Writers’ Writers

By Janet Somerville

writers' writersCanadian novelist Catherine Bush moderated this engaging panel featuring Marina Endicott, Anne Enright and Patrick Gale and began the conversation by asking, “How did you come to shape your novel?” Endicott “wanted to compress time and look at things closely and squeezed the narrative into one week” in Close to Hugh. Confessing to her modernist impulse to put things side by side, Enright said, “I spent a year improvising and working on characters. I want each to have the book, so it’s like four little novels in the first half” of The Green Road. And, Gale admitted that for A Place Called Winter, “I feel no one character can know everything. I wanted to be self-consciously Edwardian by channeling E.M. Forster. And, also like Elena Ferrante, who said, I publish to be read, so I make the pages as dense as possible, but easy to turn.”

Bush wondered if any of them were aware of their reader as they write. For Enright, “there’s no excuse for a dull page. I don’t indulge anne enrightthe reader at all, but I hope I pleasure them in the sentences. Each paragraph has to end someplace unexpected.” Endicott added, “I want the reader to know my characters and to enjoy being with them even if it’s painful.” Gale insisted he wanted readers “to forget they are reading.” As for writers, they read in an envious or passionate way, Gale was quick to note “Anne Tyler and Colm Toibin write books I wish I’d written and Middlemarch was the first time I read a novel that was a world.” Enright praised Edward St. Aubyn and Marilynne Robinson and Henry James and slagged Joyce’s Dubliners because when she was Young. It “felt like I was reading about my relatives and how boring they were,” though she later grew to admire the beauty of the prose. Endicott re-reads Penelope Fitzgerald because “her novels are so perfect, especially The Blue Flower.”

All three were ebullient about the editing process, Enright noting she had a copy editor who “rinses out the commas and semi-colons. It’s like sending your punctuation to a spa,” and also insisted that, “you want an editor to serve the book on its own terms. Their notes should be obvious.” Gale confessed he had “a secret editor that my main editor doesn’t know about.” And, Endicott admitted she loved, loved, loved editing because “the first draft is so difficult for me.” The audience full of readers nodded in understanding when Enright closed by saying, “When I was young, my interior life was all I had.” And, that Canadians were “lucky to have Alice Munro and Alistair Macleod in letters and in life.” We are. We are, indeed.

Follow Janet Somerville on Twitter @janetsomerville.