To end this wonderful weekend of literary pleasures, a brunch panel was held at the Walper hotel. The three invited authors, Catherine Bush, Elizabeth Ruth and Michael Winter, discussed their latest books and their writing process. From Newfoundland to Afghanistan, they made us travel through titillating conversation.
Elizabeth Ruth (about her latest book): Matadora is set in 1930 Spain and Mexico and tells the story of Luna, an indentured servant. It's not exactly a novel about Canada, but the topic really excited me. It's loud, brassy, passionate and hot. I wanted to to about class issues and love. Bull fighting well represents that since the spectators are part of the aristocracy and the people in the arena are poor. Spain was still ruled by a feudal system in 1930 and the gap between rich and poor was growing. My story explore the idea is that pain is the price of ambition and the idea of having to choose between the person you love the most and the thing you love the most. I wanted to create a strong female character for canlit and address the concept of the space occupied by women in public. In this sense, it's very contemporary. This book is written for anyone trying to raise above their circumstances.
Catherine Bush: I love the sense of community around books, a community made of writers and readers. For my fourth novel, Accusation, I was interested in stories that pull you but also make you think. I like to write about women with peculiar professions. The story is about allegations and the difficulty to write about them as a journalist. It is a morally ambiguous position. I'm interested in characters looking for the truth and how allegations affect us. We still end up judging people, whether they're guilty or not.
I wrote this book from a real experience. A man was accused of sexual abuse in a children circus in Ethiopia. It's a difficult topic to talk about, because tremendous good was done through those social circuses but the possibility of arm having been done is also present. Does the good cancel the bad completely. I want the readers to ponder the question.
Michael Winter: My parents are from the North of England. My father had always wanted to be a cowboy in the great West. My mother wanted to live in New York. So they ended up in Newfoundland.
One summer, my dad wanted us to build a log cabin, by the lake. So as everyone was enjoying the water, we were seating away, my brother and I, clearing the field. Somehow, we managed to set fire to the forest. My brother told me to wait while he ran to get help. In the meantime, Sharon Penny, our sexy teenager neighbor. She held my hand. Suddenly, an helicopter dropped tons of water on the field. I ended up on top of Sharon Penny. My brother came back running asking if we were ok. Sharon Penny replied "That was awesome." We had to replant all kinds of different trees and the place became like a tropical forest. The main character of my book, Minister Without a Portfolio, take his son to this forest at the end of the story.
A good book means to be able to connect with the characters, to share info about them. What speaks to the reader?
ER: When writing characters, I find a way into their souls. If you know them well, you can put them in many situations. My book is an argument with Hemingway who stated women were too delicate for bull fighting. The bull fighter is like a writer. I could identify with her commitment, the possibility of failure.
Luna is caught between her two brothers who have opposite political views: one is on the left, the other on the right. She is pressured to take sides. If she takes the left, she's be relegated to the kitchen, but if she choose right, she'll be a traitor to her own people. The book talks about artists in time of war and of censorship. The characters operate in tandem with their time, and their sociopolitical context with a soul to soul connection.
CB: Characters don't exist in isolation. Sarah is part of a triangle with Raymond Renaud and her friend Juliet. Everyone is entangled morally with each other. Everyone wants something different. Good fiction is defined by the intensity of desire. The main character wants to speak to Raymond and to his accusers.
As this was inspired from real event, I had to question myself a lot. I was able to go further than a newspaper article could have. There were contradictions, complications and questions. I came to realize that accusations can happen every day, to everyone. They hold a terrible power.
MW: When I was a kid, there was a radio at home we were not supposed to use. Of course, I used it and said my brother had used it. My mother got objurgated my brother and he never denied it, although we both knew I was the culprit. This stayed with us for a long time. Accusations, even samll, have power.
A protagonist who doesn't want to take sides is good. It's hard to do that with a first person narrator, so I wrote in the third person. Henry, my main character, wonders how much one can control. He feels that opening his heart to other people will make him vulnerable. Not doing is difficult, it's dangerous.
ER: When excavating the past, the heart is important. Luna is grappling with love. Outside the arena is where is dangerous. Somehow, I feel writer are so passive. We're isolated from the rest of the world, watching the rest of the world. Creating active life is very passive.
CB: I feel that writing is a retreat but that it's also an engagement with the world. The questing impulse is very important. Write what you don't know, but what you want to know. There is an ethical component to asking questions and exploring answers. It a commitment, though. The real value in a novel is in telling a story that will make people think.
MW: As writers, we're always working. We set ourselves back so we can connect things together, make them more powerful. You have to make it seem like without the main character, the world would topple.
CB: You have to pay attention to the views of the world. Bring quality of attention to the world.
ER: Writing a book is a neurotic job. It's a commitment. I see the inherent value, but as a writer and a person, there is a continual push-pull between the real world and the world in my mind. I tend to bring whatever is in my mind into the outside world.
What is the wildest thing you've ever done?
MW: I have a house in Newfoundland. One day, I was on a boat with my wife and son, we had gone for a picnic across the bay. As we were getting back, there was a bit of fog but I thought it would be ok. I was rowing and my wife told me she couldn't see the land. We suddenly found ourselves stuck in the fog. It was very quiet and there wasn't anything to orient us. For long minutes, we couldn't see a thing. We lost sense of time and place. It was terrifying. Then, I heard the sound of waves crashing. We landed about half a kilometer away from where we were originally headed. We could have missed land completely. The strangest thing was that the fog was on the water only.
ER: My entire early life was wild. I was the only child to an unmarried mother. We moved about forty times. We were always on the move. I was formed in a space of wilderness. I left home at fifteen. So for me, the wildest thing I did was to get married, have a family and a home I'm loyal to.