Friday, February 8, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Katherine Govier

Katherine Govier is an award winning novelist with a special interest in historical figures who are artists. Her novel, Creation, about John James Audubon in Labrador, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2003. Her fiction and non fiction has appeared in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, the Commonwealth and in translation in Holland, Italy, Turkey, and Slovenia. She is the winner of Canada's Marian Engel Award for a woman writer in mid-career (1997), and the Toronto Book Award (1992).

She is the author of 8 novels and 3 short story collections and the editor of two collections of travel essays.

Katherine has been a visiting lecturer in both Creative Writing and Magazine Journalism at York University (Toronto), Ryerson Polytechnical University, (Toronto), and The University of Leeds (Leeds, England).

Katherine has been instrumental in establishing two innovative writing programs. In 1989, with teacher Trevor Owen, she founded Writers in Electronic Residence, a national online writing program connecting Canadian writers in their homes to high school students in classrooms across Canada from Newfoundland to the Arctic to Vancouver Island. Since 2004 she has been on the Program Advisory Committee for the post-degree certificate program, Canadian Journalism for Internationally Trained Writers, at Sheridan College, Oakville, Ontario. a post-degree certificate for immigrant, refugee or exiled writers.

She is currently at work on her ninth novel, about Hokusai's daughter.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

It didn't.

2 - How long have you lived in Toronto, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I lived in Toronto about 30 years with breaks for living in Washington DC (2 Years) and London England (2 Years) and now I live partly in Canmore Alberta.

Geography, race, gender--these are huge questions. Of course they impact the work.

3 - Where does a piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

A novel is a book. Short stories come individually.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

They can be a kind of reconnoitering with oneself. Meeting readers can be energizing.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Again- a giant question. Really you need to sit down and talk with other writers to answer this. I do think about the contemporary novel as I am writing. I bring the past into the present; it is what I do. This is not the same as historical fiction, and it is "new" in a sense.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I don't know what you mean. To me an editor is a person at a publishing house is charged with getting the book ready for publication. I usually listen to her or him very carefully. It is not often a very long term project-- these are mainly superficial changes.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Harder, because I choose harder things to do.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Three days ago.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

I really don't think I've had a lot of advice; I'm not sure people are able to hear it and I think it is mostly wasted. Robert Weaver once told me about the difference between a story of ideas (The Immaculate conception Photography Gallery) and a story of characters, and said people became polarized over the former, which I think is true.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I do it and like to do it. Non-fiction is more true to observed experience and sometimes I have a strong urge to communicate that way--also it may be more accessible, expecially these days, as people are losing the ability to read fiction.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one?

I write most days, early more than later.

How does a typical day (for you) begin?

At my computer.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

yoga, tennis, martial arts, --- something physical practised with other people in a room full of daylight.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?


15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Spend a year living beside the ocean. Spend three months in India. Be irresponsible.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be?

landscape gardening, or psychotherapy.

Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?


18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

The fact that I was not good enough to be a dancer. The fact that I loved books.

The fact that I loved words and sentences.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

great film? I can think of good ones, not great ones.

20 - What are you currently working on?

a big novel about Hokusai's daughter.

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