Five Questions with… Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue, author of Frog Music and an upcoming IFOA Weekly participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Emma on October 1! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: In a piece for The New Yorker, you said that sources for Frog Music “were gappy, mutually contradictory and fantastically suggestive rather than full.” Was your goal to structure and make sense of these historical fragments, or to use them as a point of departure for your own creative imaginings?

© Andrew Bainbridge

© Andrew Bainbridge

Emma Donoghue: Every time I write a historical-based fiction, I have both those goals, and I’m well aware of the paradox. First the studious, geeky, historian in me wrestles with the sources to make sense of them, weed out what doesn’t ring true and extrapolate to fill gaps… and then the novelist shoves that historian aside, saying “Leave the rest to me,” and starts reshaping the story and making things up.

IFOA: What were some of the pleasures of writing a crime or mystery novel? Frustrations?

Donoghue: The fundamental, throbbing pulse of keeping my readers in suspense: I so enjoyed that. I’ve had suspenseful moments or sections in books I’ve written before, but never till now committed myself to the particular writer-reader bargain of the mystery novel. And I loved making the who-pulled-the-trigger question also generate deeper questions about identity and responsibility.

Not so much frustrations as worries; being new to this genre, I kept fearing that I wasn’t doing the sleuth stuff right.

IFOA: Can you comment on the incorporation of music throughout the book?

Donoghue: This was a surprise to me: I invented the title (Frog Music) early on as a phrase to evoke the horny grunting of frogs (the animal Jenny hunts for a living), and then it occurred to me that all the main characters had a performance background, and then I found out that 19th-century people in general sang out loud unselfconsciously… Next thing I knew, the novel was becoming a babel of song.  Even at the late point of writing notes at the back on each folk song, I got more and more intrigued by the way these lyrics and tunes survive and morph in every generation.

Donoghue, Frog MusicIFOA: On your website, you mention that you’ve wanted to write a novel about the murder of Jenny Bonnet since back in the late 1990s. What initially drew you to her story and why did it stick with you?

Donoghue: It was Jenny who drew me inas a wisecracking, cross-dressing frog catcher she seemed the ideal (from a writer’s point of view), eccentric, live-while-you’re-young murder victim. And I found the setting of this crime (1870s San Francisco) irresistibly colourful. But when I finally found a space in my schedule to write Frog Music, it turned into the story of BlancheJenny’s friend and the one witness to her murder.  Which confirms my sense that point of view (who tells the story) is the key decision in writing every novel.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Donoghue: The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward (out loud to my kids, and because I’m writing a novel for middle-school readers at the moment); The Farm at Lough Gur (a 19th-century Irish memoir by Sissy O’Brien told to Mary Carbery, for research for my next novel); The New Yorker, in my handbag; Dickens’ Little Dorrit (again) on my phone, to deal with insomnia without waking my beloved.

Emma Donoghue is a writer of contemporary and historical fiction whose eight novels include the internationally bestselling Room. Donoghue presents her latest novel, Frog Music, a lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes in San Francisco in 1876. She discusses her novel with TWUC members Wayson Choy and Emily Pohl-Weary about what it means to write in Canada today.

Five Questions with… Emily Pohl-Weary

Emily Pohl-Weary, author of Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl 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 Emily on October 1! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Your upcoming poetry collection is called Ghost Sick. Can you describe “ghost sickness” to our readers?

Emily Pohl-Weary: Ghost sickness or heartbreak syndrome is an explanation for what causes people to waste away from grief. In medical circles, it’s actually called “complex grief syndrome,” which is a label for when living people develop unhealthy relationships with death or someone who’s deceased. Essentially, it’s the belief that an angry ghost might return and try to take someone else with them.

IFOA: Your recent young adult novel, Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl, offers a twist on the paranormal romance genre. What inspired it?

Pohl-Weary: When I began writing Wolf Girl, I’d just finished reading a very popular series of novels featuring male werewolves and vampires who were in love with a human girl. Any guesses? She could barely stay on her own two feet, and there was absolutely nothing interesting about her, except for the two monsters who loved her. This seemed so absurd to me and I got to thinking about why fictional monsters are almost always men. Are we too afraid of monstrous girls? Why? What would a ferocious teen girl be like? There was a lot of unexplored territory. I decided to see what would happen if a small, pretty teen girl turned into the physical manifestation of her worst nightmare.

IFOA: You’ve worked on a lot of different writing projects recently (a teen novel published last year, a new collection of poetry, the revision of a feature film screenplay). Why is literary variety important to you?

Pohl-Weary: Each project demands its proper form and genre. I couldn’t have conveyed the experiences in Ghost Sick through anything but poetry, or the high-paced, character-driven plot of Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl in anything but a novel. It takes me a really long time to finish a writing project and when I’m learning—which is inevitable when you change genres—it’s easier to stay engaged. I’m influenced by all kinds of storytelling and want to write whatever I’m consuming. In my opinion, movies, TV shows, video games, songs and comics are just as fascinating and filled with potential as books.

IFOA: You’re currently working toward your PhD in Adult Education and Community Development. How have you balanced your education with your creative writing?

Pohl-Weary: Not too well! I’m hoping to get back to the research in the new year. But I love the way the scholarly community encourages people to wrestle with huge theories and concepts, and that little people (like me) get to stand on the shoulders of giants. My hope is that whatever thesis I eventually write will turn some important thoughts into a format that’s accessible to a wider audience. I’ve been thinking a lot about how popular teaching methods can make creative writing more accessible to a diversity of voices and life experiences.

IFOA: You’re very involved in literary outreach programmes in Toronto. Can you explain your role as the 2014 Toronto Public Library eWriter in Residence for Young Voices?

Pohl-Weary: From October to December, I’ll be available as an online resource for young Toronto writers via the TPL’s website at tpl.ca/teens. So if you’re between the ages of 12 and 19, and like to write, you can submit a story, poem, rant or whatever for feedback, and I’ll respond by email. I’m also going to be blogging about the writing life, tips I’ve gleaned, resources, and my path to becoming a writer. Basically, it’s an opportunity for me to geek out about writing while encouraging teenagers. How fun is that? I truly love the Young Voices programming at the library—it’s innovative and brings teen writers into the Canadian literary conversation.

Emily Pohl-Weary is an award-winning author, editor and arts educator. Join her and other members of The Writer’s Union of Canada on October 1 as they discuss what it means to write in Canada today.

This Week at IFOA: Eric McCormack

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook to receive two tickets to see Eric on September 17! One lucky person will also win a copy of Eric’s latest novel, Cloud. Remember to tag @IFOA!

McCormack, EricDon’t let his 12-year break from writing fool you; Eric McCormack returns with a masterful novel that is an intimate and perplexing study of how the past haunts us and how we remain mysterious to others, even ourselves. In McCormack’s classic literary Gothic style, Cloud chronicles the story of Harry Steen. One serendipitous day, Harry discovers a mid-19th-century account of a sinister storm cloud that plagued an isolated Scottish village, causing gruesome and unexplainable deaths. But Harry has his own connections to that village: it was there that he met the woman whose love and betrayal have haunted him every day since. Presented with this astonishing record, Harry resolves to seek out the ghosts of his past and return to the very place where he encountered the fathomless depths of his own heart.

Before you pick up and get started on your own copy of Cloud, be sure to read some of the excellent reviews it’s been receiving. National Post says that “Cloud is indisputably [the] best novel to date” from “one of our most boldly original and entertaining writers,” while The Globe and Mail says that “it is virtually impossible not to be caught up in the momentum of Cloud.”McCormack, Cloud

Eric McCormack taught English for over 30 years at St. Jerome’s College at the University of Waterloo, specializing in 17th-century and contemporary literature. He has been a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award.

Please join us on September 17 for what will undoubtedly be a fabulous evening offering insight into this established Canadian writer. In addition to reading and discussing Cloud, Eric McCormack will be joined on stage by notable crime writer Peter May.

 

 

 

Page 8 of 8« First...45678