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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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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Álvaro Miranda

alvaro-miranda1[1]Interviewed by Camilo Castillo R

Álvaro Miranda is a poet, fiction writer, and biographer. I met Álvaro last October, when we were at a writing retreat in Saladoblanco, a small town in the state of Huila, Colombia. On the long journey from Bogotá we discussed poetry, literature, life. Later, in the workshops, I had the opportunity to listen to his poetry and was captivated by his sense of humour and his sensibility. After the trip, I read his book Simulación de un reino (2014) which includes old and new poems, and his novel La risa del cuervo (1992), where Caribbean rhythm, history, and poetry combine in a very stylized manner. I also read his recent biography of Toto La Momposina, Columbia’s most famous folk singer. In this book Álvaro illustrates that he sails easily between genres and forms. Some of his other books include Indiada (1971), Los escritos de don Sancho Jimeno (1982), La risa del cuervo (1992), Simulación de un reino (second edition, 2014). He also wrote Colombia la senda dorada del trigo: episodios de molineros, pan y panaderos (2000) an exploration of how bread was developed in Colombia, and the biography León de Greiff en el país de Bolombolo (2004). For this interview, we spoke about his poetry and his interest in history. The interview took place in Spanish and I translated it into English.

Álvaro, which author most influenced you to become a writer?

Santa Teresa de Jesús (Teresa of Ávila). I discovered her in an old book at school. I read that she was a fat lady who rode in a carriage in order to found abbeys, where she coerced women, those red-cheeked young Spanish ladies who laughed and pried at clean houses of high stone, to become novices. When I read her poems, I was transported to the century of Santa Teresa, the 16th century, but especially I was transported by the simplicity of her rhymes that put me in dialogue with another time and another light, a light that was more than Ávila, more than Spain: I discovered myself. I found something, a kind of meadowland artificially blooming over Teresa’s words. But her words were not hers anymore, they were mine.

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Ayelet Tsabari

Ayelet TsabariInterviewed by Nicole Boyce

Ayelet Tsabari is the author of the short story collection The Best Place on Earth, which won the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. In 2013, she was named as one of ten Canadian writers to watch by CBC Books and in 2014 she was awarded a Chalmers Arts Fellowship. A graduate of the MFA program at Guelph University, Ayelet teaches creative writing through the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph.

I first came to Ayelet’s work through her powerful non-fiction, for which she has won a National Magazine Award, a Western Magazine Award, and the EVENT Creative Non-fiction Contest (twice!). In both her fiction and non-fiction, I admire the way she depicts complex characters and relationships with confident, energetic prose. It was a pleasure to speak to her via email during her recent research trip to Israel.

You’ve been writing your whole life, having published your first poem at age ten. What drives you to write?

I can’t explain it. It’s like love. I feel like it chose me, not the other way around.

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Roslyn Muir

roslynInterviewed by Jackson Runkle.

Roslyn Muir is a screenwriter, novelist, story editor, and teacher. She is an MFA graduate of the UBC Creative Writing program and has a BFA in Theatre from Simon Fraser University. She grew up enjoying science fiction and is the recipient of the prestigious Praxis screenplay award. She has recently produced a dram film, The Birdwatcher and has written two movies of the week, Anatomy of Deception and Reluctant Witness.

I wanted to interview Muir for three reasons: she has succeeded in writing screenplays in a variety of genres, she is currently developing more, and she manages to do all of this with a family while teaching aspiring screenwriters. That’s what I consider a triple threat. I was fortunate enough to sit down and interview her in person.

How did you become a screenwriter?

My background is really varied. In school I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I was really into theatre, and I wanted to be an actor. That’s what I did, I went to SFU and did a BFA in Theatre. I was a performer in both film and theatre. I did a bit of writing, I wrote some plays and performed in them myself. [Read more…]

Sue Goyette

Sue-Goyette 2Interviewed by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

Sue Goyette lives in Halifax and has just published her fifth collection of poems, The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl, with Gaspereau Press. Her previous collections include The True Names of Birds, Undone, outskirts (Brick Books) and Ocean (Gaspereau Press) as well as a novel, Lures (HarperCollins, 2002).

Sue has been nominated for several awards including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Gerald Lampert, the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Dartmouth Book Award, the Acorn-Plantos Award and, most recently, the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize. She won the 2008 CBC Literary Prize for Poetry, the 2010 Earle Birney Prize, the 2011 Bliss Carman Award, the 2012 Pat Lowther Award, the 2012 Atlantic Poetry Prize, Silver in the 2013 National Magazine Awards and the 2014 Nova Scotia Booksellers Choice Award.

Her poetry has appeared on the Toronto subway system, in wedding vows and spray-painted on a sidewalk somewhere in St. John, New Brunswick. Sue currently teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Dalhousie University.

I read Ocean last year and loved its bold ambition, its wit and weight. Sue graciously agreed to an email interview from an unabashed fan.

When did you first begin to take yourself seriously as a poet? 

I’ve always been writing poems. When did my writing practice deepen? Probably when I started writing again in my mid-twenties. I realized then how important my encounters with poetry were. How those encounters informed and orientated my belief and ecosystem. How poetry chimed with something essential in me. How it contributed its own version of vitality to my schedule, and how I had come to rely on it to keep me awake. I was quite young when I had turned to poems, to stories but I trusted their company, their ability to help me feel connected to something bigger and more important than myself. That was key. I don’t feel like it was a choice but more of an opening, like heading in the direction that permitted me to become more me. [Read more…]

Laura McHugh

lauramchughauthInterviewed by Keyanna Burgher

Laura McHugh, with the recent publication of her debut novel The Weight of Blood, has hit the writers’ scene with a vengeance. Her short fiction has appeared in Confrontation and Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley. And although she has always loved writing, Laura instead chose a more stable career path in software development – until that came to a sudden end and she was forced to start anew. With encouragement from her husband, she began to write her first novel. Vividly set in the foreboding Ozark Mountains, The Weight of Blood explores the mysteries and secrets of small town families. It has since been nominated for a 2015 Alex Award and has been published in many languages. Laura is currently working on her next novel, Arrowood. She lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

I had the pleasure of receiving Laura’s book as an impromptu gift from my roommate, which I read over the Christmas holidays in a single sitting. I was giddy with writer-crush excitement over the chance to communicate with her. We corresponded via email.

What does a day in the life of Laura McHugh look like?

I get the kids off to school by 7 a.m. (which is way too early–none of us are morning people) and once I’m feeling coherent enough, I start going through emails and social media posts. I spend part of each day fielding requests for book club visits, book donations, interviews, and speaking engagements, answering questions from aspiring writers, and responding to emails and posts from readers. Once I’ve caught up on that, I get to work writing and revising. I usually eat a quick, terrible lunch, like potato chips or cereal, because the kids are out of school by 2:30, and I have to make the most of my quiet time. After school it’s homework, kids’ activities, dinner, baths, whatever minimal housework I have to do to get by. Some nights I have book club or a book talk. If I’m working toward a deadline or trying to finish a chapter or scene, I’ll get back to work once my family has gone to bed. I do my best work when it’s quiet and no one is interrupting me, so if I’m making good progress, I sometimes stay up until three or four in the morning. [Read more…]

Linda Svendsen

linda_book_photos-002Interviewed by Emily Swan

Linda Svendsen is an acclaimed Vancouver writer, leaving her mark on both fiction and television. Her story collection, Marine Life, was published by Farrar Straus and Giroux (U.S.), HarperCollinsCanada, and Residenz Verlag (as Happy Hour) in Germany. The stories appeared in the AtlanticSaturday NightO. Henry Prize StoriesBest Canadian Stories, literary magazines in the U.S. and The Norton Anthology of Short FictionMarine Life was nominated for the LA Times First Book Award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and produced as a Canadian feature film.

After her children arrived, Linda focused on television for almost two decades. With her husband, Brian McKeown, she co-produced and co-wrote the miniseries, Human Cargo, which garnered seven Gemini Awards, including Best Movie or Miniseries, Best Screenplay, and a George Foster Peabody Award. Other long-form writing credits include Murder Unveiled (with Brian McKeown), At The End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story, and The Diviners, adapted from the Margaret Laurence novel. She has written episodes for Airwaves and These Arms of Mine. In 2006, she received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

Sussex Drive (Random House Canada, 2012), a satire exploring what happens when a Conservative Prime Minister’s wife and a leftish Governor General can no longer play “Follow the Leader,” is Linda’s most recent publication. It’s a novel.

Linda has been a faculty member in the Creative Writing Program at UBC since 1989. In her twenty-five years with the department, she has helped and inspired all manner of students looking to hone their own crafts. Having been inspired by Linda myself, I reached out to her over email to learn more about her journey with writing.

How were you originally drawn to a career in writing? I know (from extensive, online stalking) that you attended classes in creative writing while pursuing your BFA in English. Was this what first attracted you to the field?

In Grade 2 and 3, I became hungry to read and write. I was an only child and on Saturdays my father would have visitation rights for the day and he took me to bookstores and he bought me as many books as I wanted. I started a sequel to Tom Sawyer. I wrote the start of a Bobbsey Twins mystery…and I wrote through high school and have never looked back. I lie. Except for a few detours into acting, anthropology, and codependency, all of which became grist for the mill. [Read more…]