The Three Rs: Sumia Sukkar

December 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sumia Sukkar is a 21-year-old Muslim British writer, raised in London, of  Syrian-Algerian ancestry. She studied creative writing at Kingston University. The Boy From Aleppo Who Painted The War is her debut book, and was launched at Foyles in London at the beginning of  November. The Times, in a recent review, noted the authenticity of her  research, and how moving her novel of autism, love, art and war is. Sumia  is currently working and writing in the Middle East.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I’ve been writing ever since I could remember. I used to write short stories when I was young and show them to my teacher. My parents then bought me a lovely notebook for my birthday when I was 7 and I started writing my first ‘novel’ . So probably ever since I was 7.

How does writing fit into your typical day?

I’m a traveller so it varies really. Day, evening, night. I can just say it happens everyday in my red notebook.

the boy from Aleppo who painted the war

Do you type or write by hand?

First draft by hand then I type it onto my laptop. I then edit again by hand on the printed pages.

What have you read recently that you loved?

Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami. Such an enigmatic book!

What are your all-time favourites?

The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, The Time Travellers Wife and everything by Haruki Murakami.

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

How brutal a question! I can’t possibly pick. Writing… no, Reading… No… I can’t do this!

What’s your third R, and why?

Ramen. Got to love my noodles.

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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.

The Three Rs: Zoe Whittall

November 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Zoe Whittall is the author of two literary novels: the Lambda award-winning Holding Still For As Long As Possible and Bottle Rocket Hearts, which was named a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year, made the CBC Canada Reads Top Ten Essential Novels of the decade, translated into French and optioned for film. Holding Still for as Long as Possible was shortlisted for the Relit Award, and named an American Library Association Stonewall honor book. Her poetry books include The Best Ten Minutes of Your Life, The Emily Valentine Poems and Precordial Thump.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?
I read voraciously as a child, several books a week. When I was 12, my parents bought me an electronic typewriter – yes, I’m dating myself here – for Christmas and I spent the entire winter vacation writing little 20-page ‘novels’ and binding them in wallpaper samples. I lived outside of a very small town and when I told the librarian that I was moving to the city when I was 13 his response was, “Well, that’s good because you’ve read all of our books here.”  I had a brief period in my late teens where I put aside the writing dream in lieu of trying to be a musician and activist, but I always came back to writing.
Holding Still for as Long as Possible
How does writing fit into your typical day?
I work at a day job three days a week, and write two or three days a week, with one day ‘off’. Theoretically. I tend to also write at night, on my lunch hour, any time I can fit it in. I write fiction, and I also write for TV, and freelance as a literary critic and sometimes journalist, so I have a lot of things to do on my writing days. 
Do you type or write by hand?
Type. Although with poetry I tend to write my first drafts by hand.
What have you read recently that you loved?
I loved the novel Caught by Lisa Moore, and Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, The FlameThrowers by Rachel Kushner, and Nevada by Imogen Binnie. I also read a really funny book by Dawn Dumont called No One Cries at Bingo
What are your all-time favourites?
Sarah Schulman’s Rat Bohemia, Heroine by Gail Scott, Ben Lerner’s poetry, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, Douglas Coupland’s Life After God,  too many others to mention.
You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?
Does this mean I can write but not read what I’ve written? That would be the worst. First drafts are always awful, and that would mean I’d only be able to write wretched first drafts for the rest of my days? So I suppose I would choose reading, and then I’d make someone transcribe my stories for me as I spoke them out loud. Is that cheating? I think it is.

What’s your third R?
Riding my bike.

The Three Rs: Ian Williams

November 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Ian Williams is the author of Personals, shortlisted for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award; Not Anyone’s Anything, winner of the 2011 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in Canada; and You Know Who You Are, a finalist for the ReLit Prize for poetry. He was named as one of ten Canadian writers to watch by CBC.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

By the year I got my braces on, I knew I wanted to write. But I didn’t see myself writing books until university. Filling notebooks was satisfaction enough. As for being a writer, I’m not much into the idea of writer as scarf-wearing, coffee-drinking, pen-sucking dilettante. If that’s the image of a writer, then it’s possible to write without being a writer.

 
How does writing fit into your typical day?
In days of yore, I would have the time to write x hours in the morning. I sometimes wax nostalgic but I’ve come to see writing as an inevitability. These days, I squeeze writing out according to the pimple principle: even if I don’t pop it, it’ll erupt. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a break-out.
Do you type or write by hand?
Both. Poetry tends to begin by hand, fiction by fingertip.
What have you read recently that you loved?
I’m reading Michael Lista’s Bloom beside C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity beside Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook beside Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. And beside all of those, I’ve been reading work from my students. There are a few creative non-fiction pieces from them that I’ve loved recently.
What are your all-time favourites?
Margaret Atwood’s Power Politics, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, Eliot’s The Waste Land, Beckett’s plays, a poem a girl I had a crush on wrote when I was in grade 7 and she was in grade 8.
Ian Williams's Personals Cover
You can either write or read for the rest of your life, but not both. Which do you choose?
You’re asking me to choose between blindness and silence. Where’s the ethics board?
What’s your third R, and why?
Restraint. I’ll restrain myself from saying more.

The Three Rs: Eimear McBride

November 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Eimear McBride grew up in the west of Ireland. She studied at Drama Centre London. Her first novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing was published by Galley Beggar Press in June 2013. She lives in Norwich with her husband and daughter and is currently working on her second novel.
When did you first know you wanted to write?
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely but I was certainly writing from quite a young age. The moment I realised it was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing was around twenty-three, during a long, strange, sleepless summer in Russia.
 
How does writing fit into your typical day?
I’m a nine-to-fiver and spend as many of those hours writing as possible -which is slightly more difficult since my daughter arrived, but the will is still there!
 
Do you type or write by hand?
Type. I revise what I’ve written every day so long-hand wouldn’t be practical. I still carry a notebook and pen for scribbling though.
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What have you read recently that you loved?
The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower, who is an extraordinarily powerful Australian novelist. Her work has only recently been republished after years in obscurity and I can’t remember the last time a novel affected me so strongly
 
What are your all-time favourites?
It’s probably boring to say Ulysses but it never stops being the truth. Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Middlemarch. Dostoyevsky’s The Devils. Tender is the Night. Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is a very hard question to stop answering.
You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?
I’ve whiled a lot of years reading, so writing would be it.
What’s your third R, and why?
Re-writing because it’s all in that.

The Three Rs: Andrew Lovett

November 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Andrew Lovett was born in Surrey and grew up in Hertfordshire. Career-wise, he has done filing, data-inputting, retailing, quantity surveying, teaching, company directoring and a host of jobs in between which fall under the general umbrella of menial. Everlasting Lane, his debut novel, was published by Galley Beggar Press in October, 2013.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

My older – by nine years – brother used to recommend things for me to read and, by the age of about fourteen, I had fallen in love not only with books but also with the idea of being a writer. It seemed such a noble endeavour and I was as enthralled as much by the lives of Salinger, Camus, Isherwood, Steinbeck, Joyce and others as I was by their work. I thought writers and writing were every bit as cool as pop stars and footballers.

How does writing fit into your typical day?

Half the week I do my day job and no writing – at least not fiction. The other half I have a small private office a couple of miles from home where I sit (pretty much nine to five) and stare at a blank screen on the lap-top, occasionally tapping a key to relieve the monotony. In the early stages of writing Everlasting Lane, however, there were a lot of early mornings and late nights fortified by coffee, and biscuits with an orange-chocolate topping. I miss the biscuits.

Do you type or write by hand?

Mostly typing. I seem to think at the same speed as I type (which is not to say fast) so it suits me better than by hand. The downside is that I tend to type the same paragraph twenty times with minor variations which I then have to meld into one.

I do, however, always carry a notebook (although my wife says it ruins the line of my jeans) and pencil. They’re mostly deployed in the middle of the night when the lights are out and tend to render my blind scrawlings impervious to interpretation once the sun comes up. I’ve lost all my best work this way.

What have you read recently that you loved?

I don’t often read something that I think is really great so I’m always open to recommendations. Aimee Bender, who wrote The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and others, is, I think, a wonderful writer with a lightness of touch and a turn of phrase which makes me want to be better. On a recent holiday, I came across a worn, dog-eared copy of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things which is also beautifully written.

What are your all-time favourites?

I’ve mentioned some of my favourite writers in answering question 1. Others would include Harper Lee, Graham Greene, William Trevor, Anton Chekov, Lewis Carroll, George Orwell, Magnus Mills and, I dare say, a couple of dozen more who are refusing to come to mind right now. No one, I’m ashamed to say, particularly exotic. Non-fiction includes Chavs by Owen Jones and The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein – very uncomfortable reading but compelling nonetheless.

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

Too easy. I read for pleasure so I would choose that eight days a week. I don’t know why I write but pleasure rarely comes into it.

What’s your third R, and why?

Rrrrrock ‘n’ roll (that is to say popular music) from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. To live without my music, as the song goes, would be impossible to do…

The Three Rs: Carys Bray

November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Carys Bray lives in the seaside town of Southport, England with her husband and four children. Her short story collection Sweet Home (2012) won Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize and her first novel will be published by Hutchinson in 2014.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

When I was a little girl I penned reams of terrible Enid Blyton fan fiction which I presented to my poor teacher. I used to imagine being a writer but it wasn’t until years later, in my thirties that I actually felt brave enough to make a serious go of it.

How does writing fit into your typical day?

It varies tremendously. I tend to work in bursts, so I’ll sometimes write a lot, carrying on into the early hours, but there are also occasions when I spend time reading and thinking. I’ve got a treadmill desk, so I do a lot of walking which actually helps with the thinking somehow.

Sweet Home, Carys Bray

Do you type or write by hand?

I occasionally make notes by hand, but I mostly type. I don’t know where I’d be without the delete key and the ability to copy and paste big chunks of text.

What have you read recently that you loved?

Jo Baker’s Longbourn, a book that tells the story of the Pride and Prejudice servants, and Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

What are your all-time favourites?

When I was in my mid-teens my English teacher recommended Private Papers by Margaret Forster. I loved the way I felt torn all the way through the novel, unable to decide whether my sympathies lay with mother or daughter.

I read The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields during my early thirties. When I reached the end of the opening chapter I went back to the beginning and read it again. I thought Shields’ use of language was incredible.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall is a gorgeous book. It’s funny, sad and wise.

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

That’s easy, I choose to read.

Although I love writing, I think I might get bored if I had to spend the rest of my life confined to the landscape of my own imagination.

What’s your third R, and why?

The colour red.

I love red things. I have a red sofa, red kitchen tiles and a few red walls. When I visited America a few years ago I bought a beautiful red patchwork quilt. I have a red watch and I’d quite like to take a trip down memory lane and replace the red Doctor Marten boots I wore out in my teens, but I suspect my children would say I’m too old.

 

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