Andrew Battershill

Interviewed by Michaela Bray

Andrew Battershill is a Canadian writer whose debut novel, Pillow, a story of an aging boxer caught up in a small-time crime syndicate, was long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Sunburst Award, and a finalist for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. He graduated with an MA from the University of Toronto’s creative writing program, and was the fiction editor and co-founder of the online literary magazine Dragnet Magazine. He currently lives and teaches in Columbus, Ohio.

After reading Pillow, I reached out to Andrew, who agreed to correspond over email.

What sort of research did you do for this book? There are various themes and references from history — did these themes interest you before, or did you discover them along the way?

I wouldn’t call the research I did for this book historical, but more, as you say, thematic. The cast of characters is drawn mostly based on Surrealist artists and poets of the 1920s and 1930s, but I didn’t want to depict them in a historically accurate way so much as a spiritually accurate way. The Surrealists loved the idea of playing with temporality and sense, so just throwing a bunch of them into a modern crime thriller seemed like it would be fun and in keeping with the ontological principles that guided Surrealism as an intellectual movement.

What was the writing process like for you?

The manuscript for Pillow actually started out as my Masters thesis, so the writing process was pretty ideal. I TA’ed one class, and the rest of time I was working on Pillow, or whatever horrific working title I was calling it at the time (there were many). Also, I was lucky enough to have the really very great Pasha Malla supervising the project and giving me notes, tips, encouragement, and general access to the vast deep ocean of his intellect. So, in summary, the writing process for this book was pretty great!

Writers talk about maintaining a writing routine as a way to remain consistent and to reach deadlines. What is your writing routine? How do you balance this routine with your personal life?

Back in the day, when I was working part-time or in school, I would keep a pretty loose writing schedule. Basically, just writing whenever I felt like it, but generally feeling like it enough to get plenty of work done. Now that I’m working 40 hours a week, I’m trying to be a little bit more strict. I generally write all day Saturday, waking up pretty early and working into the early evening. Throughout the week I sneak in a couple hours here and there before I start my job. I’ve never been someone who works particularly well at night, so I have to find my time in the mornings or afternoons.

On the general question of routines, I’d say that for me a more structured routine is something I use when under a time crunch. The rest of the time, I think it’s important to keep it fun, and not let writing feel too stressful.

What books are you currently reading?

I just finished The North Water by Ian McGuire, which I enjoyed for its psychotic Moby Dick-ish vibe. I’m currently juggling two really good books, Angels, Denis Johnson’s first novel, and Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. He’s the creator of Fargo, which is my favourite TV and right up there for me in terms of narrative art that I’m into.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The best piece of advice I ever received about writing was very specific: it was when Pasha told me, quite directly, to work on the idea for Pillow instead of a collection of, in hindsight, pretty bad short fiction. I’m really not sure where I’d be if he hadn’t suggested I work on a novel instead of that book.

As for my own advice, I have two pieces: 1. Have fun! Writing might be the gloomiest and nerdiest of the arts, but it’s still an art, and art should be fun. Not only am I a “writing is fun” advocate for personal reasons, but I also think writers who are relaxed and enjoying themselves write livelier, more interesting work. 2. Don’t worry too much about general advice like I just gave! Writing is one of the more individual-centric human endeavours, and nobody is going to be able to tell you what works best for you except you, or someone you know and trust. Advice from random strangers like me is fine to take in and think about, but, in terms of application to your direct writerly life, about as useful as the paper its printed on. And it’s not even printed on paper!

Michaela Bray is a BFA student at the University of British Columbia, in her last year of the Creative Writing program. When she’s not writing non-fiction, or writing for children, she can be found in in various East Vancouver coffee shops, drinking way too much coffee and people watching when she should really be working on said non-fiction or children’s lit.

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