The Three Rs: Elisabeth de Mariaffi

December 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Elisabeth de Mariaffi is the author of the short-story collection How to Get Along with Women, which was longlisted for the Giller Prize earlier this year.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I don’t know. When I was eleven I thought I wanted to be an actress, and then when I was seventeen I wanted to be a diplomat and speak seven languages. I wrote (bad) poems in high school and was encouraged in this by a drama teacher. Then I decided to be a journalist, but turned down offers from journalism schools and instead attempted to do a degree in French Language and Semantics with a minor in Botany. This kind of cross-college activity is not encouraged by the university system.

When I was three, I made books constantly and sold them on my front lawn for 5 cents a piece.

How does writing fit into your typical day?

Right now I have a day job as a marketer in publishing, so: not much. I’m more of a binge writer, anyway. So I’ll have some days where I don’t write, but when I’m working on something I’m very focused. I did a five-week stint this summer where I wrote close to 200 pages. I don’t know what that translates to on a per-day basis. I’d rather not do the math.

Do you type or write by hand?

I type. When I’m writing-writing, like for real, I type. I make notes by hand. I keep a very very sporadic journal. I’d like to go back to that. I did an MFA where my thesis was in poetry and I wrote everything by hand first, but with fiction, I like typing. My advisor for that poetry thesis was Dionne Brand, and she said this incredibly smart thing about not typing drafts of poetry — because on a computer, that first draft is all laid out and typeset and looks lovely and more dangerous than that, it looks finished. So scrawly drafts are important.

How to Get Along with Women by Elisabeth de Mariaffi (Invisible Publishing)

What have you read recently that you loved?

I loved Lisa Moore’s Caught. Loved it. I think it’s the smartest book I read this year. I’m reading We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo right now and I’m completely taken with it, as well.

What are your all-time favourites?

I find this question very stressful, as I’m sure to forget something really important. Short stories by Alice Munro, Mark Anthony Jarman, Stephen O’Connor, Aimee Bender, James Salter, Flannery O’Connor; Michael Winter’s One Last Good Look; novels, I guess Emma, Madame Bovary, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Tender is the Night, Love in a Time of Cholera, George Orwell’s  Down and Out in Paris and London, although that’s really a memoirI have a real affinity for genre mystery and that’s what I read when I have the flu. Hercule Poirot to Precious Ramotswe.

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

Read. No question. The writing can happen in your head; but without reading, I do not think I would write.

What’s your third R, and why?

Running. I’ve been running since I was 15 and it’s completely essential, meditative, and an energy-burner. I have a lot of energy to burn, in order to be able to sit down for four or five hours and focus on writing again.


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