Philip Reeve

11221446_890212321024294_334471840868687876_oInterviewed by Ray Clark

Philip Reeve is the award-winning UK-based author of many beloved books for children and young adults, including the Mortal Engines and Goblins series, Here Lies Arthur, and most recently, Railhead. He has collaborated with artist Sarah McIntyre on a series of illustrated books, and has illustrated numerous books himself, in addition to his work in film, theater, and even a musical. In 2001 he published his first novel, Mortal Engines, which went on to win the Smarties Gold Award, the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award, and the Blue Peter “Book I Couldn’t Put Down” Award. Mortal Engines was my first introduction to Reeve’s writing, and it captivated me immediately with its fascinating world and richly nuanced characters. I was thrilled to have a chance to speak with him online recently about his thoughts on writing and the creative process.

Before writing novels, you worked as an illustrator and in small stage productions and films. You’ve mentioned films such as Star Wars and John Boorman’s Excalibur as inspirations. To what extent would you say that your experience in fiction outside the world of books influences your writing?

I think a lot of my influences come from films, TV, art, etc. When I was growing up I loved books, but I think I loved films and TV equally – it’s the story and the imagery that matters, not the form. When I started writing Mortal Engines it really was because I didn’t have the means to put it on film. There’s always a very strong visual element to my stuff: most of my books are basically me describing a movie which I’m screening in my head.

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Ernie Crey

Creyoppenheimer (1)Interviewed by Wawmeesh G. Hamilton

Cheam First Nation leader Ernie Crey understands the plight of aboriginal foster children better than most. At age 13 he and his eight siblings were taken from their mother and placed in separate foster homes. In 1997, Crey and Vancouver journalist Suzanne Fournier co-wrote the book Stolen from Our Embrace, a tome that revealed the gritty realities of foster care, residential schools, and other aboriginal issues. Stolen from Our Embrace won the BC Book Prize and the Hubert Evans Prize for nonfiction. It is also required reading for social work, political science, and aboriginal studies in colleges and universities across Canada, including UBC. I came to know Crey after interviewing him for a news story.

What is Ernie up to these days?

Well, I start my days by scanning Facebook and Twitter and reading news sites. My days – well, I still have my hat in the ring. I serve on my tribe’s council and our elections are coming up in November. I’m going to run again and may run for chief councillor. I’m 66, and it’s a lot to consider at my age but I’m still up for it. I’m also the fisheries and media advisor to the Stó:lō Tribal Council. I sit on various boards and foundations, and I lecture frequently at colleges and universities as well. And I still read books, at least two a day; I have for years now.

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Evelyn C. White

Evelyn C White%2c by Joanne BealyInterviewed by Clara Chandler

Evelyn C. White is a dual Canadian and American citizen and a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds degrees from Wellesley College, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Harvard. Coming from a background in journalism and civic advocacy, she is now a celebrated writer of nonfiction. Her most ambitious project to date was the ten years of research she put into her authorized biography of Alice Walker. Booklist wrote that Alice Walker: A Life (WW Norton, 2004), “meticulously traces and analyzes the stages of Walker’s life, emphasizing the impact on and importance of her literature in American culture.” 

White’s writing is informed by feminism and African American culture, as well as her ceaseless curiosity. She is passionate about ping pong and okra.

I was fortunate to correspond with her by email recently.

At what moment in your childhood/adulthood did you understand that you needed to be a writer? Not so much that you wanted to make money being a writer, but that you were one of the tribe who has to write things down. Where did you go from there? 

I started writing book reviews (of my own volition) while living in Seattle in the late 1970s.  I wasn’t assigned, wasn’t trying to make a name for myself. Would just go into the used bookstore on Capitol Hill and buy a book and write a review. I believe that my first published piece was about The Coming Out Stories, an early gay/lesbian anthology.  Some pioneering feminist publishers in Seattle who’d started Seal Press saw my book reviews (in papers such as the Seattle Gay News) and (long story short) invited me to write the first commercial general market book on the physical and emotional abuse of Black women — Chain Chain Change: For Black Women Dealing with Physical and Emotional Abuse. (In later editions the subtitle changed to “For Black Women in Abusive Relationships.”)

These pioneering feminist publishers took me to what was then called a “fern bar” in Seattle: a quasi-fancy restaurant with fern plants decorating the interior. Before this, I had received a check for $13 for one of my book reviews. That was like magic money as I hadn’t asked for any payment. I can still see the check. It was printed on goldenrod. Anyway, the feminist publishers took me to this bar and showed me the contract for Chain Chain Change. The advance was $500. They gave me a check for $250 immediately after I signed my name. This was even more amazing than the $13 check because I hadn’t written a word. The deal was that I got half of the advance upon signing, half upon delivery. 

I realized then that I had an innate talent for writing, that people would pay me to write, but I had no formal training in journalism. Hence, I decided to go to journalism school. I applied only to Columbia and was accepted. Had I not been accepted, I would have taken it as a cosmic sign that I wasn’t meant to be a reporter.

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Brett Josef Grubisic

Brett_Josef_Grubisic_photoInterviewed by Joshua Robinson

To regard reading and writing as, in a way, an exercise in the exploration of self is no revelatory concept for Brett Josef Grubisic.  Growing up, he found his passion early and preferred the company of the written word and a quiet corner to the bluster and bombast of social gatherings in his family home.  

Years removed from childhood, Grubisic occupies many roles within the writing world.  As a professor of English at the University of British Columbia, a contributor to Maclean’s and other publications, and an editor and writer himself, Grubisic has turned his childhood passion into a sprawling career. 

The editor of Contra/Diction: New Queer Male Fiction and co-editor of Carnal Nation: Brave New Sex Fictions, Grubisic’s debut novel, The Age of Cities, was a 2007 finalist for the Vancouver Book Award. His upcoming novel, From Up River and For One Night Only—due out in April 2016—is the next in a solid sequence of compelling prose that draws on experience-as-catalyst, attesting to the fact that to write is more than just an exercise in mechanics.  To write is to reach back into one’s life, to pull at the past to create something entirely new. 

I spoke with Brett about his influences, his upcoming projects, and how he approaches the craft of writing. 

What inspired you to become a writer?

My oldest memory of “being a writer” takes place in St. Mary’s, a weird once-upon-a-time segregated half-residential elementary school near Hatzic Island, BC. A teacher granted a few girls and me a spare because we’d finished our work earlier. We were being handpicked as “accelerated” I think. Alone in a room we were allowed to do anything creative and we came up with a gory play about a giant chicken’s heart terrorizing girls who were camping. We made a monster/chicken’s heart costume out of red construction paper. My first rejection slip came in the form of the teacher’s disappointment with the direction our unfettered creativity had taken. She told us that we couldn’t perform it and that our spare classes were cancelled. I’m pretty sure the essence of that boy was still in me when I began writing my first novel a few decades later!

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Moira Young

Young%2c Moira Please Use This for Publicity 2Credit www.benjaminharte.comInterviewed by Jessica Bradford

Originally from New Westminster, BC and a graduate of UBC, Moira Young moved to the UK to attend The Drama Studio, becoming a tap-dancing chorus girl in London’s West End before returning to Canada and retraining as an opera singer. She spent several years performing in Europe until 2003 when she fell off a bus on her way to her debut as a sketch comedienne, broke both her wrists and suffered a concussion. She decided it was a “sign from the universe” and took a course in writing for children.

Eight years later her debut novel, the YA fantasy Blood Red Road, won the Costa Children’s Book Award, the British Columbia Book Prize for Children’s Literature and France’s Le Prix des Incorruptibles. It is now being developed for film by Ridley Scott. Her second book, Rebel Heart, was a finalist for the Sunburst Prize, BC Stellar Award and Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy. The final book of the trilogy, Raging Star, was published in 2014. Moira’s writing has been described by the New York Times as having “an elemental power, unfolding across achingly barren landscapes, full of blistering hot winds and swirling clouds of orange dust.”

Moira kindly took time out of finishing her latest novel to answer a few questions.

You have said that the landscape of your trilogy is influenced by your childhood in BC, by descriptions of the dust bowl and the landscape of westerns.  Living in BC and reading your novels I often felt like I was in familiar country, the descriptions were so tangible. Do you find yourself being drawn to the British landscape in the same way?

That large, visual landscape is in my DNA, it seems. I put that down to our summer driving holidays during my first nine years, exploring British Columbia. Those landscapes have been altered, filtered through memory and movies, to become something mythic; I mean, in a deeply personal sense. And it’s nothing to do with being an outdoorsy person. Generally, I find most Canadian landscapes too large for comfort, too immense to even comprehend. Yet if I’m away from them for too long, I feel an urgent need to return.

Much of the UK is on a much more human scale. You feel that you’re walking where people have walked for thousands of years and worn the land to their lives. The right to roam makes it easy to get off the beaten track. I love to explore the British countryside and I read a lot of UK landscape writers, Robert Macfarlane, for one. I’m more drawn to the fringes – Cornwall and Scotland, where my family come from – so perhaps I’ll write something set there one day. But it can only ever be from the viewpoint of an outsider. It’s not my land. I’m connected to Canadian landscape in a visceral way.

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Monica Heisey

Monica HeiseyInterviewed by Christine Bortolin

Monica Heisey brings the funny, but she also brings the heartbreak. She is able to openly and honestly reveal herself, using her personal experiences to explore larger themes.

Her website lists her as a comedian and writer living in Toronto, but those titles don’t do justice to the many ways she works her craft. She has a history of performing live improv and stand up, which is probably why she can weave tragedy and comedy so deftly. She could break a pen and, as the ink spilled out, it would form an essay on her first break up, foiled by the history of the burrito. Her essays, articles, and short fiction have appeared in VICE, Broadly, The Hairpin, Rookie, The Guardian, Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, FASHION, Playboy, Noisey, and the list goes on. She was an editor at She Does the City and is now editor-at-large at VICE’s female-centric channel Broadly. Her fantastic new book I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life is as hilarious and heartfelt as Heisey herself.

She kindly took the time to answer a few questions for me.

What was your first piece of professional writing? What do you consider “professional writing”? Were you scared about it?

My first piece of professional writing was for my grandfather’s Penetanguishine quarterly newspaper in Georgian Bay. I was 11 and we went out in this helicopter to take pictures for their spring issue. I wrote up a little first-person account of the experience. A few weeks after my story was published, I got a cheque in the mail for $65. My grandpa had processed an invoice for me and paid me like the regular writing staff. 

These days I consider “professional writing” to be writing that helps you earn your income, although I’m not convinced financial gain is a good metric by which to judge creative pursuits. “Professional” writing and “good” writing can be very different things.

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Ryan North

North_photo (1)Interviewed by Kyle Schoenfeld

Ryan North is a Toronto-based writer, cartoonist, and computer programmer.  He began writing the award-winning webcomic Dinosaur Comics in 2003.  Since then Dinosaur Comics has been collected in four print volumes.  From 2012 to 2014, Ryan wrote the Eisner- and Harvey-Award-winning Adventure Time comic book series.  His other writing credits include The Midas Flesh and Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Outside of comics, Ryan co-edited and wrote for the 2010 short story collection Machine of Death (inspired by a Dinosaur Comics strip) and its 2013 follow-up volume This is How You Die.  Also in 2013, he published To Be or Not to Be, a chooseable-path version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet; a sequel called Romeo and/or Juliet is currently in progress.

As a long-time fan of Dinosaur Comics and a contributor to This is How You Die, I was excited to get the chance to talk to Ryan.  We corresponded via email.

In the past, you’ve said you don’t like the label “writer.”  Is there a label or a job description that fits your career to this point?  Does “cartoonist” cover it?

Oh, I’d almost forgotten about that!  I’ve always been twitchy around labels.  These days if I’m at a party and someone asks what I do, I’ll answer depending on how interesting I want to seem.  If I want to seem the least interesting I’ll say I’m a computer programmer (which is true!  I run Project Wonderful, which is an ad network I wrote that is designed, unlike all other ad networks, NOT to suck) but if I want to seem more interesting I’ll say “writer.”  And if I want to seem super interesting I’ll go with “cartoonist,” although that’s risky because there’s always the chance they’ll want you to draw something when you say that, and then you have to explain you’re not THAT kind of cartoonist.

But given all that I do, I think “writer” fits the largest volume of it. These days I’m much happier to call myself a writer than I was a few years ago.

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Karim Alrawi

DSC_9245_3Interviewed by Jasmine Ruff

Karim Alrawi has written stage plays, radio plays, children’s books and most recently a novel. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt and writes in both Arabic and English.

He earned an MFA in creative writing at UBC and was an International Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa. His plays have been produced internationally. His work in stage has won the John Whiting Award (UK), the Samuel Beckett Award (UK), and the Jessie Richardson Award (Canada) among others.

His debut novel Book of Sands received the inaugural HaperCollins Publishers/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction Award. The novel is set during the Arab Spring and follows the lives of a small family as they struggle against an oppressive political system. Tarek, a father and husband, has to flee with his young daughter to avoid unjust persecution and leaves his pregnant wife behind. As the novel progresses it explores tradition, religion, love and freedom.

What initially drew you to writing?

I was working for an engineering company in London (England) and was writing up my thesis for a third degree. One morning as I was having breakfast at a small cafe waiting for the office to open, I realized that this was going to be a typical day of the rest of my life and couldn’t bear the thought. So I quit. I started writing a stage play. I supported myself by working as a barman in a Soho bar, as well as doing various other jobs. But then paused to write a radio play for a BBC competition. The play won and was produced. I then returned to writing my stage play and eventually got it produced. It won an award and I was offered a job at a theatre company as literary manager. And life rolled on from there.

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Anosh Irani

Interviewed by Abeer Yusuf

Anosh Irani was born and brought up in Bombay, India and moved to Vancouver in 1998.  He is the author of the acclaimed novels The Cripple and His Talismans and The Song of Kahunsha, which was a finalist for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, was published in thirteen countries, and was a bestseller in Canada, China, and Italy. His play Bombay Black was a Dora Award winner for Outstanding New Play. Irani was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Drama for his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black.  His latest novel Dahanu Road was longlisted for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize.  He is currently working on a film for director Irena Salina (Flow) and producer Leslie Holleran (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules).

I sat down with Irani in a bagel café to talk about books and Bombay. Over the course of an hour, we talked about what one needs to be a writer, what Bombay means to Irani, immigrant woes, and how important alcohol is in making someone a writer.

How does a story come to you?

Most stories start in the form of an image.  With my first novel, The Cripple and His Talismans, it was an image of amputated limbs hanging from the ceiling in a very dark, dungeon-esque sort of place. You realize that the image doesn’t leave, and you’re compelled to explore it. When that happens, it’s both a curse and a blessing because the more you try to shake it off the deeper you end up going into it. Every story has a different starting point—some have images, some have stories that have been told to me by my family, so when I began my novel Dahanu Road, it was based on my great-grandfather digging holes in the ground on his farm to hide whiskey bottles: it was Prohibition in India at that time. So the beginnings are different, but in the end we always end up exploring character, that becomes your centre, especially in fiction.

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Anthony McCarten

TTOE_D05_ 02461Interviewed by David Geary

Anthony McCarten was nominated for two Academy Awards in 2015: one for best picture producer and one as writer of the adapted screenplay for The Theory of Everything. The film is based on Jane Hawkings’ book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, about her first marriage to world-renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. McCarten describes the story as about the love of physics and physics of love. The film was up for five Oscars in total (star Eddie Redmayne won for Best Actor), and this interview took place before the results were known.

McCarten is an all-rounder; an accomplished playwright, producer, screenwriter and novelist. His novels have been translated into 14 languages and have been finalists and award winners in both his homeland of New Zealand and internationally.

When asked for an interview about his career – from the wilds of New Zealand to the red carpet – he sent this link.

Your writing career started as a journalist?

No, at 17, I wanted to be a rock star. I had a Springsteen/Dylan/Neil Young/Tom Waits phase  (which is still on-going), and I cut a record. I wrote all the songs for the  album, did vocals and lead guitar. Oh, the folly of youth. I was wise enough to know that I sucked.  For a couple of years after that I was a journalist, the only one serving a small rural part of New Zealand. This served as my apprenticeship in writing on time for money to serve an audience. I got a free house, a car, and a cat. I was miserable. At some point I thought – Is that all there is? 

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