The Irish Times (May 2014)
Brought to Book: Anakana Schofield on parallel reading, the literary patriarchy and books as portals
CBC Radio North by North West interview with Sheryl Mackay
Quill and Quire Cover and Interview (June 2012)
Vancouver author Anakana Schofield is a study in contradictions. She claims to have spent the last 10 years “locked away” in a tiny apartment on the city’s west side, painstakingly crafting her debut novel, Malarky (Biblioasis). Yet since emigrating from Dublin to Vancouver in 1999, Schofield has confronted her new home with the enthusiasm of an ethnographer – diving headlong into the local art and poetry scenes, and exploring the city’s geography, its labour history, and, especially, the social-realist writing that flourished here in the 1960s and ’70s.
“From a marketing department’s point of view, this is not a dream book,” she deadpans. Yet, “I have great faith in readers,” she adds. “I’m interested in what the novel can become. We know what it can be — the linear, chronological. As a reader I’m ambitious. And I want to see new things.”
1. What were your first images or intimations of Philomena?
My first whiff of Philomena (Our Woman) came in a short story years before I commenced Malarky – she was a voice, much older and much crankier than Our Woman, though similarly confused about her son flaunting his sexuality.
Julie Wilson interviews me for my upcoming appearence at IFOA. We talk Granny’s teacup, reading and sex. (video link, dodgy sound at times)
On writing and reading type articles
Anakana Schofield is the author of the novel Malarky. She lives in Vancouver, BC.
The act of reading is more important to me than the act of writing. Reading fiction is central to my daily literary-vascular system, if you like, providing the nutrients that feed my chronic percolation and interrogation. Though reading criticism and non-fiction are also part of my brew.
I wish there was a machine, like the one that measures earthquakes, one could attach to each ear lobe which as you read would produce a graph that recorded where in the brain the words had nestled. Then in turn, when you wrote the same ear probe would record and transcribe which area of the brain was being drawn on. Until that time, I can but speculate. I speculate the reading of poetry, fiction, criticism, and non-fiction all equally inform my work. The combination of ingesting all four satisfies my primary need for departure points.
I’m always after departure points: wondering, wandering and churning. I have a hearty appetite for what many might consider redundant information! If my curiosity is piqued in a particular title/writer or topic or fleeting notion I will high tail it to a bookshop or library (in the dark if necessary) to find the work, right now, as in 5 minutes ago.
As a writer and a reader I’m happy to paddle with uncertainty. I’m constantly perplexed and puzzled and questioning. Departure points come in all kinds of forms, thus they aren’t necessarily delivered by being satisfied. Dissatisfaction can be a great springboard.
When we read for the moment or the paragraph, rather than the whole we also do not demand that every piece of literature serve the same purpose or hit the single high note. I enjoy collaging paragraphs or sentences from different works that speak to each other. This is especially true and necessary in a local literature.
Publishing has become a very singular act, but reading will never be that. Reading demands plurality, it’s hungry, it wants more flavour, more thought, more pages, other pages, the other’s pages. I have great faith in readers and we’re living in a time when readers are ambitious, embracing technology and engaging with a literary evolution where the novel may become a portal to a new media blend of varied art forms. I’m right in there with the best of them, clicking, swiping and still bending the corners of the faithful page.
National Post Guest Editor articles
Barnes & Noble Q&A
A Conversation with Anakana Schofield, Author of Malarky
You have written a book about one Irish woman. What was it that drew you to her world?
I wanted to create a woman who refused to be sunk by what life served her and would choose to interrogate it instead. I also hoped to capture some of the warm humour of the women from rural Ireland who raised me. For one part of the narrative, though, I tried to think of the most disparate things I could — I came up with Syria and rural Ireland — and to unite them on the page. It was a nod to D.H. Lawrence, who could bring coal miners and Japanese wrestling together.
Grief is an immediate theme in the book — is grief a theme in your life?
I am very engaged by writings about mortality and grief has been a defining factor in my life since my father died when I was six. I also admire and find a degree of comfort in the Catholic rituals around death in rural Ireland. There are death announcements three times a day on the radio, people will flock to local funerals, there’s a tradition of pausing outside the person’s house or people blessing themselves passing the church (or graveyard). The culture is attuned to deal with death and a process kicks in over the days that follow. In someways I find things are more isolated in North America, but within diasporas I am sure there are many variables. I just sometimes sense an awful isolation and loneliness for people here when someone dies.
Grief is a different and much more extended matter. I am not sure you ever recover from the death of a loved one. It is perhaps the ultimate sadness a human being can know. I believe one’s entire life may become an undertaking on how to face it. The finality of it then gives way to trying to carry on, with that finality at the forefront of your mind. We understand very little about grief and are busy trying to medicalize it. It needs to take its place within a culture, within a community and within an individual. We need to make space for it, not confine it to disappear with a daily pill. Perhaps if we were more aware of our mortality and it was part of a healthy daily discussion the grief-stricken would feel less alone. Fiction is a place where there’s lots of space to explore these things.
Can you talk about the role of motherhood in Malarky?
I wanted to explore the darker or more turbulent side of motherhood. Malarky began as a parallel narrative. I asked the question: is it possible to love your child so much that you destroy them? and I invented two mothers in different situations and told their stories with the view that eventually their paths might cross. One mother however took over and I switched my attention to a close-up on the life of “Our Woman” Philomena, but this earlier idea lingered. That a mother might wish her adult child to be gone but certainly not to discover that the very thing that dispatched him would in turn ensure he never came back.
I was particularly struck by the pain of mothers during the invasion of Iraq, the mothers whose houses were terrifyingly invaded in the night by the military or bombs dropping all around them, the mothers who lost limbs and children and concurrently the mothers in small town America whose sons and daughters went off to Iraq. I felt for them all. I wanted to say something about the universality that co-exists in this horror. I had a relative who worked in Iraq as an anthropologist; I marched against that war with my very young child in a stroller.
Was it challenging for you to write the sexual content in your novel?
Immensely! I grew up with repressive Catholicism! I certainly never imagined I might write a novel such as this. I heard Anne Enright say in an interview with CBC’s Writers and Company in 2008 she thought “Irish women are too nice and that it’s difficult for an Irish woman to do something for which she would not be liked.” It resonated with me and I decided to do the dirty work that this particular novel demanded rather than turn away from it. So I depicted an older woman with a healthy attitude, who actively enjoys sex. There aren’t so many Irish women in literary fiction who are sexually assertive and not wincing in pain under the quilt cover. I also thought it was important to explore the notion of where people file the things they see. That we sometimes see things and have no place to put them and then witness how they return to haunt us. In this case the mother sees her son engaged in sexual acts with other men and it awakens an eroticism within her, which she is compelled to act (or re-enact) on.