Five Questions with… Colin McAdam

(c) Lisa Myers

(c) Lisa Myers

Colin McAdam, author of A Beautiful Truth, answered our five questions.

IFOA: A Beautiful Truth is told in part from the perspective of chimpanzees. Tell us one thing readers might be surprised to learn about chimps.

McAdam: They have more in common with us genetically and immunologically than two gophers living on different sides of the Colorado River.  We call all gophers gophers, but have a hard time calling ourselves apes.

IFOA: You’ve lived all over the world. Which place do you miss the most?

abeautifultruth_bluhuis2_apprvd.inddMcAdam: I feel a lot of nostalgia for Montreal and England. But part of choosing where I live is knowing that I’m not going to miss the places I have moved from. I’m happy here.

IFOA: What was your favourite book as a child?

McAdam: I was most proud of reading James Clavell’s Tai-Pan when I was eight. Racy.

IFOA: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

McAdam: Maybe I’d be a builder. I feel like no matter what I would be doing, I would be a writer.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I often wonder…

McAdam: Why writers have to make so little money.

McAdam will read at Authors at Harbourfront Centre on March 27.

Five Questions with… Cathy Marie Buchanan

Style: "Neutral"Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls, answered our five questions.

IFOA: Tell us about the first time you saw Edgar Degas’ famous sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.

Buchanan: I first saw Little Dancer Aged Fourteen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Painted Girls was well underway, and it was years after I’d happened on the television documentary The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen that led me to write the novel. From the documentary I would learn that on its unveiling back in 1881, the public linked Little Dancer with a life of vice and young girls for sale. She was called a “flower of the gutter” and her face was said to be “imprinted with the detestable promise of every vice.” Such notions were underpinned by a long history of often less than noble liaisons between the young dancers at the Paris Opéra Ballet and the wealthy male season ticketholders. I’d also learn of the poverty of the girl—Marie van Goethem— who had modeled for the work. I was fascinated and knew her story was one I wanted to tell.

Buchanan, The Painted GirlsAs I stood before the sculpture that first time, what must have been a field trip from a girls’ school arrived. The little girls called out about how pretty she was. They stood in fourth position, hands clasped behind their backs, and raised their chins. They lined up to snap a picture with the young dancer they aspired to be. It was impossible not to ponder the dramatic shift in the public’s reaction to the artwork.

IFOA: The ballet offers Marie Van Goethem a chance to escape poverty. You danced as a child, too. What did the ballet do for you?

Buchanan: As a teenager, I spent four or five nights a week studying ballet in a studio where there were Degas ballet prints tacked to the walls. I felt a kinship with his dancers. Often he chose to paint them—no different than I was—stretching at the barre. I think it’s fair to say that without all the years in the ballet studio, I would not have been nearly as captivated by Private Life of a Masterpiece: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, and I very much doubt that watching it would have set me on the path to writing The Painted Girls.

IFOA: When and where do you write?

Buchanan: I write in my home office and shut myself away there the minute my boys are out the door for school in the morning. I try to write for a minimum of four hours before turning to the promotional tasks that come with being an author.

IFOA: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Buchanan: I recently fell under the spell of Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado, a beautiful evocation of the fashion scene in 1940s Manhattan and a smart, sure-handed glimpse into the hearts and minds of two women in love with literary sensation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: One day I will…

Buchanan: … see the original wax sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, from which the bronze repetitions that appear in galleries around the world were cast.

Buchanan will read at Authors at Harbourfront Centre on March 27.

Five Questions with… Linwood Barclay

(c) David Cooper

(c) David Cooper

Bestselling novelist Linwood Barclay, author of the new thriller Trust Your Eyes, answered our five questions.

IFOA: Are we right to assume the inspiration for Trust Your Eyes came from adventures with Google Earth?

Barclay: Yes, but it was one image in particular. The Google Earth car, when it passed the home of one of our friends, it captured a shot of their dog looking out the window. A cute, funny image. But I thought, what if Google had captured a much more sinister image, one that was just waiting to be found?

IFOA: We got scared just watching the trailer for Trust Your Eyes. Can you explain the pleasure you get out of scaring people?

Barclay: I don’t really think about trying to scare people. It’s more than I want to keep them on edge. I want to keep them turning pages, and to be surprised. The bottom line is, I want to keep them interested. As a writer, there’s no pleasure in boring people to death.

IFOA: What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Barclay: Diner-like breakfast, coffee, fireplace going, comfy couch, and a DVD-set of some fantastic series we’ve never seen before.

IFOA: If you could have lunch with any author, dead or alive, who would you choose?

Barclay: Tough one. I’ve been fortunate to have met several authors (some, sadly, no longer with us) whose work I greatly admire. I think lunch with Stephen King would be great. Wouldn’t even have to talk writing. We’d just trade stories of our favourite Twilight Zone and Outer Limits episodes.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Barclay: … keeping me from getting any work done.

Barclay will appear at Authors at Harbourfront Centre as part of the Crime Showcase on March 20.

Five Questions with… Becky Masterman

(c) Neal KreuserBecky Masterman, author of the new thriller Rage Against the Dying, answered our five questions.

IFOA: You work as acquisitions editor for a publisher that specializes in forensic science. How did this lead to writing crime fiction?

Masterman: Picture this: you’re sitting in an elegant old restaurant with a medical examiner. You want to talk about a book contract, she wants to talk about how well preserved heads are when they’ve been encased in concrete. The waiter comes up to take your order and apologizes for interrupting your conversation. You say, “Oh, no problem, it’s just girl talk.” With stuff like that happening at every moment, how could I write about anything else? Also it’s awfully convenient to be able to discuss gunshot wounds with the author of, for example, Gunshot Wounds.

IFOA: You’ve said you’re nothing like your protagonist, Brigid Quinn. Who or what inspired her?

Masterman: A woman in my book club who’s eighty years old, has one lung, and still passes notes to lone male diners in restaurants. A detective specializing in sexual homicides who talks so tough but whose eyes still look haunted 30 years after retirement. A forensic anthropologist who looks like a grandmother, plays jazz piano, and investigates mass graves. And I confess, maybe a tablespoon of me, a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

IFOA: When and where do you write?

Masterman: Makes me remember a cartoon of James Thurber, a writer from the 30s, standing at a cocktail party holding a highball and staring straight ahead. His wife is saying, “Thurber! Stop writing!” But fingers are actually pounding the keyboard Friday through Sunday starting at 5 am. As I write this, I’m at the dining room table looking out the back window at a ten thousand foot mountain…with snow on it…in southern Arizona. The longer I live here the more beautiful it becomes.

IFOA: What are you most afraid of?

Masterman: I have two mosts. First, I have post polio syndrome so on a personal level I’m most afraid of falling down in parking lots or being chased and unable to run. I’m working on it, though. I nearly fell at the gym while doing step-ups and my trainer said, “Now give me five more fast before the fear sets in.” I love that guy because he treats me like I’m Brigid. Second, I’m afraid of the possibility of my daughter ever having to face tragedy in her life.  Beyond that, bring it on.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I wonder when…

Masterman:…my books will catch on so I can quit my day job and still be interesting. But my husband says now I have my writing to turn to; if all I’m doing is writing, what can I turn to then? He’s very wise.

Masterman will take part in Authors at Harbourfront Centre’s Crime Showcase on March 20.

Five Questions with… S.J. Parris

(c) The Portrait Company

(c) The Portrait Company

Journalist and author of SacrilegeS.J. Parris (the pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt) answered our five questions.

IFOA: You’re both a novelist and a journalist. How does your journalistic work inform or impact your fiction?

Parris: I’ve been a journalist for 15 years and in that time I’ve been privileged to interview a great many creative artists in all disciplines. More than anything, I think that has given me an appreciation for the sheer hard graft that goes into the creative process. When I feel I’m flagging with my own novels, I think of all the authors, playwrights, actors, directors and musicians I’ve talked to over the years and how every one of them that has enjoyed some success had to put in hours, sometimes years, of often lonely hard work – I do find that inspiring on the off days!

Being a journalist also taught me how to research thoroughly, which is very useful with historical fiction, though the great joy of writing novels is that you are free to stray away from the facts.

I think that writing fiction of my own has made me a more generous book reviewer, because I know what it’s like to be on the other side.

IFOA: Tell us about a book you read in the past few years that had a lasting impact on you.

Parris: The books that have had by far the greatest impact on me in recent years are Hilary Mantel’s two Booker-winning novels about the life of Thomas Cromwell – Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that these books have changed our perception of what the historical novel can do. She has given muscle and weight to a genre that can often be perceived as rather twee; these books are visceral and immediate, you live through every scene with the characters. And the repercussions of what went on in the reign of Henry VIII are still being felt during the period I’m writing about, so it’s interesting to me from that point of view as well.

IFOA: The series of books you are currently working on, including Sacrilege, are set in England in the 1580s. What is it about this period that appeals to you?

Parris: The 1580s, halfway through Elizabeth I’s reign, are a fascinating moment in English and European history. England is very new as a Protestant nation and the great Catholic powers in Europe, France and Spain, don’t really expect it to last; there are constant threats of invasion. It’s a period rich in intrigue, which saw the beginnings of modern espionage; Catholic spies and secret priests are all over the country and there are countless assassination plots against the Queen. There’s plenty of scope in such an atmosphere of paranoia and treason for novels that draw on murder and spy plots. My main character, Giordano Bruno, is himself a strange hybrid: he’s an ex-monk, excommunicated by the Catholic Church for heresy, working as a spy in England, so this gives him an unusual perspective on both sides.

IFOA: What is your idea of a perfect day?

Parris: A perfect day for me would involve a walk in the countryside with my 11-year-old son, a pub lunch with friends, a lazy afternoon reading in the sun and a good film in the evening. It’s the small things that really make us happy – I’m figuring this out as I get older…

IFOA: Finish this sentence: They keep telling me that…

Parris: They keep telling me that… the novel is a dying form, but I don’t believe it. People may be experimenting with different ways to access stories – ebooks, audiobook downloads etc – but it’s clear to me that there’s still an enormous appetite for good storytelling in whatever form, and more ways for people to get their stories to connect with readers, which can only be a good thing.

Parris will appear at Authors at Harbourfront Centre as part of the Crime Showcase on March 20.

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