Five Questions with… Aga Maksimowska

Aga Maksimowska will participate in Novelists for a New Age, a round table discussion on Sunday, October 21.IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Maksimowska: Annabel Lyon’s The Sweet Girl.

IFOA: Like Gosia, your protagonist in Giant, you immigrated to Canada from Poland as a child. You’ve said that the two of you have much in common, but in what ways are you different?

Maksimowska: Gosia is much more introverted than I was when I was 11. I made friends more easily than she does, participated in school life more actively, and processed my anger more effectively (mainly in my sketchbook and on the volleyball court). The strange thing though is that Gosia is a much better public speaker than I ever was. I wish I could give a speech at a full-school assembly. Death and public speaking: two of my biggest fears. Two of the most common fears, I suppose, which makes me completely ordinary. Gosia is an extraordinary kid.

IFOA: You’ve just written, sold, edited, published and launched your first novel. What’s been the biggest surprise along the way?

Maksimowska: The support Giant received in the CBC Readers’ Choice competition blew my mind. People have been so generous and positive with their interest, their feedback and their word of mouth. Public enthusiasm for this book has completely humbled and thrilled me. Having had this sort of start, I can’t wait to do it all over again with a second book.

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

Maksimowska: See Sandra Ridley’s post on September 20. I share her penchant for sand dunes and Beau’s beer. Otherwise, I’m far too utilitarian to seek perfection. My best days are a sum of one item from each of the following columns:

my husband and daughter

a beach or a shoreline
a ravine or a hiking trail
a house I know

homemade food
crisp Ontario apples
good wine

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I can only write if…

Maksimowska: …the world is still and my brain is uncluttered. Five in the morning has provided me with inspiration and progress in the past. Once the baby quits waking up at 4-ish, I will return to my best writing time.

IFOA:  Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word

Maksimowska: Rad (I don’t usually express myself in surfer speak, but there is no more economical word to sum up my feelings about this year’s IFOA. Alice Munro + the diversity of talent, events and locations + the accessibility to students + my overwhelming giddiness for being included among all these literary giants = radical for sure).

For more about Maksimowska, visit

Five Questions with… Tanis Rideout

Above All Things author Tanis Rideout will participate in IFOA’s Novelists for a New Age round table on Sunday, October 21, and a reading Saturday, October 27.

© Nikki Mills

IFOA: What inspired you to write about George and Ruth Mallory?

Rideout: I first came across George Mallory when I worked at an outdoor equipment store in Kingston. A co-worker there brought in videos to show on the TV at the back of the store—adventure documentaries, that kind of thing. He was obsessed with all things Everest, so there were a number of docs about the mountain. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get why people would try and climb it, risk so much for it. I became obsessed by Everest first myself, reading everything I could get my hands on.

In one of those docs there were shots from the very first expeditions and the glamour of it, the romance, struck me. There were these men in their tweeds and hobnail boots—clothing we wouldn’t think was enough for February in Toronto. I started thinking and wondering about them, focusing what I was reading. Which of course led to George. He was charismatic, ridiculously good-looking, ambitious. He just swept me away.

After a while of thinking and pondering and daydreaming I found myself writing about George. And of course Ruth. I knew from the beginning Ruth had to be part of the story, that she might be my way to understand someone like George. I also thought it was incredibly important to share what her life must have been like, what kind of woman would have been capable of dealing with that kind of circumstances.

IFOA: How did you manage to fictionalize history while maintaining a sense of historical accuracy?

Rideout: I did very extensive research. Even though I knew from the very beginning I didn’t want or need to stick to the factual history of the expeditions, I did want to create a world that both my characters and my readers could fully inhabit.

At the beginning I simply read everything I could get my hands on—about Everest in general, about the early expeditions, about the search and discovery for George’s body. Eventually the opportunity to go to England came up to read and research in the very rooms that George had spent some of his time.

Being able to go to Cambridge and London and read first hand documents—George and Ruth’s letters to each other, official documentation of the expeditions, that kind of thing—enabled me to soak in the world, the time that George and Ruth live in. Those documents provided me with language and detail and colouring to create the landscape of the novel.

IFOA: If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?

Rideout: Well, I wouldn’t say no to anywhere, really. But right now I’m reading a lot about the early Victorian era, so probably England and Europe around that time. It was an era filled with massive thinkers and creators. It was a time when so much seemed possible. They really thought they were just about to figure everything out.

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

Rideout: I love travelling, so I think my perfect day is waking up in a strange place, with my husband—bounding out of bed (unlike at home) and setting out to explore.  Whether that’s a city with its galleries and museums or hiking trails with packs on our backs—looking at new landscapes and spaces is perhaps my favorite thing to do.

After a day of wandering and soaking it all in, we find a fantastic place to eat with a great view, some local beer or wine and an exciting menu. Then top it off with nightcaps somewhere outside watching the world wind down. Staying up too late, getting a little tipsy and then falling into bed to do it all again the next day.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I can only write if…

Rideout: I need an answer. I think that’s where I start from—from questions, from things I don’t understand. If I have the answer, I can’t write.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Rideout: Collegiate. In the best sense.

For more about Rideout and her appearance at IFOA, click here.

Five Questions with… Naomi Duguid

Don’t miss Naomi Duguid, author of Burma, in the Ben McNally Travellers Series on Sunday, October 21.

© Laura Berman

IFOA: You keep a fairly active blog. What do you get out of the experience, and does/will the material ever make it in your books?

Duguid: I enjoy the process of self-publishing…writing to put the words out in public. I doubt any of what I write in my blog will find its way into a book. But the process of thinking out loud on the e-page is very helpful.

IFOA: You’re a world traveller. Where are you hoping to go to next?

Duguid: Ah, that’s an interesting question. I hope to be back in southeast Asia this fall. But long term I would like to get to Iran and also get back to neighbouring countries such as Georgia and Turkmenistan, and also to Armenia and Azerbaijan…

IFOA: What’s one dish you could not live without?

Duguid: There’s nothing I can’t live without. How could it be otherwise? But I do find that if I go more than three days without eating rice I feel curiously incomplete. And of course green vegetables, cooked or raw, are really a heart and body necessity…

IFOA: What was your favourite food as a child?

Duguid: I can’t tell you. I have great memories of my mother’s homemade bread toasted with butter and her marmalade…

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It doesn’t really matter…

Duguid: …if you don’t do something perfectly, since the important thing is engaging with the process of doing it, not the result.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Duguid: Horizon-widening.

For more about Duguid, visit or or follow her on Twitter @naomiduguid.

Five Questions with… Arno Kopecky

Don’t miss Arno Kopecky at IFOA in the Ben McNally Travellers Series on Sunday, October 21.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival?

Kopecky: Junot Diaz – the pulchritude! Maybe John Ralston Saul.

IFOA: You’ve just written, sold, edited, published and launched your first book. What’s been the biggest surprise along the way?

Kopecky: That I still can’t levitate.

IFOA: You’re a world traveller. Where do you plan to go next?

Kopecky: Was going to try Pluto, but I’m not sure it’s still considered a world or just a frozen ball of gas.

IFOA: Tell us about one book that changed your life.

Kopecky: Voltaire’s Bastards, by John Ralston Saul. It opened my eyes to a lot of things, not least the tyranny of reason and the troubling historical lesson (for democracy) offered by the citizens of Renaissance Paris, who had to be forced against their will to exchange open sewers for indoor plumbing.

But the book’s greatest impact on my life happened after I gave it to my dad to read. He, a conservative Iowan corn farmer by birth and a professor of chemistry by training, i.e. a reserved man all his life, began displaying radical tendencies of the left wing persuasion. He wrapped his arm in a black bandana before going to parties, for instance, to represent the dead in Iraq. His behavior eventually got him excommunicated from the farm of his brother (a Republican), and it took years of back-door diplomacy to bring the family together again.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It helps if you…

Kopecky:…can swim.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Kopecky: Novel.

Five Questions with… Vincent Lam

Vincent Lam will read at IFOA on Sunday, October 21 and with his fellow Governor General’s Literary Awards finalists on Monday, October 22. He’ll also participate in IFOA Markham.

© Barbara Stoneham

IFOA: Percival Chen, the gambling, womanizing protagonist of The Headmaster’s Wager, was inspired by your grandfather. Do you think this made his character easier or more difficult to write?

Lam: I think that having a protagonist inspired by my grandfather meant I had to understand my subject at various levels. I had to think very hard about why I was interested in my grandfather, and this gave me an emotional access point to the time, place, and story. Meanwhile, I had to free myself of attachment to actual personal history in order to let the character render himself in a way that was truthful to the narrative. So, I wouldn’t think of this issue in terms of making the writing easier or more difficult. Like all relationships between author and character, there were particularities, and in this case my link to my real grandfather was one of these particularities.

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

Lam: J.D. Salinger.

IFOA: We’re always impressed by writers who hold down demanding day jobs, but yours wins the prize. We have to ask—how do you balance writing with working as a physician?

Lam: I’m not sure it’s so special. Most writers do something else, whether that is how they engage with the world, or out of financial necessity. It just happens that my work outside of writing—emergency medicine occupies more cultural prominence than other types of work, and so people notice it. In any case, I won’t disagree that it is very demanding to juggle two types of work. How is it done? It all comes down to scheduling, prioritization, focus, and the long view. Scheduling is key. It’s the only way to get things done. It is very important to prioritize the use of time, and avoid doing things that are unnecessary. If one does two kinds of work, it is absolutely necessary to focus on the immediate task while one is doing it. When I practice medicine, I am focused on it. When I write, that is where my head is. The long view is what keeps a project like a book alive, when day to day work and concerns in a field like emergency medicine have a natural tendency to feel more immediate.

A few logistical thoughts: Time with family is a priority. Groceries should be bought efficiently, and in bulk. Housing should be bought and changed as seldom as possible. Public events must be well publicized and organized, otherwise they are a waste of time for everyone involved. Personal fitness pays dividends. Cycling often saves time, and means keeping fit while getting from point A to point B. Television—forget it (some of it is good – but it is mostly a cultural sinkhole)! Lengthy commuting—no way, I live close to the hospital. Spending less money means having more time. Having less stuff means less tidying up.

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

Lam: I am hesitant to prescribe such a thing…because a perfect day usually blooms like a flower. It occurs in the right conditions, but the exact timing and appearance is unpredictable. You have to let it happen. The perfect day starts with a good night’s sleep, probably involves family, books, excellent food though not too much of it, the outdoors, and ends the same way it started.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: If I’d only known that…

Lam: I should have been betting against credit default swaps.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Lam: Indescribable.

For more about Lam and his appearance at IFOA, click here.

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