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20 Writerly Questions Series: Joan Thomas

abstract:The "Writerly Questions Series" is brought to you courtesy of Random House Canada who partners with BookBuffet. Look for this feature each Monday. The idea is we ask different authors the same set of questions designed to give readers a glimpse into the lives and writing mechanics of authors. It is fascinating to compare and contrast when you check the list to date at bottom. Today we feature Joan Thomas. Joan Thomas's debut novel, Reading by Lightning, won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book (Canada/Caribbean) in 2009, was a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book, was shortlisted for three Manitoba Book Awards, is the 2009 Manitoba Reads pick and on the shortlist for the Amazon Best First Book Award. Her short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in journals and magazines across the country, and she is the writing and publishing program consultant for the Manitoba Arts Council. Her newest novel is Curiosity from McClelland & Stewart.

1. How would you summarize Curiosity in one sentence? Forty years before Darwin, a 19th century gentleman and a fossil-collecting working-class woman meet each other, and their way of thinking about the world changes.
2. How long did it take you to write this book? I read for about a year and then I wrote for three.
3. Where is your favorite place to write? I wrote part of this book in a desk in the bedroom, part in the basement facing a cement wall, the rest in my current light-filled office. Really, I don’t care, as long as it’s quiet. I’m not a Starbucks kind of writer.
4. How many drafts do you go through? With word processors, it’s impossible to say. I’m always tinkering with what’s there, adding layers. But if you consider it a separate draft every time you say, “Okay, this is done,” print it off, and give it to someone to read—maybe 8. It’s amazing how often you finish a book! [4-10 continued]


May 03, 2010

5. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it? I’d hate to put anything out there that would interfere with readers casting themselves into the lead roles in Curiosity, so I’ll stick to the smaller parts. Mary’s father is definitely Daniel Day Lewis in smouldering, maverick mode, and Mary’s wry upper class friend is Emma Thompson. Henry’s fiancée—well, I’d start by calling Emma Watson from Harry Potter in for an audition, although I’m not so sure about her.
6. When do you write best, morning or night? I love to write in the morning to see what problems my unconscious mind solved overnight. But sometimes I get on a great roll in early afternoon—it feels like that moment when you hit your stride after running for a while.
7. What’s on your nightstand right now? I’ve just finished the most amazing book—Goya’s Dog by Damian Tarnopolsky, a Toronto writer I’ve just discovered. It’s brilliant and achingly funny. I read it in a day. I recently read and loved Mother’s Milk by British writer Edward St. Aubyn—it’s in a similar satiric vein.
8. What do you drink or eat while you write? Not long ago I knocked a big glass of mango juice over on my keyboard, so, currently, nothing.
9.. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from? I guess it’s a question of whose story you want to tell. But then there are questions of which voice to use (1st, 3rd, or if you’re really brave, 2nd) and how intimate and idiomatic and reliable the narration should be. I doubt if most writers make these decisions in a calculated way; you start to write, and look at what you have, and try to fully exploit its potential. I’m so interested in point of view—in my opinion it’s the most wonderful tool writers have. So few books on writing delve into it in a satisfying way. One exception is How Fiction Works by James Wood.
10. What is the best gift someone could give a writer? I think almost every writer will say “time.” I just received a great gift from a reader. Someone (the hostess of a book club I visited) read an interview where I confessed to writing in my pyjamas so I could get to work faster in the mornings. So she put together a big bag of wonderful things for breakfasts. All home-made baking, pumpkin scones, etc. I loved it—every morning for two weeks I loved it!


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  • Previous Authors Asked 20 Writerly Questions

    Anosh Irani
    Yann Martel
    Joy Fielding
    Andrew Kaufman
    Beth Powning



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