ScotiaBank Gillers

Giller longlist 2013: Elisabeth de Mariaffi Q&A

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As we head towards this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize gala on Tuesday, November 5, we'll be featuring Q&As with the longlisted authors to help you gain more insight into their books. Here, we talk to Elisabeth de Mariaffi about How to Get Along with Women.

Q: What are you particularly proud about with this book?

Elisabeth de Mariaffi: This is my first book of stories -- in fact, it's my first book, period -- so there's a real thrill that goes along with that, just publishing your debut. I'm completely overwhelmed to find myself on the Giller longlist, in the company of so many really established, really talented authors. I could not be happier. But from a writing point of view, there's also a level of uncertainty that goes along with a first book, I think. The stories were written over about two years and most of them were published first in magazines. So I was writing and moving on and not looking back. When I sat down to look at the collection as a manuscript I was really thrilled to see the shape of the book that was intrinsically there. The stories aren't linked by character or place, or even particularly by style, but in the end I think the obsession of the book is power. That obsession gives the collection a wholeness that reaches beyond the scope of each individual story, so that the stories matter on their own, but the collection stands and has greater impact as a whole.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

A: I came to writing fiction from a poetry background, so there was a steep learning curve there. I also think that background helped me enormously: I look very seriously at each line. I really wanted each story to stand out, reach farther. I wanted to do something different every time. That can take a tremendous amount of energy.

How-To-Get-Along-With-Women-120.jpgQ: Let's talk about the cover: what's your favourite aspect of it?

A: I love the cover. I was really lucky in that one of the directing principles at Invisible Publishing is about making great-looking books, and also in that we worked very collaboratively on design. There was a lot of discussion about the cover, a lot of back and forth. We were working with the chalkboard concept and the designer, Megan Fildes, was having difficulty getting the texture to come through -- that school chalkboard feel. So instead of working with stock images she found an old chalkboard, designed the cover, and scanned it. Which I swear is why it looks so great.

Q: What past Giller-winning book has been particularly influential or inspiring to you?

A: That's a difficult question. Can I narrow it down to two books? Let's say Alice Munro's Runaway and Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. Both Atwood's and Munro's work has been inescapably influential to any writer of my generation -- perhaps even more so for women writers. Munro does more in 30 pages than many novelists accomplish in 300. She also sets her own rules. The three linked Juliet stories in Runaway become a collection-within-a-collection, and the title story is so insidious and awful. It sneaks up on you. I love that. Alias Grace for the same reason, because it offers the pacing of a murder story in a very rich literary context. Both Munro and Atwood handle the sinister so, so well.

Q: If you could create an ideal environment for a reader to read and immerse themselves in your book, what would that environment include or resemble?

A: Oh, that's up to the reader! Maybe just someplace you can concentrate, but where you're not too alone. In a chair at the back of the garden. Someplace where you feel removed, but it's just a short walk to where people are. Immersion can be very intense.


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