Five Questions with… Mark Billingham

© Charlie Hopkinson

Mark Billingham, author of Rush of Blood, appears at IFOA on October 23 and 24.

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

Billingham: Dashiell Hammett

IFOA: You are a stand-up comedian and a crime novelist—occupations that some people might be surprised to see together. What’s one thing they have in common?

Billingham: Punchlines.

IFOA: If you could have a superpower, any superpower, what would it be?

Billingham: Invisibility.

IFOA: Rush of Blood is set at a Florida Keys resort. Where is your favourite place to go on vacation?

Billingham: Anywhere I’ve got free time and books.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: If someone would just…

Billingham: … tell Elvis Costello he should let me sing backing vocals on his next album, I would be a very happy man.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word.

Billingham: Spectacular.

For more about Billingham, click here.

Five Questions with… Jane Johnson

© The Fisher Agenc

Jane Johnson, author of The Sultan’s Wife, will participate in IFOA events on October 23 and October 27. She will also travel to Uxbridge for IFOA Ontario.

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

Johnson: I’m really looking forward to meeting Annabel Lyon, whose Golden Mean is one of my favourite novels of all time. I also love her continuation of the story, The Sweet Girl. I hope to get a chance to tell her how much.

IFOA: You wear two literary hats: a writer’s and an editor’s. How has been an editor improved your writing? Has it ever hindered it?

Johnson: Being an editor enables me to view writing as a flexible process, or like engineering, rather than as some mystical gift. There will always be times when it gets away from me and times when it scares and surprises me (that’s the wonder of creativity, which should always be a bit wild) but crafting the writing is how an author gets their material back under some semblance of control, and knowing it’s not all going to fall apart at the seams if you start cutting and restructuring is very reassuring.

But yes, sometimes that very knowledge can be a hindrance: it can feel infinitely mutable and if you over-edit you can edit the life out of something. And being a writer makes me a better editor, too: more empathetic with the authors I work with, more practical and constructive in my comments. It’s a two-way learning process that never ends.

IFOA: You spend part of the year working from a rural village in Morocco. How do you stay connected to the publishing world?

Johnson: Ah, the wonders of the internet. Whatever did we do before email and Skype? If you saw my village, in the foothills of the mountains just north of the Sahara, you’d be amazed we have broadband at all, but in fact we were connected in Tafraout before I was connected in my home in Cornwall! It really doesn’t matter where I am in the world, and the beauty about the flexibility of my working conditions means that (without having to constantly be stuck in meetings) I can be in much better and quicker contact with my authors than most office-bound publishers.

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

Johnson: That’s a tough question! I am lucky in being able to have lunches with the wonderful writers I work with—writers like George RR Martin, Dean Koontz, Robin Hobb, Raymond Feist—so I’d better choose a dead author. Even then all I can do is to narrow it down to three: Robert Graves, Daphne du Maurier or Mary Renault.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I write best when…

Johnson: I am sitting on a remote bit of rock by the Cornish sea with my head full of story and no interruptions or duties for the day. Oh, how I wish that happened a lot more than it does now: that’s a real blue-moon scenario!

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

Johnson: Cornucopia.

For more about Johnson’s appearance at IFOA, click here.

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.
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