In which I contemplate why it might be awkward if I had met or were to meet Beckett & speculate on Rosa Luxemburg and milk
I will soon be appearing at 2 events at IFOA in Toronto. In anticipation of these events and the festival (which is an inspired and wonderful affair that this year features a focus on Catalan writers and poetry) I answered some questions and plumbed some philosophical quandaries and questions of milk consumption.
IFOA: Your anticipated second novel, Martin John, expands on a character from your first novel, Malarky. Why did you decide to delve deeper into the character of Beirut?
Anakana Schofield: A conflation of circumstances led to this. The first was the cheeky insertion for pure devilment of a single footnote in Malarky that read “See Martin John – a footnote novel” not knowing whether or not I’d ever actually write that novel. I had material that I’d chucked out of Malarky, which initially was a parallel narrative of two mothers and sons.
Then came an urgency to respond to the plethora of reports of clerical sexual abuse during recent years, which I felt left me with no choice but to address some aspect of deviancy, somehow, in fiction.
I guess in both examples “response” was the impetus.
In Malarky, the Beirut/Martin John we met is an endearing man. In Martin John, Martin John has become something other. He departed or reversed (since we met him older in Malarky) very far from where we started with him.
IFOA: In addition to fiction, you also write essays and literary criticism. How are these different forms of writing connected?
Schofield: I’m a reader before I am a writer. My thinking on literature and reading towards what it is I want to write are very much informed by reading and writing criticism. I’m also over interested in very random topics, so essays and the blogs, which I pen for the London Review of Books, help me explore these curiosities. I’m fortunate to have editors who encourage and support my rambles.
IFOA: Your website lists reading, the weather, bird flu and labour history as some of your preoccupations. How do these interests inspire your writing?
Schofield: I suppose they are four quarters of a whole. Basically I have a hearty appetite for what most would consider entirely redundant information. There’s very little that I’m not curious about.
IFOA: If you could meet any author, living or dead, whom would it be?
Schofield: I think Rosa Luxemburg. I would like to discuss her cold baths, high consumption of milk and fury with that printer in Paris described in her letters. Then we’d progress to the spindle statistics in Poland and she could educate me on Marxist matters. But mostly it’s the milk that intrigues me. Nietzsche went heavy on the milk. I haven’t checked, but did they both have bad acne?
I think one should be careful of meeting one’s heroes; they may disappoint and sadly are not the only person who ever understood you. They can be tired, short tempered and bad mannered. Apart from the ones who are lovely. All are best met on the page methinks.
For example, if I met Beckett, we would sit next to each other beside a coal shed on uncomfortable chairs and discuss the weather and possibly sigh a great deal. Essentially I don’t need to meet him because I’m perpetually sighing a great deal and have seen plenty coal sheds. Also he’d smoke, which would make me cough, then he’d offer me whiskey and my left kidney wouldn’t like that. It could be very awkward for us.
IFOA: What is the best compliment a reader can give you about your work?
Schofield: To read it or attempt to read it or to read widely. I’ve a few favourite readers: one wrote me a lovely email that said she was going for a walk to think about Our Woman. Another is Bill in Ohio and he took to Google Maps and did all kinds of additional research to understand Malarky. I also rather enjoy the very angry man who wrote invoking the mafia, hookers and my mother in one line. I’m quite acquainted with some of my readers through social media and they are splendidly intelligent, jovial and patiently answer my random queries on things like bad foot pain and weather reports.
Here is a piece on Winter Reading Rituals I wrote for the International Festival of Authors blog back in October:
I’m not long returned from the Brooklyn Book Festival where the weather was beautifully warm and I had to pace about wearing shorts. Last weekend I travelled to the Victoria Writers Festival and Wordstock, the Portland writers festival, and tonight have just arrived home from the launch of the Vancouver Writers Fest.
I remember all four recent festivals by the weather and conversations. In New York I had to turn on the air conditioner. In Portland I had to turn on the heater and yesterday night I could not sleep because it was so windy here in Vancouver.
I love the fall season in Vancouver and pay close attention to the wind and rain. It signals for me the start of my winter reading rituals. The weather closing in, the sky turning grey means it’s time to turn in to the page.
All year I turn to the page, but in winter I embrace the page amid additional attention to physical comfort.
To establish any ritual it’s necessary to repeat it. It’s not a ritual if you only ever do it once. My reading rituals are particularly employed and important when it’s raining. As it’s regularly raining in Vancouver, I am committed.
Comfort is vital. I adopted two couches from a generous couch shedder because I deemed we needed a couch-per-reading-person (in this case two). I have invested in four hot water bottles because I deemed we needed two per person. I bought my son the softest blanket in the world which I subsequently commandeered and he has yet to raise a loud protest since he has disappeared into the vortex of video gaming. Quilts are very important in our apartment, they are dragged up and down stairs and sometimes found under the kitchen table and are thus umbilically connected to winter reading rituals. Pillows and cushions are critical.
Liquids. Liquid comfort matters during a winter reading ritual. In this case: teapot, teacups, milk jug, glass of hot port have proved trojan company. For smaller participants I admit to providing endless bags of chips and token chopped apples.
Finally I have found fuzzy or warm socks a most important part of my winter reading ritual. If my feet are cold or itchy it’s very distracting to my reading.
Once comfort is established and the weather has been noted, this liberates my brain and reading begins.
A stack of books is always within arms reach of the couch because I practice inter-reading. I might wish to digest a paragraph by reading a different work after it, or I might just dig in for the long haul with the same text.
Walks are taken only to refill hot water bottles or the teapot. Generally the plan is not to get up. Naps are sometimes taken at the book, but this isn’t encouraged. The teapot is the weapon against slumber. The curtains are always open, darkness is welcome but the curtains stay open because the weather doing its thing outside is a pleasing visual carnival.
Titles vary, but I would not necessarily reread Madame Bovary in winter. She is usually reserved for the wooden chair on Grandma’s deck.
I have been on the road with Malarky on and off since Sept. 23 when I began at the Brooklyn Book Festival followed by Ontario (Trent, Peterborough), THIN AIR Winnipeg International Writers Festival, Victoria Writers Festival, Wordstock Portland Writers Festival, Vancouver Writers Fest and I am just returned from the marvellous experience that is IFOA in Toronto.
Thank you to all those festivals who invited me, to the audiences and many readers I met, writers I read with and the staff and volunteers who work so hard at these festivals and my publisher Biblioasis for their stellar efforts on behalf of Malarky. I also thank the Canada Council for the Arts, the Writers Union and the BC Arts Council for support.
Obviously I have been greviously remiss with my weather reports and must take a big inhale and apologize for this. It is not that I haven’t been observing for I have, just have not quite managed to nail it onto the screen.
Yesterday’s weather events in New Jersey and New York give great pause. The ferocity. The build and how the weather pattern increased its speed on approach, thus making the predication even more challenging. One of the descriptions that has stayed with me from relatives in the middle of it was of the windows bending. The windows being bent (inwards I assume) from the power of the wind. And how fire and water co-existed throughout. Houses on fire in the Rockaways that were surrounded by water on all sides was another description I caught.
I send good thoughts and courage to those involved in recovery efforts and getting the lights turned back on. I am always impressed by the spirit of New Yorkers and was doubly impressed by noting friends who woke this morning there and immediately turned their thoughts and attention to how they might join volunteer efforts today in that city.
Over the next weeks I will catch up on some postings and thoughts about my experience on the road.
Stay warm and safe and thank you again.
Pretty soon I will be gearing up to attend a number of Writers Festivals which I am very fortunate to have been invited to this Autumn/Fall season. At these festivals I will be reading from Malarky and also participating in various panel events.
I begin at the Brooklyn Book Festival on September 23, 2012 in New York. Here’s a link to the incredible programming called the Book End events. These are all free events taking place the week leading up to the festival and include 50 events.
These Book End events are in addition to the actual festival which takes place on Sunday 23, 2012 and will feature 280 authors and 104 panels. I am thrilled to be included in such an ambitious event and wish every city could enjoy the same. What I love about this particular festival is the events are for the most part all free.
The festival events will be uploaded on Sept. 4, 2012, so I shall post again and offer the link to them.
After Brooklyn I move to Ontario where I’ll be reading for certain at the University of Trent reading series and possibly in Ottawa. (I will also return to Toronto for the IFOA (Harbourfront) Festival in late October.) My next stop after Ontario is Winnipeg’s Writers Festival THIN AIR I couldn’t be more excited as Winnipeg has a long labour history (including general strike re-enactments) so must put my research clogs on and be sure to take in some of the museums or such before I depart. I heard word of a train museum so must look it up. THIN AIR have already uploaded the list of my events with details. Click here to read. I will be reading with Daniel Allen Cox, (a Montreal writer I believe) and Missy Marston.
I return to Vancouver to appear at the Word On The Street, which is something of a homecoming for me as the first year I lived in Vancouver I performed an extract from my play at that very festival. I’ll be reading in the Canada Writes Tent on the Sunday around 12.20pm. (Link to follow)
In advance I thank all the volunteers and committees and staff who make these festivals possible for their labour and for generously inviting me to participate. Merci, merci. And my publisher Biblioasis for their support and The University of Trent for hosting me in their reading series.