Cathy Marie Buchanan takes the Magic 8
The author of The Painted Girls answers questions from the Canadian literati on the relationship between children and video games, the importance of sense of place in her work, and why she writes what she writes.
1. From Shyam Selvadurai: Writers often use their own life as a springboard for fiction. Could you relate a real incident in your life and then tell us how it got changed into fiction?
One of the narrators of The Painted Girls was the real life model for Edgar Degas’s sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. She was trained at the Paris Opéra Ballet school from the age of twelve and later promoted to the corps de ballet. As a teenager I was a serious student of classical ballet, and in the novel, I recount much of my own experience at the barre and onstage, particularly in describing Marie’s acute sensitivity to how she stacks up against her peers and also in expressing how it feels to dance.
2. From Timothy Taylor: Are video games good for children?
I might have answered this differently, but on my son’s application to Queen’s University, where he is now enrolled in the history program, he wrote “When I was eight, my parents gave me a computer game called Age of Empires for Christmas. I had played computer games before, but the subject matter of this one was unique, and it transfixed me. The game exposed me to the stories of many of the world’s greatest empires and conquerors. I loved these stories. I loved that they were true, and I wanted to know more. Thus began my passion for history.”
3. From Zsuzsi Gartner: Why do you write what you write and the way you write it?
I write to explore something that fascinates me, and I write the way I do because it is the only way I know how to write.
4. From Cordelia Strube: What keeps you writing?
I keep writing because it is deeply pleasurable to me.
5. From Sharon Butala: As a woman writer I am fascinated by the concept of the muse. But what is a woman artist to take as her muse?
Edgar Degas’s famous sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, served as my muse for The Painted Girls. I came upon a television documentary on the work, and as someone who held the sculpture in high esteem and who largely considered ballet to be the high-minded pursuit of privileged young girls, I was struck by what I would learn. When Degas unveiled Little Dancer back in 1881, the public did not see a young ballet girl wearing her practice clothes. They saw a whore and linked her with a life of corruption and young girls for sale. They called her a "flower of the gutter" and said her face was "imprinted with the detestable promise of every vice." Such notions were underpinned by a long history of often less than noble liaisons between wealthy male season ticketholders to the ballet and the young dancers. These revelations fascinated me, and Little Dancer became my muse.
6. From William Deverell: Is there a surfeit of published books in Canada? Are too many authors competing for diminishing returns?
It breaks my heart that we are always being nudged toward the most recently published books, when so many worthy books have gone unexplored. So yes, there are too many books being published, but I say it hesitantly. I do worry that by narrowing the list, we’d end up with only books of broad commercial appeal, not necessarily the books that best enrich our society.
7. From Kate Pullinger: Do you pay attention to the opinions of your family when it comes to your writing, both in terms of what you write about, but also how you write?
I have never had a family member read a work in progress, so an opinion has never been aired. That said, to date my work is all fiction. I’d rather keep my readers guessing about what aspects are autobiographical than expose myself and my family to the sort of public scrutiny we would all abhor.
8. From Peter Robinson: How important is the sense of place in your work?
Extremely important. With both my novels, The Painted Girls and The Day the Falls Stood Still, I wrote with the idea of transporting my readers to another time and place. Neither could be set in a time and place—belle époque Paris and World War I Niagara Falls—different from when and where they are.
Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of The Painted Girls and The Day the Falls Stood Still. An instant bestseller in Canada, The Painted Girls has received enthusiastic reviews in both Canada’s national newspapers and has garnered notices in Vanity Fair, Good Housekeeping, Vogue, Entertainment Weekly, People, USA Today, Chatelaine and Costco Connection. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, she now lives in Toronto.
Photo credit: Ania Szado