Donna Morrissey takes the Magic 8
The author of The Deception of Livvy Higgs fields questions from the Canadian literati on the influence of siblings and the novel as literary form.
1. From Lynn Coady: What are the common themes (or settings, symbols, etc) you always seem to come back to in your fiction (eg. bears, wrestling and Vienna in John Irving novels)? Where do those elements come from and what makes them so tenacious?
My novels (I was very surprised to discover) always have the adolescent and his/her 'coming of age' elements. It's such a private time for most of us when we break away from the whole of childhood, and start becoming aware of ourselves as 'one', that oftentimes we isolate ourselves emotionally. Lotsa stuff happens during those times that carries over into adulthood. Perhaps it's because I was one of those emotionally isolated souls during adolescence that this 'orphan archetype' keeps permeating my writing.
2. From Lynn Coady: Why do you write fiction? That is, why is it your chosen genre? What is it about the genre that you think makes it distinctive and/or important, vital?
Fiction is something I fell into that helped defined me during a terrible time in my life when I felt lost and without direction. It's my mainstay. It continues to help me define who I am and my family and the mythology of our lives together. My family continue to support my telling our story through my writing. It helps us with the losses that we've suffered through, and the love of Spirit that continues to endure within us.
3. From Sharon Butala: What do you think of the age-old notion that the best writing comes out of a life led outside the bourgeoisie, where so-called "rules" of normal middle-class life are deliberately broken and impulse is your guide, rather than duty or convention?
Whether from duty or convention or intuition—whatever one's values or circumstance—a good yarn can come from anywhere providing one has the skills and creativity to tell it convincingly with all of its truths and failings. Who would argue with Jane Austin?
4. From Lorna Crozier: How did growing up with siblings (or without) affect your writing or your desire to be a writer?
It certainly didn't affect my desire to be a writer, but now that I've started, my life with my family is what fuels my stories. If I had been a single child, I've no doubt that none of the books I've written thus far would be the stories that they are.
5. From Greg Hollingshead: Auberon Waugh has described the novel as a story that has something wrong with it. If you agree, do you think it’s because the novel is a difficult literary form to get right or because as a literary form it has something wrong with it? If so, why or what?
This whole question sounds more clever than realistic (-:
Is an uneventful story a story? If nothing went wrong, what would there be to write about? How could we write about nothing? Or, am I simply being clever—or silly—now?
6. From Donna Morrissey: How do you deal with daily life while you're in the middle of creating a book?
I was hoping to get tips from others. I botch things terribly. I get lost in time and don't know if it's morning, noon or night, unless the light changes outside my window. Which means I miss meetings, luncheons, etc. Sometimes I sit with company for dinner and am so caught in my head re the story I'm creating that I forget to talk (yes, it does happen), and I have to remind myself to speak, to contribute to the dinner conversation. Of course I function quite normally most of the time, but I continuously walk past my house, walk past a sister or friend in the mall, and forget where the car is and have walked home forgetting I took the car. So, yeah, I asked the question hoping others would validate me and offer suggestions as to how to keep anchored to real time.
7. From Pasha Malla: Which would be preferable: a life of relative contentment and comfort, and having your books die alongside you, or being miserable and destitute, and having your books read long after you are dead?
Having suffered terribly from anxiety, I would absolutely prefer a life of relative contentment and comfort and have the damn books die alongside of me. After all, nothing really dies....
8. From Drew Hayden Taylor: Do you think you or your books would have been successful, say... fifty or a hundred years ago? Or has the style of writing changed too much in the passing decades?
I kinda enjoy the old style of story-telling and I enjoy writing from an older time. Maybe I might've been more popular back there somewheres :)
Donna Morrissey is the award-winning author of The Deception of Livvy Higgs, Kit's Law, Downhill Chance, What They Wanted, and Sylvanus Now, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. She recently wrote a children's book, Cross Katie Kross, illustrated by her daughter, Bridget. Morrissey grew up in The Beaches, a small fishing outport in Newfoundland and now lives in Halifax.
Photograph courtesy of Bryan McBurney Photography.