Monday October 24, 2016

Marni Jackson on close encounters of the celebrity kind

Journalist and nonfiction writer Marni Jackson takes her first foray into fiction with stories of celebrities waltzing into everyday life.

Journalist and nonfiction writer Marni Jackson takes her first foray into fiction with stories of celebrities waltzing into everyday life. (CBC)

Listen 17:25

Celebrities are on our screens and Twitter feeds. We listen to their music and we read their stories, but it's more or less a one-way relationship. Marni Jackson's novel Don't I Know You? imagines a world where celebrities drift in and out of our lives on a regular basis, just like regular people. People like Bob Dylan, Meryl Streep and Keith Richards turn up at the cottage, at a funeral or driving your local bus.

Marni Jackson joined Shelagh Rogers from Toronto to talk about the book, which is her first novel.

The story of a normal life, touched by extraordinary people

The central character, Rose McEwan, is a Canadian woman who's a writer for hire. She does journalism, whe writes thrillers, she writes ad copy, she struggles along like many writers. These celebrity encounters come to her as part of her striving for a creative life. Half the book, I hope, is kind of comic and amusing, but the other half is rather sad and poignant. Rose is valiant and struggling through with her career, and she goes through a divorce, she loses her mother. She calls on her artist companions in her imagination to help her through these transitions in her life.

How celebrities are part of our lives

We've all grown up with artists and celebrities who enter our private lives in some way. Leonard Cohen's songs accompany our breakups and falling in love. Some of it was about literally including these people that I've lived with — Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen — as characters that are really part of our lives. I talk about how they're a kind of fictional character in the drama of our lives. We feel that we know them, because they've opened themselves up in their work. Part of my goal was to use celebrity as a kind of Trojan horse to talk about the way art serves us in our daily life. 

On growing older and taking chances

I happen to be in my 60s, and I find it to be an interesting time, and a strangely hopeful time. When I was writing this book, I had a lot of fun. It felt like I was in my 20s — I felt like what the heck, I don't have a lot to lose, let's go out and do something fun and interesting and original. I think a lot of women get that devil-may-care feeling as they get older. And they have to feel that — we don't plan for the end of our lives, but it's coming and we're going to have to occupy it, so why not make it interesting and strong? 

Marni Jackson's comments have been edited and condensed.

Hear more about Shelagh Rogers' cameo appearance in Don't I Know You in our special web-only feature.