Up

Steeves: I used to focus mostly on the classics, but lately I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary work, and a lot of it is in translation. There is so much excellent fiction being produced at this moment that I no longer subscribe to the opinion that nothing can rival the work of the greats. Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante are two writers who have published work that has changed my understanding of what literature is and what it can do. Roberto Bolano was a real shot in the arm. Thomas Bernhard is a continual touchstone. Pierre Michon and Laszlo Kraznahorkai are capable of the same degree of beauty that we associate with writers like Faulkner or Woolf. But the deepest and most abiding influence over the years has been Dostoevsky, not for any stylistic reasons so much as for his fierce, spiritual dedication to his art, as well as his devotion to addressing the most pressing issues of his time. He’s far from contemporary, but at times he feels like it.

IFOA: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Steeves: Play to your strengths. Be patient. It’ll come. Or it won’t. But either way, whether you get there or not, it’s worth it to try. I think.

IFOA: What is next for you?

Steeves: I’m working on a novel about office jobs. I’ve been researching it since 2006 by working in an office.

Mike Steeves attended University of King’s College in Halifax, where he received a BA in Political Science and English Literature. He completed an MA in English Literature at Concordia University. Steeves lives with his wife and child in Montreal and works at Concordia University. He presents his debut novel Giving Up, a deeply felt account of what goes on in the inner sanctum of a modern couple’s apartment.

Five Questions with… Sarah Winman

Sarah Winman, author of A Year of Marvellous Ways and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to her event October 23. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Please tell us a bit about your new novel, A Year of Marvellous Ways.

© Patricia Nivene

© Patricia Nivene

Sarah Winman: It is set in 1947, primarily in a forgotten tidal creek in Cornwall. An old woman, Marvellous, is waiting for one last adventure before she dies. When a young, broken soldier washes up in her creek, she realizes that this is what she’s been waiting for: to heal this young man and allow him to live well again and to love again. She does this through storytelling; telling him the story of her life.

One of the main themes of the book is the redemptive power of storytelling. To have someone bear witness to our experience and our memories of life is crucial to our humanity. From the moment we can communicate, we wish to tell others of our hopes, our triumphs, our disappointments, our loss. We seek the mirror, so that we know we are not alonenot the only ones suffering. We are all mutually dependent.

IFOA: Your debut novel, When God Was a Rabbit, became an international bestseller and won many awards. Was it intimidating to follow that up?

Winman: Not necessarily intimidating, but the second book always comes with a sense of expectation; if not others’ expectation, then to a greater extent one’s own. The book you write in order to get published is written quietly, in innocence, and that can’t be reclaimed. And so the struggle to reclaim some sense of peace, or rather a creative world free of unexpected and intrusive self-consciousness, is the challenge.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite contemporary writers?Winman, A Year of Marvellous Ways

Winman: Toni Morrison, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson, Colm Toibin, John Irving, Tim Winton, John McGahern, Ali Smith, William Boyd. I could keep goingthese are the staples, though.

IFOA: When you are not writing, where can you be found?

Winman: In no particular order: In the cinema round the corner, in Bunhill Fields, in a café, in St JOHN bar and restaurant, in the library…

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The best part is…

Winman: When the house lights dim and the music starts to play.

Sarah Winman grew up in Essex and now lives in London. She attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and went on to act in theatre, film and television. Her first novel, When God Was a Rabbit, was an international bestseller. Winman presents her second book, A Year of Marvellous Ways, a powerful, character-driven, poetic and magical novel about an old woman and a young man in England in the late 1940s.


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