The Three Rs: Martha Schabas
May 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
Martha Schabas’ first novel Various Positions was named one of the “Best Books of 2011” by Quill & Quire, and among the “Best First Fiction of 2011” by The Globe and Mail. It was recently shortlisted for the Ontario Library Association’s 2012 Evergreen Award. Her articles, book reviews and fiction have appeared in The Globe and Mail, The New Quarterly, ELLE Canada, Broken Pencil, and Maisonneuve. She holds degrees from McGill University, Queen’s University, and the University of East Anglia, where she received the David Higham Literary Award. Martha lives in Toronto and is currently working on her second novel.
When did you first know you wanted to write books?
There was no revelatory moment for me. I’ve always written and have always longed to write books in an abstract sort of way, but the idea that I was going to make it a kind of full-time, all-encompassing enterprise snuck up on me pretty slowly. As a kid, I wanted to be a politician or a ballerina. It may have only been quite recently, sitting down to my second novel, that I paused and realized that there wasn’t going to be much else for me.
What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?
I get up early and try to write straight through until lunch. I drink a lot of coffee. I try not to check my email. If I’m still feeling interested, I’ll keep going for a few hours in the afternoon. The post-lunch bit is inevitably not as disciplined, and I allow myself to get distracted by vaguely relevant internet research.
What do you read while you’re writing?
I read very selfishly while I’m working on a book. I look for narratological structures that may parallel or inform my own. It’s frequently the relationship between the narrator and the implied author that obsesses me, and I look for books that can help me explore that. For example, in my first novel Various Positions, there was a significant wedge between the protagonist’s point of view and (what I hoped were) some of the cumulative implications of her character. So I read lots of irresistible but unreliable narrators, books that contrast the authenticity of lived experience with the problem of the truth. Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier is a great example of that. So is most Nabokov, of course.
What have you read recently that you really loved?
Suicide by Edouard Levé, The Notebook by Agota Kristof, The End of the Story by Lydia Davis, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin, After the Fire a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld, Great House by Nicole Krauss, The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud.
What are your all-time favourites?
War and Peace — Tolstoy, Notes from Underground — Dostoevsky, Master and Margarita — Bulgakov, Austerlitz – Sebald, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter – Simone de Beauvoir, Mrs. Dalloway — Woolf, Molloy — Beckett, Good Morning, Midnight – Jean Rhys, 2666 – Roberto Bolaño, The Book of Evidence – John Banville, The Gathering – Anne Enright, Sick Notes – Gwendoline Riley, Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte.
You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?
Cruel and unusual. Pass.
What’s your third R?
Contemporary dance and theatre.