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.
Celtic Life International, a magazine about which I know virtually nothing, kindly interviewed me recently and the interview is up on their site now. It will appear along with a review of Malarky in the Fall edition of their magazine.
I’ll excerpt two questions from the interview here and you can read the entire thing in a link at the end should you wish.
What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
Finding the right form. My form. Breaking with the conventional forms of linear, chronological or and past/present shifts in narrative. I wanted to write a novel that challenged. I am ambitious for the novel as a reader and I want to contribute to that as a writer. I created a rotating point of view that would give the reader a whole woman and I employed devices such as the use of Our Woman, so the reader would feel some possession over her. I also wanted a singular focus on Philomena that would be unremitting in its attention to one ordinary woman. It was very demanding. In the novel I also address the effect that grief has on time and memory; in order to replicate this it was necessary to a fragmented approach. But the hardest part in some ways was the sadness of her situation. I became very attached to Philomena. I still feel weepy if I think of her at that moment in the shop when she breaks down or even stuck out on the mountain when she falls over. Though that part of the narrative is fairly ripe with humour.
What are your thoughts on Canadian literature today?
We are living in an exciting time for Canadian literature. But we need to be mindful to push the boundaries of the novel and not just settle for the middle-brow. We also need to pay much more attention as readers to our poetry. Some of the most dynamic work in the country is taking place in poetic forms. Likewise critical writing needs our attention both as writers and readers.
In today’s National Post Books there’s a profile on me: Thank you to Mark Medley who wrote such a lively piece.
Pluck of the Irish: Anakana Schofield’s debut is one of the season’s best reads
When Anakana Schofield was 24 years old, she got braces. A recent theatre school graduate, the aspiring actress coped with a mouthful of metal by picking up a video camera and recording the experience. The resulting half-hour documentary, Bracism, aired on RTE.
“It was like reality TV, way, way before there was actually a thing,” recalls Schofield, now 41, during an interview in a Toronto café last month. “For years afterwards, I’d be in the bank, or I’d be on the train, and somebody would say, ‘I saw your program on the telly! You’re the girl that made the one about the teeth!’
“I’m very interested in documentary,” she continues. “I’m interested in social anthropology as well. Fiction, for me, is [a] departure … I’m interested in making s–t up, basically, and this is the place to do it.”
Malarky, Schofield’s wonderfully deranged debut novel, marries her interests in realism and invention with great results. It tells the story of “Our Woman,” also known as Philomena, an aging farmer’s wife who is slowly coming apart at the seams. The simple life she leads in County Mayo, Ireland, is first threatened then shattered by myriad events: her son’s homosexuality, her husband’s philandering ways, her own sexual awakening, and, eventually, the deaths of both her son and husband.
“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.”