Five Questions with… Martha Baillie

Martha Baillie, author of The Search for Heinrich Schlögel and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Martha on November 1, as well as a copy of The Search for Heinrich Schlögel! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: The Schlögel Archive is an extremely ambitious and expansive project that sprang from your new book, The Search for Heinrich Schlögel. Can you tell our readers a little bit about it?

Martha Baillie: The Schlögel Archive started as an impulsive gesture. I’d arrived at a point in the novel where I couldn’t see how to proceed. Rather than tear at the prose, searching for answers, I decided to send the text away from me. By inscribing the novel on the back of picture postcards, I could briefly escape from words into pictures.

Because Inuit myths figure in the novelmyths in which souls migrate from human to raven to sealthe act of scattering Heinrich made sense to me. I felt a longing to send Heinrich, handwritten, on a journey through “real” time from author to reader.

I asked people to record themselves reading each card they received. A supremely generous friend, Gregory Sharp, started scanning the cards before they were sent and created the digital archive.

© Marina Black

© Marina Black

IFOA: You mention that you created the Schlögel Archive after writing multiple drafts of your novel and realizing that “an element was still missing.” Do you feel that it has complemented the novel in a productive way for you?

Baillie: Yes. Willing readers of random passages, who did not require that I offer solutions not yet available, sustained the evolving novel. My manuscript, quite literally, was having life breathed into it. I’d cycle around the city, making recording “house calls” with my laptop, while more tech-confident postcard-receivers read into their iPhones and sent me their files. Sometimes the passage being read by an expressive voice was one I’d deleted from the novel. I’d listen carefully, wondering if I ought to reinstate the words. Passages of the novel now belonged, in my mind, to certain readers.

IFOA: How do you find intertextual elements in the Schlögel Archive (sound, image, text) to be important to The Search for Heinrich Schlögel?

Baillie: Central to the novel is the question of how storytelling of many sorts contributes to the formation of identity. The postcards that I’ve used were donated by friends or bought by me (recently or decades ago) or created for my project from photos I found on the Internet: historic images from a national archive and holiday snapshots posted by tourists. The postcards have allowed me to draw upon an already existing collective visual narrative that hovers in our psyches, a narrative sold at tourist sites and in the gift shops of art galleries and museums, one sent across oceans and stored in closets. The picture on the front of each card adds a layer of meaning to the words inscribed on the back.

The recorded voices of so many different readers make audio-palpable, to my ear, how differently a text or story inhabits each reader.

I couldn’t imagine writing a novel set in the Canadian north without exploring by as many means as possible who is doing the telling and why.

240 pg spine.inddIFOA: The book is a narrative about piecing together identity through archival fragments, and the Schlögel Archive further divides the coherence of the novelistic form. Can you speak to the novel’s discussion of fragmentation?

Baillie: Fragmentation is not overtly discussed in the novel, I don’t think. But it is inherent to the work. The first part of the novel takes place in Germany and is quite fragmented, though set in a manicured, highly organized landscape. The fragmentation possibly corresponds to Heinrich’s unformed sense of self, or derives from the archivist’s incomplete knowledge of her subject. Possibly, as elsewhere in the novel, it offers a commentary upon the nature of time. It’s up to the reader to decide.

On Baffin Island, the story unfolds in a very unstable landscape of shifting rock and sand, of torrents fed by melting glaciers, of moraines mortared together by concealed ice. In this setting, Heinrich’s experience is further fragmented by inexplicable visions.

The duty of the storyteller is to lure unsettled experience into a polished form, then hold the pieces steady until they break free once more. The bound book, and the shifting archivebetween these two locations Heinrich travels back and forth.

IFOA: How did your physical research (hiking into Auyuittuq park, spending time in Pangnirtung, crossing the Arctic circle on foot) contribute to your writing?

Baillie: The long hike that I took in Auyuittuq park and the time I spent in Pangnirtung allowed me to write the novel. That physical research changed everything, as I’d hoped it would.

Martha Baillie is the author of four novels, including her latest, The Search for Heinrich Schlögel. On November 1, she participates in a round table discussing life, death and the human struggle, and the challenges of capturing these accurately and compassionately in fiction.

Five Questions with… Ellen van Neerven

Ellen van Neerven, author of Heat and Light and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Ellen on October 31, as well as a copy of Heat and Light! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Where did the idea for Heat and Light come from?

Ellen van Neerven: Heat and Light began forming when I explored my family history. The character of Amy Kresigner, a young woman trying to find her place in her family at the wake of the revelation of a family secret, is at least semi-autobiographical. I started writing in the month of August, the time of the year we get unsettling wind, so you’ll see the wind plays a big part in Heat and Light. I was growing up quite rapidly while writing this (I was 20 when I started, I’m 24 now, and I’ve discovered these are big years of your life) so there are different tones in the book: young women navigating first love, sexual experiences and complex identities; and then more outward visions of fractured towns and terrain of marginal Australia.van Neerven, Ellen

IFOA: Why did you decide to divide your novel into three sections? What do these divisions accomplish?

Van Neerven: Dividing Heat and Light up into three sections was a decision we’d come to during the editing process. What I had ended up with was a story cycle told by different family members about a generational secret, a deconstructed family tree (Heat), a futuristic speculative novella about mysterious plant human creatures (Water) and an ensemble of 10 stories about family dynamics and youth (Light). I was unconvinced Heat and Light could provide a fictional experience that felt like a complete whole—until I met with my editor.  We created a structure to reflect the hybrid nature of the work.

IFOA: You currently work as an editor for the black&write! project at the State Library of Queensland, which supports and promotes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers. Are Indigenous themes important in your own fiction?

Van Neerven: My father is from a small town in The Netherlands and my mother is Yugambeh from South-East Queensland. I am influenced by who I am and have the desire to write about Indigenous experience and include our culture and language. When I was growing up, there was a lack of texts from Indigenous perspectives. When I graduated university and became aware of the Aboriginal poetry movement, late greats Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Lisa Bellear, and visionaries Uncle Lionel Fogarty and Samuel Wagan Watson, I felt I’d found my place. Working with other Indigenous writers through black&write! inspired me to be brave about my own writing, feeling like there was space for me to tell my stories.

VanNeerven, Heat and LightIFOA: Describe the Indigenous writing community in Brisbane .

Van Neerven: black&write!’s space at the State Library of Queensland at Kurilpa (meaning place of the water rat) is a national hub for Indigenous writing. We run competitions and workshops and host reading events in cafes and bookshops. I’m seeing a lot of performance poets (such as the wonderfully funny Steven Oliver), young writers working in other genres like science fiction, fantasy and horror (Tristan Savage) and lyrical writing floating between prose and poetry (Yasmin Smith). Brisbane writer Melissa Lucashenko has recently won a stack of awards for her ground-breaking novel Mullumbimby.  It feels like we’re witnessing an explosion of new work that challenges expectations.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Van Neerven: I’ve just finished a brilliant debut by Omar Musa called Here Comes the Dogs about three young men on the fringes of Australian society looking for a way in through hip-hop, graffiti and basketball. As a treat, I am also reading Simon Armitage’s “Best of” collection Paper Aeroplane—a few poems before bed each night.

Ellen van Neerven is a writer and editor for the black&write! project. On October 31, she joins other Aboriginal writers to discuss Indigenous writing traditions and contemporary Indigenous literature.


Five Questions with… Julie Angus

Julie Angus, author of Olive Odyssey: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit That Seduced the World and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Julie on October 30, as well as a copy of Olive Odyssey! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Olive Odyssey (like many of your journeys) represents a tremendous undertaking. What kind of preparation did your expedition take?

Julie Angus: We spent four years preparing for this journey. Much of that was researching the olive tree, the regions we would be visiting and the people we wanted to connect with. Because we were travelling by sailboat for much of the journey, I also had to familiarize myself with sailing and navigating Mediterranean waters. I studied nautical texts and trained in a sailboat lent to us by a friend in the Gulf Islands, but it was still a steep learning curve when we reached the Mediterranean. The waters are more crowded, the berthing protocol is different, the winds volatile and it was challenging sailing with an infant.Angus, Julie

IFOA: What research did you do on the olive prior to your journey?

Angus: I was curious about all aspects of the olive tree: historical, culinary, artistic, cultural and health. It’s played such a pivotal role throughout history, from being one of the earliest cultivated trees to influencing ancient civilizations, such as the Romans and Greeks. All major monotheistic religions liberally incorporate the olive in their writings as metaphors, and it was used as anointing elixirs, healing agents and more. And today, olive oil is one of the healthiest foods we can eat, assisting in preventing diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and a host of other serious diseases. Yet it’s a food industry that is plagued with fraud, with as much as 60% of the extra virgin olive oil on supermarket shelves miscategorized. By speaking with experts, reading books and studying scientific publications, I gained a broad knowledge about the olive tree that was invaluable throughout our journey, helping me ask the right questions and explore appropriate areas.

IFOA: When reaching sites after retracing the trading routes of early seafaring merchants, what archaeological and scientific work did you conduct?

Angus: By travelling along Phoenician and ancient Greek trading routes and visiting the colonies they founded, we were able to search out olive trees and artifacts they left behind.  Our theory was that these early merchants helped spread the domesticated olive tree from the Middle East, where it originated, to the rest of the Mediterranean. To test that theory we documented and sampled ancient olive trees, which can grow for thousands of years. Then, in collaboration with an Italian University, we analyzed the DNA of these trees to search for evidence to support our theory.

Angus, Olive OdysseyIFOA: You mention on your blog that this journey was inspired by your family’s own olive farm. Was your familial connection to the olive what made the olive an object of such rich study for you, or was it something else?

Angus: In 2008, my husband and I travelled 7,000 km by rowboat and bicycle from Scotland to Syria, completing the journey at my family’s olive farm in Syria. This was where the idea for Olive Odyssey germinated. I was struck by the remarkable taste of freshly pressed olive oil and the intriguing history of the olive that was first domesticated in what is now Syria and adjacent area.  It was apparent how important the olive tree is, not only as a source of food and financial security, but as a symbol of peace and longevity.

IFOA: In addition to authoring multiple books, you are also a recipient of the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award and were the first woman to row across the Atlantic from mainland to mainland. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Angus: Being a mom. I am very fortunate to have two beautiful boys. Leif, who is almost four years old and came with us on our Olive Odyssey adventure as an infant, and Oliver, who was just born this summer.

Julie Angus is a molecular biologist, adventurer, writer and photographer. She reads from and discusses her book Olive Odyssey on October 30.

Five Questions with… Russell Wangersky

Russell Wangersky, author of Walt and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Russell on October 28, as well as a copy of Walt! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: You’ve published novels, collections of short stories and non-fiction. Is there a form that you enjoy writing most?

Russell Wangersky: I like all three forms, but I think short stories are the ones I like working on the mostprimarily because you can keep the whole story in your head at once, and can work on it all in a single sitting, there in the dark under your desk light. With novels, on top of the difficulties of having to work back into changing mood and tone (finding where you were in your head when you were working on it last), there’s the sheer problem of remembering where and when things happen so that you don’t trip up. And non-fiction? It’s just plain hard workthere is so much research to do behind every sentence, and it’s also so close to my daily job as a newspaper editor that it’s too much like work.Russell Wangersky

IFOA: Where did the idea for Walt come from?

Wangersky: Walt came from two places: first, from covering court as a reporter, and watching all sorts of truly awful people in the dock who still had family and friends who clearly loved them in the courtroom. It made me wonder about how people who do awful things justify it to themselves, and how others end up loving them. The second was the notion of concerns about personal privacy and the way that we’re all supposed to be concerned about electronic privacy while we go around shedding concrete personal information every day to people who can just pick it up off the ground.

IFOA: Walt is described as a psychological thriller. Was it difficult to maintain suspense throughout the writing of the book?

Wangersky: It’s described as a thriller, but it didn’t start out that way. It was a story I was interested init ended up a thriller almost by default. The suspense has everything to do with Walt himselfwhat he’s willing to do, what he’s willing to explain. So suspense wasn’t that hard to maintain, especially because most of the book is in first person. It was just a matter of staying in his head, which was not always a nice place to be. It was hard to go back later and maintain pace and tone in the editing, though, because edits feel like good muffin batterlumpy.

Wangersky, WaltIFOA: The grocery notes that begin each chapter, which Walt collects, are real. Were you ever unsettled by this primary research for your novel?

Wangersky: I have hundreds of grocery notes now, and I’m still collecting themevery time I pick one up, it’s like the bones of a much bigger story, and now that I’m in the habit of picking them up, I can’t seem to help myself. Calling it “primary research” gives it much more dignity than it felt like at the time. Unsettled? I was asked by the publisher at one point after the book was done to put together a collage of the notes and photograph them. Looking at the photos, all the different handwriting and papers, some of them clearly stepped on or driven over, was suddenly quite unsettling. A clear intrusion of privacy, but I used them anyway.

IFOA: If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be?

Wangersky: Cormac McCarthy. Just to ask howhow you get the nerve to write like that, to use language as if you own it, without ever seeming to have any doubt. Suttree? Pure linguistic magic.

Russell Wangersky is a writer, editor and columnist. On October 28 he presents Walt, a dark, psychological thriller about a grocery store cleaner who is pursued by police detectives unsatisfied with the answers he’s given about his wife’s disappearance.

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