The Three Rs: Michelle Berry

September 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Michelle Berry is the author of three books of short stories, How to Get There  from Here, Margaret Lives in the Basement, and I Still Don’t Even Know You (which won the 2011 Mary Scorer Award for Best Book Published by a Manitoba Publisher and was shortlisted for the ReLit Award, 2011), as well as four novels, What We All Want, Blur, Blind Crescent and This Book Will Not Save Your Life (which won the 2010 Colophon Award and was longlisted for the ReLit Award, 2011). Her writing has been optioned for film and published in the U.K. She is also co-editor with Natalee Caple of The Notebooks: Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers, and has collaborated on an art book with Winnipeg artist, Andrew Valko, called, Postcard Fictions. Michelle taught creative writing at Ryerson University, Humber College and Trent University, was on the board of PEN Canada and the authors’ committee of the Writer’s Trust and served as Second Vice-Chair of The Writer’s Union.  She presently teaches online for The University of Toronto and is a mentor at Humber College. She is a reviewer for The Globe and Mail.

This Book Will Not Save Your Life

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I think I was born knowing I wanted to write books. I remember writing journals, books, stories, when I was very young — grade 1, grade 2. Even before I was writing I was illustrating books. My father and I wrote a book together called, “Sailing the Deep Blue Sea.” A bunch of animals come with a girl on her boat and they sail the sea — it was all in rhyme. I drew the pictures and coloured them. We printed it and bound it nicely. I still have it. My first real publication was in grade 11, in an high school anthology.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?

That depends on what stage I’m at in the writing. If I’m well into the book then I tend to write less in the day and am satisfied with short bursts of time in front of the computer. If I’m starting a novel or stories I tend to stay stuck to my office chair and not get up for hours. I stop writing something when I stop being interested in what I’m writing, when I stop seeing it in front of me, moving. Then I know I’m tired. For a more practical answer: I get up around 7am. Drive my daughter to school (3 mornings a week these days I bike until 10:30), carry coffee up to my office, work until lunch (online teaching, emails, interviews, book reviews, writing), eat lunch listening to cbc radio, work again until 2:30pm, pick my daughter up at school and then usually read on the front porch until dinner. That’s a typical day. These days. In the beautiful fall weather with bikes and porches possible.

What We All Want

Do you type or write?

Computer — type. And fast. I’m a hugely fast typist (can you tell I’m proud of it?). I did temp-jobs throughout university and always got paid more per hour because of how fast I can type. It’s the one useful thing I learned in high school — typing class. I have carpal tunnel (from all the typing) and so can’t actually hold a pen in my hand for more than a few minutes. Even signing my books can be hard. >

What do you read while you’re writing?

Anything I can. I don’t find that reading other people’s work makes me forget my own writing, or influences it, etc.. I do a lot of reviewing and so I’m often reading new releases and books I wouldn’t normally have picked myself. Which is fun. Right now I’m loving Hilary Mantel’s book, Bring up the Bodies. I tend to read more novels than story collections, but that’s not by choice, just by convenience (more novels published then story collections). I read at least one novel a week if not more.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

See previous answer — Hilary Mantel’s book. I also loved The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen and I adored The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt.

How to Get There from Here

What are your all-time favourites?

Alice in Wonderland, anything by Raymond Carver, anything by Ellen Gilchrist, Flannery O’Connor, Paul Murray, Zadie Smith, Rick Moody, Don Delillo, Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare…. I’m pretty eclectic with my tastes. I like stuff that makes me laugh or shocks me. Or both.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Read. No, write. No, read. That’s an awful question to answer. I guess read is the answer — only because I have a tendency to be lazy and procrastinate and so sometimes (most of the time) writing is hard (but worth it).

What’s your third R, and why?

Wine. Definitely wine. And a nice dinner. Wine and dinner. And family. Always family.


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